10 November 2007

Tracking processing tasks and questions

I'm using Gmail to track quick tasks and questions I have from reading, class, or seminars. I came up with my method independently of Cal Newport but it is basically the same as described in his blog entry. To summarize:

  1. Create a Gmail label.
  2. Decide on an email address to go along with it. I use username+p@gmail.com for process tasks and username+q@gmail.com for questions.
  3. Create a filter that will archive all email sent to those addresses to the appropriate label. For example, all emails to username+p@gmail.com will be labelled "process" and archived.
  4. Create an email shortcut in all your email programs for these addresses. I type a single letter "p" in Pine and it fills in the address username+p@gmail.com.
  5. Pick one day out of the week where you will go through your process and questions labels. I think it's best to do this on your all-administration day.

How do I decide what tasks to send to my process label? They are basically some kind administration (downloading a paper and putting it into my Jabref database, looking at some funny video someone sent me, a reminder to do something at home that I can't do right now because I'm at my office, etc). They might be a task that I can't do right now because I'm in the wrong context. Or they might be a task that is relatively short but longer than the two minutes that David Allen recommends (2 minutes < t < 15 minutes). If the task takes too long, I get distracted from my real wrok. I prefer using a Gmail queue to keep track of little tasks because they are too trivial to put into a GTD system like todo.txt. Also, I want to get them out of the way. If they sit around for more than two weeks, then it becomes less and less likely that I will do them.

The reason I use a Gmail queue to keep track of questions is so that I have a natural way to check them off. Also, since I check my Gmail account all the time, I'm constantly nagged to follow up on my questions.

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