Gmail GTD


I’ve been doing a modified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done for awhile now and it is working so well for processing to do’s, I thought I’d share it. Using Gmail has made my processing quicker since most of my new to do’s I get through email.

I use GTDGmail for FireFox which makes things super easy to set up. It adds GTD to my current Gmail account. David Allen has the concept of contexts, i.e. computer, phone, office, home, etc. However since I work from home most of the things I need to do are in the same place. I prefer to have a basic time map with categories like home, personal, family, etc. So I use these as my contexts.

My Contexts:

  • Church
  • Errands
  • Family
  • Finance
  • Friends
  • Home
  • Work
  • Personal
  • Phone

Next I have my statuses:

  • Next Action
  • Action (this is my inbox for actions)
  • Waiting On (things I’ve delegated, orders, replies I need)
  • Possibilities (things I might want to do someday, to keep them off my main lists)
  • Finished (all completed work)
  • ListenTo (audio seminars, etc. I want to listen to)

The next part to set up was my projects. I like to preface my projects with context so it would be: Home Christmas, Personal Health, Work Accounting so all my projects for each context line up together in the display.

Then I put References, for things that aren’t in action at the moment and newsletter lists. These are much broader categories. Gmail is really great at searches so you don’t have to be overly careful when you file the emails. And I have a main reference folder R:Reference for anything new coming in.

And then I added a group that GTDMail didn’t have but that David Allen talks about – I added Agenda. So I have A:Daughter, A:Son, A:Husband, A:Client, etc. This group is for things I want to discuss with other people.

Finally I set up filters (up towards the top, create a filter is next to the search box) for my newsletter lists (R:name of list) and from certain people (going to the A: files). And the two most important filters: and

Task filters into my action status folder and Reference filters into my R:Reference folder. GTDmail shows you exactly how to set up your filter.

So how does it work?

First I collect ideas:

1. Many to do’s are sent right into gmail by others.

2. I use a notebook when I am out and about

3. Things that pop into my head I either put in my notebook or send a task or reference email to myself with the action in the subject line.

4. I have an inbox for paper.

5. And I have a voice mail box.

The next steps are processing and organizing. I do it throughout the day and get to the bottom of my inboxes at least every other day by 4:00pm. I start at the top of whatever collection tool – email action folder and inbox, physical inbox, voicemail, etc. Tags are great for this part. First, I check to see if the item is actionable or not.

If it is not actionable it goes into the trash, into reference (email reference or a paper reference file) or into my possibility folder if I might do it one day (email or paper file).

If it is actionable I do it if it will take less than two minutes, or I delegate it then tag it Waiting On & A:whoever email folders, or I defer it.

If it’s deferred, it can go into my calendar if it needs to be done on a certain date (I use Google Calendar). Any papers can go into my pending file and a p notation is put next to the calendar item to remind me the item is in the pending folder.

If it is more than one step it becomes a project. If there is no project folder for it, I create one. Otherwise I just tag it P:project name. For projects I put the project name in the subject line and tag it that project. I brainstorm my next actions in the body and send. Then I create an email for the first next action. I tag it next action and tag the context. In Gmail emails with the same subject lines are kept together so i can see the whole project at a glance.

If it is just one action I tag it next action and the context.

Next are reviews: Every day I peek at my pending file, calendar, next action lists and waiting for.

My weekly review takes between 1 and 2 hours. Here’s my checklist:

  1. Make sure everything is processed.
  2. Pray.
  3. Write down 10 accomplishments from last week in my journal.
  4. Review vision, goals and values.
  5. Review project lists. Does everything have a next action? Do any project planning. Decide which projects will be top priority this week.
  6. Do a mind sweep and add any new actions.
  7. Check action lists and see if any can be tagged Finished.
  8. Look at possibility folder. Do you want to do any this week?
  9. Look at or make time map. Schedule any top priorities and look at calendar for upcoming events to plan for.

I also do some goal/vision planning the first weekend of the month, quarterly and annually.

Final step is Do. If it’s work time according to my time map, I click on my work context and see the next actions. I decide which is most important to do based on David’s “time available”, “energy available”. and “priority.” When it’s home time I check my home context.

Sometimes I try out different workflows like:

  1. Hardest first
  2. Easiest first
  3. Do a little on many projects
  4. Do a lot on one project
  5. Lots of small tasks (at least once a month I do this one)
  6. Oldest projects and tasks first
  7. Things that came in today
  8. Top goals of week

It looks like a lot, but really I have been spending a lot less time than I used to on planning, mainly because there is so little re-writing. And everything is captured in the system instead of floating around in my head.

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