It is a constant annoyance that I have been feeling like always being at the edge of loosing control of life, of loosing track of important issues like mails, tasks, appointments. And it is indeed incredible: around 6.000 incoming mails last year, not counting numerous (some of them high volume) mailing lists, not counting mails on my private accounts, my calendar getting filled at alarming rates already months ahead, to-dos spread all over paper notes, electronic notes, wiki systems etc.
I have recently tried out several solutions to improve the efficiency:
- I have learned to love RememberTheMilk as an online to-do list manager. Beyond the rigidity of lists and hierarchies of lists, RememberTheMilk offers a multitude of possibilities to organize your to-dos, which is important to me (I have currently more than 150 open issues): lists, tags, locations, priorities. And all of this with a multitude of interfaces. I particularly like the sidebar and the Gmail integration (only for Firefox so far, not for Opera), but also the possibilities to have the deadlines of tasks as an iCal feed (nice for conference deadlines). The only thing RTM does not do so far: it does not complete your tasks automatically 😉
- I recently got an invitation for XOBNI, which is an email analysis and navigation tool. Currently, there is an Outlook plug-in that provides very quick searches (also for a 5 GB mailbox), much quicker than Google Desktop, but also reliable threading of conversations (similar to GMail), quick access to attachments, and navigating access to your social network (as represented in your email conversations). And everything context-aware. This especially tackles an key problem of my email environment: getting the context of the discussion and quick access to previous messages. You can also see interesting graphs about your own email behaviour (e.g., average response times, email hours etc.) and that of your network members. Everything simple, nice-looking, and fast. If you are interested – I have still a limited amount of invites left.
The rest of my solutions mainly tackle self-discipline and making adequate use of existing possibilities:
- Make use of automatic filtering of email as much as possible: sort different contexts into different folders (e.g., projects) to give you back the power of deciding when to switch the context.
- Use RSS instead of newsletters: Google Reader (and probably any other newsreader) is much more suitable tool than a newsletter in your inbox.
- Tag messages not only according to context, but also according to their processing status: it is not GTD, but tagging messages for “to do”, “waiting”, and for “to read” (for actually learning about new things, trying out new tools, reading recommended papers etc.) is helpful not to loose control.