Something to put off: safely defer emails

Right now, this minute, I have one email in my inbox and it is killing me. I’m going to bet money that you have a lot more than one, maybe thousands more, and if it isn’t maiming you then that’s only because you’re ignoring it. This is a big deal and it is a big sapping not just of your productivity but of your will to live.

There are ways to deal with this and as you can guess from that one single bloody message in my inbox, I’m using some of these ways. There is one that I am not, have not and until lately haven’t even thought about: deferring emails. Say an email comes in and you don’t want to deal with it now. You can have it vanish and come back tomorrow.

That’s just putting things off, that can’t be right, it can’t be useful but some people live and swear by it, including David Sparks who was as cynical as I still am:

I made fun of deferring email when I first heard of it. It seemed dishonest and gimmicky. However when I tried it out, I quickly became a believer. There’s a lot of email that can stand be putting off for a little bit of time but isn’t worth the extra work and baggage that come with adding it to your OmniFocus or other task manager database. In that case, deferring email really works.

When you’ve got a good email deferment system in place, you get used to seeing an empty inbox so when something shows up, you take it seriously. Simply leaving emails in your inbox (or for that matter any other email box box) results in you getting used to having a bunch of unanswered email and, in my case, malaise and despair. I’m much happier putting an email off for two days and getting it out of my sight than having to see it there every time I open my mail client. Maybe this is just psychology, but it works.

Deferred Email – David Sparks, MacSparky (8 July 2015)

He uses a service called SaneBox but there are others, some of which will take action on your mailbox for you. There are ones I’ve just learnt of, for instance, that will grab all the emails you get from nominated people and bunch them together into one digest at the end of the day. I’m extremely wary of that because it means you’re giving a company complete access to your emails. All of your emails. If you’re thinking that’s a shrug, it’s only email, it’s not like you’re giving them your bank account passwords, answer me this: how does your bank handle your forgetting your password? It emails you a replacement. Stopped you shrugging, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, if you know and trust a service that does this digest stuff then I can see the advantages. And I am slowly becoming persuaded by SaneBox and the like. Read the full piece by David Sparks for more general information about what these things do and how they help plus some very specific detail of how he uses them.

OmniFocus: save everything to it

ofWhat do I mean by everything? EVERYTHING.

If it’s something you have to do, if it’s something you want to do, if it’s something that might turn into something that has to be done by somebody, save it in OmniFocus and worry about it later. Get it into OmniFocus’s inbox and get it out of your head.

When you get time, go through that inbox and have a think. You’ll find that you delete a lot, you mark many others as done, and the rest you have a proper ponder about. Slot this task into that project, add a date or don’t – preferably don’t – and do what’s called processing everything. When it’s all slotted away and your inbox is clear, everything is off your mind and it’s all in your one OmniFocus system.

This came up in a mentoring session I did earlier this week that, unusually, was dedicated solely to the use of OmniFocus. It was for a fella whose workload made me go pale and who has been handling it all on paper. Now he’s taken to OmniFocus like an evangelist in the making, but I think he has one issue left.

What I’ve said to him is that if he gets into the habit of saving everything to OmniFocus, he will come to know that everything is in there. No more wondering if there’s another list in another notebook. I’m lighter for knowing where I am with everything, even if right now I’m under the cosh with too much to do.

The thing for this fella is that he will have to work to make the habit of saving everything to OmniFocus and especially so because he uses a PC. There’s no OmniFocus for PC. Here on a Mac, even as I write to you, I can tap a couple of keys and add a task in to OmniFocus 2 for OS X while it crosses my mind, but he will in theory have to stop working and get out his iPad.

I’m advising him to instead use email a lot. I’ve already shown him how when somebody emails you with something you’ve got to do, you can forward it on to OmniFocus and it will land in your inbox. The subject of the message will be the name of the task and the content of the email will be in the task’s notes.

But you can also just email OmniFocus yourself. Got a stray thought? Email it in to OmniFocus.

It’s not the same as having the To Do app in front of you all day, every day, but that’s not a bad thing. Get used to checking it regularly and get very used to saving everything to OmniFocus and you can then spend the rest of your time actually working on all these things you’ve got to do.

Google revamping Gmail

I know this is just me, but Gmail is confusing. And sometimes even announcements about Gmail confuse me. Such as this one. I read Google’s news about a new email solution called Inbox and it felt like I was swimming in a little ocean of very gorgeously photographed images but not an awful lot of information. I did get that Inbox by Google wants you to include your To Do list in your email and that’s just a bag of spanners waiting to fall on you.

But a lot of smarter people who do like Gmail have been reading that same information and understanding it. Here’s one:

Today, Google unveiled a new email solution called Inbox, which looks like a marriage between Gmail and Google Now. Currently available by invitation only, this new app takes bits from your email like purchase invoices and bank statements and groups them together for fast access. Like Google Now, Inbox adapts to the way you operate, highlighting key pieces of emails like flight plans, photos, documents and upcoming event information.

Google’s new Inbox app is a marriage between Gmail and Google Now (update) | 9to5Mac (22 October 2014)

Read the full piece and let me know what it means.

Productivity porn

Sometimes I am such a man. Wait, not like that: I mean productivity porn in the way one means property porn, a shall-we-say overt interest in a video for things other than its artistic value. But I will watch videos of how to use software. I will watch YouTube videos reviewing hardware or software that I’m considering – even though every single video by every single body begins “Wassup, guys?” and I want to slit someone’s wrists.

But this is such a new low that I had to share it with you. I was looking up a thing on YouTube, it was for work, honest, and I found a video called Inbox Processing with David Allen.

Now, David Allen is a clever bloke. He wrote Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition), the book that has become a cult called GTD and which I promise you is so smart that it has helped me and I credit him a lot on my own book, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition). My problem with Allen is that I feel he’s more a corporate guy than a writer, a creator. His book could flow a bit better, if you see what I mean.

He is, though, definitely clever and I thought this was a video about how he handles the eleventy-billion emails he must get every day. That was worth a look. I’ve just been away and come back to a full inbox which took me some hours to get back down to nothing and right now I’ll take any advice to get that done faster or avoid needing to do it at all.

This is not that story.

This is the story of how David Allen, GTD guru organises his actual, physical inbox. The metal inbox on his desk. He puts things in and he takes things out.

Now watch how that is padded out to 5’44”.

Save your emails into Evernote for quicker searching

I’m not convinced by this because Mail in OS X is quick at finding things but I can see a lot of advantages to saving emails into Evernote because it’s a good pot for all things. It’s a good place to save everything and know that it’s all there, to know that everything you save is therefore everywhere you go.

But the official Evernote blog is persuasive about all this – and has a lot of tips for how to do it. Take a read, would you?

Tiny changes, big results

Yesterday, checking email on my iPhone meant scrolling down a list of mailboxes. Today, it doesn’t. One glance and I see if anything has come in.

If you only have one email address then I think I may envy you, but sanity requires me to have two. There’s the one I’ll cheerily post anywhere and everywhere, a business one that’s Then there’s what I’m afraid I think of as my real email address. I’m not hiding it from you, specifically you. If you email me at, you’ll get the reply from my real address. The real address is for proper people, you are most certainly a proper person.

The business one helps keep spam away from me, it also keeps business emails away from my main account so that I can deal with them together. Unfortunately, it used to also keep me away from the business emails. I would forget to read them because this is what it all looked like on my iPhone:

photo 1

You can’t even see that other mailbox. It’s one more slot down below Follow up: I had to scroll down to read it, so I didn’t. After missing two important emails – very important – I began training myself to make that scroll. Open up mail, swipe back from the Inbox to that list above, scroll down, see if there was anything unread in the other mailbox.

I got really good at doing this and I haven’t missed anything since. But it’s bleedin’ tedious. I know, there are worse problems. But last night I decided to have one more go at doing something about it. I’ve hit that Edit button (top right) before, this time I hit it again. And I got this:

photo 2

Defeat. Those three bars beside the top mailboxes, they’re grab handles so I can shove those ones up or down as much as I like. Within that band. There is an Add Mailbox button but, come on, I already have two mailboxes, I don’t want more and anyway, how does that solve my problem?

It solves my problem completely.

“Add Mailbox” there does not mean create and add a new email account, it solely means add one of your existing mailboxes to this list of them that goes at the top. I tapped Add Mailbox, it listed all I had, I tapped twice more and have ended up with this:

photo 3

All done. No opening, no scrolling, no swiping: I just pick up my iPhone, glance, and I can immediately see if there is any email at all for either of my accounts. It’s the tiniest of things but it makes such a difference that all day today I have been picking up my phone and thinking “Is that it? I don’t have to do anything more?”

If you’re wondering why my other mailbox is called “wg site bucket” instead of “”, it’s because that mailbox traps all emails that go to anywhere at all, my site address. See Why and how to lie about your email address.