In previous posts, I’ve explained how to implement a GTD system using Evernote. This implementation, however, is missing two key elements—your calendar and email.
Your calendar is a very important part of the GTD workflow. Every action that has to happen at a specific time or on a specific day should go on your calendar (do not add these to your Next Actions lists in Evernote). I use Google Calendar to keep track of these reminders because it’s free, it’s easy to keep your data in sync across all your platforms and devices (I use Business Calendar on my Android phone), and as you’ll see below, it has many useful features.
Google Calendar allows you to create multiple calendars to help organize the different parts of your life. Each calendar can have a different colour and a different set of default reminders/notifications. You’ll need to set up two primary calendars:
- Appointments – actions that have to happen at a specific time or on a specific day (if you are a Google+ user, I recommend renaming your default calendar to Appointments because Google+ Events are automatically added to your default calendar).
- Deadlines – actions that have to be finished by a specific date, but can happen at any time/day up until that date.
You can create additional calendars if you desire. For instance, I have a School calendar to keep track of my class schedule. If you work irregular hours, you may want to have a Work calendar. If you need to share a calendar with someone else, Google Calendar has sharing features as well. These additional calendars will essentially be sub-calendars of the two primary calendars listed above, but by giving them a different colour and a different set of default reminders it may be easier for you to stay organized.
To create a new calendar, click the drop-down arrow next to “My calendars” and select “Create new calendar”.
You can change the colour of each calendar by clicking the drop-down arrow next to the calendar’s name.
You can access the calendar’s settings from this menu as well. The settings screen has a “Notifications” tab where you can set the default “Event reminders” for your calendar.
For both my Appointments and Deadline calendars, I have the default Event reminders set to “Email 1 day”. You’ll soon see that these email reminders will be used to create a Next Actions list inside of Gmail. For my School calendar, the reminder is set to “SMS 1 hour”. You can change the Event reminder for any individual event on any calendar when the event is first created or anytime thereafter (or add multiple reminders). This feature can serve as a “tickler” function. For example, if your taxes are due on April 30 (put this on your Deadline calendar), you may want to add an email reminder for 4 weeks in advance to jog your memory.
Now that your calendars are set up, let’s tackle email integration.
Managing email is a challenging task and best practices are very dependent on an individual’s unique situation. That said, instead of providing a step-by-step guide on how to integrate your email into your GTD workflow, I am going to share with you some Gmail tips and tricks that I use to stay productive and organized.
First of all, if you haven’t already done so, create an @ACTION label, an @WAITING FOR label, and an @SUPPORT MATERIALS label as described in the GTD book. Give each of these labels a different colour. I treat my Gmail Inbox like any other GTD In-basket and process the emails accordingly.
If an email is actionable and will take less than 2 minutes to reply to, reply to it now. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, you can either:
- Delegate it – label the email @WAITING FOR, forward it to someone else, and archive it.
- Defer it to your Calendar – label the email @SUPPORT MATERIALS, archive it, and create the appropriate entry on your calendar (make a note in the event description to see @SUPPORT MATERIALS).
- Defer it to Next Actions – label the email @ACTION and archive it.
If the email is actionable and relates to a multi-step Project:
- Create a new Project in Evernote.
- Forward a copy of any email that supports your actions and thinking about your Project to Evernote using your incoming Evernote email address (I created a contact for Evernote to facilitate this process). Move the copy of the email from your Evernote Inbox to the appropriate Project notebook.
- Apply a label (optional) and archive it.
If the email is not actionable, apply a label (optional) and archive it for reference. Gmail provides so much free space (10 GB) that I rarely delete an email unless I am certain that it will never be useful.
The labels I use for Reference and Someday/Maybe emails mimic the tags I use in Evernote. Gmail’s search feature, however, is so good that labels for archived emails aren’t really necessary.
Although Multiple inboxes is still one of the Gmail Labs, I feel it is Gmail’s most useful feature. I don’t use the Priority Inbox or Importance Markers because I feel that the Multiple inboxes lab combined with the appropriate labels and filters is much more powerful. For more information on how to enable this feature, see this post.
Here is a picture of my settings:
This set-up creates two additional inboxes below your default Gmail Inbox that act as Next Actions and Waiting For lists.
Here is a description of two filters that I find particularly useful:
Calendar Notifications – Earlier, I described how to set up Event reminders for your Appointments and Deadlines calendars. The default that I chose was “Email 1 Day”. Instead of having these emails clutter my inbox, I created a filter so they skip the inbox and end up directly on my Next Actions list (your “ticklers” are added to this list as well).
@WAITING FOR – When you email someone to make a request or delegate an action, you’ll want to apply the @WAITING FOR label. I use a filter that automatically adds the @WAITING FOR label to any outgoing email that contains 3 consecutive underscores (feel free to change the trigger). Simply type 3 consecutive underscores at the bottom of any email message you send and it will automatically end up on your Waiting For list.
Gmail recently added a feature that allows you to label messages before you send them, so if you don’t want to use the 3 underscore method, you can apply the @WAITING FOR label directly to the message.
That concludes calendar and email integration. I want to emphasize that everyone’s situation is unique, so don’t feel like you have to follow the suggestions in this post to a T. The primary goal is to develop a GTD system that you can trust, and hopefully the information I presented here will help you reach that goal. If you use a different calendar and/or email client, hopefully you can adapt some of the tips/tricks to work for you. As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.