I was very happy to see a response to the prior post How to Use OmniFocus (A Guide for the Advanced User). 🙂

Today I wanted to focus on the major function of email as it relates to the Treading Water concept. There is a functionality of email already integrated with OmniFocus, but as I do not use Mac Mail, I thought of utilizing another method for Gmail.

The methodology works for other programs beyond e-mail so I would encourage you to consider it for alternative purposes as well.

Below are discussed in the following order:


Hyperlinks and Links in Notes

First, lets consider hyperlinking and their potential in emails. Gmail will be the example program as I use it myself. However, similar processes can likely be found with other e-mail clients.

As long as you have the ability with your mailing program to:

  1. link to a specific email
  2. link to a specific folder (e.g. inbox)

you should be able to utilize these same concepts.

In Gmail, both messages and folders are called upon by the URLs of the pages. Using these within the notes section of the OmniFocus tasks allows for ready email management.


Initial setup of Email in Routine Maintenance


As a routine, I like to check my email twice daily – once anytime after 6am and again after 2pm. I don’t necessarily check them at exactly these times, but that is when they show up on the treading water list.

The first folder in Project Mode is “Routine Maintenance.” Within that folder, there is a project titled “Daily”.

In the project “Daily” are two separate tasks (among other non-email related tasks):

  • “Check e-mail 6am” with a start time of 6am today – repeated daily. Context is “e-mail”.
  • “Check e-mail 2pm” with a start time of 2pm today – repeated daily. Context is “e-mail”.

These tasks are both selected and the inspector is opened (Shift-Cmd-i). The repeat section is checked and assigned to every 1 day, with “Assigned Date” selected.

*Update: Since writing this post originally and reviewing now, I’ve changed this practice slightly: The morning e-mail is now checked at 10am instead. This makes a significant difference in terms of having a more clear mind for creative tasks first thing in the morning.


Adding Notes

Added to the notes of these tasks (key command: cmd-‘) is the hyperlink: http://mail.google.com/.


Marking one of these repeating tasks as complete replicates and positions an identical task to start the next day at the same time. In addition, it will also carry the assigned hyperlink.

This setup allows two very important and simultaneous functions:

  1. the task is visible only at the relevant time in the main window (Treading Water covered in Part I), and
  2. the related email or folder is easily accessed via the link or URL.

If you do not use gmail, another url or the link to the mail application (added by dragging the icon to the notes sections while holding ctrl prior to release) could work as well.

This same combination is a good target in creating any task whether related to email or otherwise as will be mentioned again below. Simply replace “email or folder” with “program” or “file.”

Example email


Use for Individual emails

The task “Checking e-mail” may be better defined as several sub-tasks that are not expressly written into the system:

  1. answer emails that require immediate action,
  2. answer emails that likely take less than 2 minutes,
  3. ignore emails that are not useful,
  4. file important emails that do not require action, and
  5. convert anything else into a task

The URL of the page of any specific email message in the notes section of a task and can therefore be used as the latter of these.

Using key commands, press command-L to highlight the URL, command-C to copy it, and command-V to paste it into the notes section of a new task.

Here is an example:

  • Task: “Reply to John” — Context: “E-mail” — Start date: tod (which automatically converts to today’s date)
    Note: “http://mail.google.com/code_specific_for_this_email”


The start date depends on the estimated response time for the email. If it is something that needs to be done today, it gets today’s start date and therefore shows up in the general/treading water window. If it can wait until the review next week, then it can be left without a date. If its timing is better left for tomorrow (careful with procrastination), then the time is set as tomorrow. If it needs to be reviewed daily, but I do not know when it will be answered it is flagged and is therefore reviewed daily as noted in the Part I.


Email Conversations and Time Stamps

Emails are quite often more than one-way communications and require some maintenance. When sending an email, the email is stored in the sent folder, but rarely do I ever go there. Instead, the URL of the conversation is pasted as the note of the task.

As an example, I have replied to John and am now waiting for his reply. The URL of the conversation is pasted into the note section in a task:

  • Task: “Waiting for John’s Response” Context: “Waiting for …”
    Note: “I last sent message 5/4/09 10:41 AM”


The note has an addition of a time stamp (Shift-Cmd-) and the URL. As mentioned in Part I, “Waiting for …” is a context that is reviewed daily. The addition of a time stamp allows me to see when I last had a conversation. If I want to refresh my memory, I can also click the URL to open a browser and see the conversation quickly.

As you can imagine, this same process of storing times of discussions works well for recording phone calls, too.


Shortening the Distance between Thought and Action

An essential goal we can achieve with task management is in shortening the distance between thought and action. However, doing so without focus invites the haphazard leaving of many tasks and projects to lie about only partially done.

The method outlined above has OmniFocus make something very easy to do, but only at the specific times wanted. OmniFocus becomes the central hub, with the application of e-mail in this case, as one of its spokes.

This allows the mind to relax and follow a natural least resistance path with increased efficiency. The mind is freed from having to remember a routine though essential task until it is necessary. Meanwhile, the activation energy to begin the task is reduced only when the time comes.


In a future post, I hope to address Reviewing as was noted in a comment to part I


This post is now transferred to UsingOmniFocus.com. Further commentary may be made at that site.