Tag Archives: Wunderlist

Wunderlist to Todoist: Handling URLs and Links

I have been using Todoist for one month now. I miss Wunderlist (especially the blue gradient background), but I’ve found a workflow that suits my productivity preferences.

One thing that stood out when I first switched and didn’t yet have Premium features was the way I used URLs in Wunderlist. I hadn’t realized it was such a big deal until I made the switch.

For the record, I thought about including this in my initial switching post, but it’s such a niche usage that I thought I’d isolate it for people who are looking for this specific problem and not really anything else. Maybe the search engine algorithms will do us a favor.

How I Used Bare URLs in Wunderlist

One of my favorite Wunderlist features was that I could paste a URL into any item’s title and have it stay a URL but also become instantly clickable. I got used to seeing the bare URLs. Sometimes I want to see the bare URL. I even found a Firefox extension that gives me bare URLs from Google search results so I could paste them right in without having to click, wait for Google to process, and finally copy the real URL. It was a solid workflow, especially with well-formed URLs (the kind that use words instead of numbers, so you have some idea where the link is taking you).

Todoist has one feature I found supremely annoying. My imported URLs were still there, but they didn’t display as bare URLs anymore. Todoist automatically changes any URL to a hyperlink.

What I saw in Wunderlist: wunderlisturls

What I see automatically in Todoist: todoistwheresthelinkannotated

What I see pre-trick (described below) in task edit mode in Todoist: todoisthalfurlannotated

So for the first time in recent memory, a “feature” was a nuisance for me.

My Solution for Bare URLs in Todoist

I tried deleting Todoist’s automatic link titles (the words you click on). It just converted them again. I tried adding the URL as a comment. That’s a Premium feature. I tried using parentheses or brackets around the bare URL. The URL was no longer clickable.

My solution was to change my typing flow a little bit. The main problem is a visual thing: the links don’t look any different from plain text until I mouse over them. I want to see some visual indicator that, at a glance, tells me “this part is a link.” So I added a caret symbol before the URL:

todoistcareturltrick

You can’t use carets in URLs, so there’s no chance it will get mixed in with the link. I don’t even generally see carets in page titles, and I don’t use them myself, so they don’t look like part of any normal text. Todoist still converts the URL, but it leaves the caret alone.

I ran a search for “http” and found all my imported tasks with URLs. (There were many.) The simpler-format URLs (without the “http://” part) won’t convert, but they also won’t be clickable. I had to update all my URLs by hand, but it worked. Hooray!

Todoist Just Isn’t Good Enough Without Premium

Now that I have Todoist Premium, I just paste my URLs into comments. The automatically-converted URLs actually look quite nice there.

This was a specific example of the reason I didn’t stick with Todoist when I was first looking for a task manager: I had to pay to get what I considered basic features. Sadly, nothing has changed. I became a power user with Wunderlist, and there’s no going back now. Check out my previous post for a little help with the problem of paying for Premium—and if that doesn’t work anymore, please let me know!

7 Quick Takes Potpourri

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

I can’t remember if potpourri has actually been a category on Jeopardy! since I’ve been watching as of late, but it’s fun when it is, and it seems very appropriate for 7QT, so I’m going with it.

— 1 —

The Apostleship of Prayer publishes a daily two-minute reflection to YouTube (and I think to Catholic radio, but I don’t actually listen to Catholic radio, so I can’t confirm or deny). I don’t watch them every day, but I marathon all the videos in chunks. They’re great for watching on my phone when I’m standing in the kitchen waiting for something to cook.

I thought this recent one on why/how we are supposed to (or not supposed to) judge people was especially good:

— 2 —

As I mentioned the last time I did 7QT, I did revise my life plan. It did not have my grandmother in it, although it now has a reminder to call my grandfather (on the other side). It was useful to do a really big sweep through since so much has changed in my life. It also encouraged me to pick up two daily habits I’d tossed by the wayside: reading through the Bible and practicing my Spanish vocabulary with Duolingo. I feel productive.

— 3 —

There’s a Friday solemnity during the Easter octave every year. Simcha Fisher hilariously called it “Meatster Friday,” and I think I have to call it that from now on.

— 4 —

Before Currently, I did tl;dr. Jenna came up with the latter, short-lived link-up before she mostly stopped blogging. I swing by very occasionally to see if she’s posted anything, and on my most recent pass-through, I noticed a lovely post about short prayers to keep ready at a moment’s notice; she calls them “arrow prayers.”

Somehow, I found a similar set of very short prayers compiled by a priest. He has some great ideas in particular for how to pray for people you don’t like very much and how to seek forgiveness in awkward situations. Even tiny prayers are better than no prayer at all.

— 5 —

I ate kind of a lot of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream this past week. It was Peanut Butter Fudge Core, and I completely underestimated how decadent (and fast-melting) it was going to be. I also ate about half of the pint in one sitting. I should stick to the extra-cheap, simple flavors from now on, and I should eat just a little bit from the pint, like I like to. Feeling too full is never great; feeling too full of ice cream is… ugh.

— 6 —

jenfulwilerloveswunderlist

Whenever someone shows their computer desktop, I always peek at what’s on the periphery: how much phone battery do they have, what apps are running in the background, etc. I can’t help it! Jen Fulwiler did not mean to share that she uses the Wunderlist desktop app on her Mac, but I spotted that cute red star banner immediately. Now I’m sad again. I miss Wunderlist.

— 7 —

Mr. Man and I won trivia last week! There were only about a dozen teams, but we somehow had an amazing run and took first place with just the two of us. It was bewildering and awesome, and it is unlikely to ever happen again… but we’ll try.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Wunderlist to Todoist: First Thoughts and Free “Labels”

I did it. After many happy years using Wunderlist as my task management tool with the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, I have switched from Wunderlist to Todoist.

todoistwelcome

I blame Microsoft. As I’ve already lamented here, Microsoft keeps snapping up the independent apps I love, taking their features, and shutting them down. I moved on from Sunrise because I didn’t want to use Outlook, so I’ve moved on from Wunderlist because I don’t want to use Microsoft To-Do. (Yes, that’s its real name.)

This is the first time I’ve ever switched task managers. In some of my GTD reading and podcast listening, I’ve discovered that switching GTD apps is not uncommon. It just sounds so messy. I spend enough time refining my system already; I really just need to get to the “doing” part!

Todoist made importing my tasks very easy. Everything came through the way it was in Wunderlist folders and lists, ready to reorganize Todoist-style. My due dates were there, although I had to reset everything that was recurring. The main import problem was that I needed to fix all my tags. The main usage problem was not having the features available to a Todoist Premium account. (But keep reading; there’s a surprise!)

How I Used Tags in Wunderlist

I started out not using tags at all. I have never been into contexts (a statement which is GTD blasphemy). I use way more due dates than by-the-book GTD allows. However, when I started applying GTD’s concepts of Projects and Next Actions in more detail, I found a use for tags in Wunderlist.

I kept a Wunderlist list for each Project, with a minimum of two items per list: the Next Action and the desired outcome. The name of the list was an abbreviated version of the desired outcome, since the sidebar is only so wide. I marked each Project’s Next Action with “#NA” at the end of the task title, and I marked each outcome with “#outcomes”. The tags were clickable, giving me a very easy workflow for my weekly review. No matter where that item appeared (in my Completed list, in a search, etc.), I could tell it was a Next Action (or outcome) and for which Project.

I wish Wunderlist had offered an automatic list of all the tags you’d created. It was awesome that tags would auto-complete as soon as you typed the hashtag symbol! That showed the data was stored somewhere specific in the program. However, there was literally nowhere else you could view all your tags except in that drop-down. I solved my wish for a task index by creating a list called “Tags.” I used the auto-complete drop-down to create one item for each tag. It took less than a minute.

wunderlisttags

Blurred for privacy, but otherwise my real tag index.

I had to fix things when I switched to Todoist, but my homegrown tag index came in handy for remembering what tags I’d used.

My Solution for Free Labels in Todoist

Todoist uses labels to provide the functionality that Wunderlist called “tags.” I think “tags” is the more universal term for that function, largely thanks to Twitter and Evernote, but Gmail calls the same function “labels,” so maybe that battle over nomenclature will never end.

However, in Todoist, labels are a Premium feature. Bummer. New users and those willing to hack the system a bit can do without, but I had a different vision in mind for a tool that could handle sub-projects. I wanted my own solution, and I didn’t want to pay for it. (Again, keep reading.)

My most-used tags in Wunderlist were:

  1. #NA for GTD Next Actions
  2. #outcomes for GTD Project outcomes
  3. #MrManAgenda (with my boyfriend’s actual name) for agenda items
  4. #waitingfor for Project items that I’m waiting for (non-Project waiting-fors went on a dedicated Waiting list)

My free solutions are, respectively:

  1. Apply the Priority 1″ flag
  2. Apply the Priority 2 flag
  3. Make this a sub-project
  4. Begin each task with the text “waitingfor” (all one word)

Converting my old tags to for-free labels seemed like a huge undertaking—until I realized that Todoist allowed me to view all of the items from all my Project plans lists in one long screen, because I kept them in a single folder in Wunderlist. I simply scrolled down the screen, looking for NA’s and outcomes in each project, deleted the plain-text-starting-with-a-hashtag-symbol, and used the inline language parsing feature to specify “p1” or “p2.” Once I’d finished, I appreciated the way Todoist changes each task’s checkbox (which is actually a circle, not a box) to the color of its priority. The red and orange really stand out!

todoistpriorities

Image from the [Todoist Support page on priorities](https://support.todoist.com/hc/en-us/articles/205873321-Priorities).

The only missing part of my solution is how to handle a Project that has worked its way down to one task: something you’re waiting for that is the last remaining action (and therefore also the Next Action and the desired outcome). I’d suggest using just the Priority 1 flag since the fact that you’re waiting for it is the main reason it’s not done yet.

For a Next Action that is also the desired outcome but for which you are not waiting for something, I would still use just the Priority 1 flag. If you’re looking at your system for Next Actions, you don’t want to miss one that’s doable just because it looks like an outcome.

Finally, for other tags, I would recommend using a unique text string (something that’s not already a word) so that you can add it to the name of the task and search for it when you need it. The hashtag symbols from imported items will still be there in plain text, but you won’t be able to add any text starting with a hashtag in Todoist because it will try to assign your task to a project. (I guess if you used Wunderlist tags for projects, you’re still in business!)

So, since my Wunderlist tag for items to do or discuss with Mr. Man was “#MrManAgenda,” I would write “MrManAgenda” in any new agenda items, and I would remove the plain-text hashtag from imported agenda items. Then, when I sat down with Mr. Man, I would search Todoist for “MrManAgenda” and be all set.

A Big Surprise

Converting to Todoist made me realize that Wunderlist’s free tier was probably too feature-rich for zero dollars. I got used to having power-user features for free. Todoist doesn’t give you those for free. I started missing Wunderlist very quickly. As I described above, though, I was well on my way to making Todoist free work for me.

Just like when I started using GTD, I did some Googling for how to best use Todoist… and if there was any way to get free Premium time beyond the 30-day trial.

Astute readers might have already figured out what happened: I got four free months! I had spotted a few posts with promo codes for free Premium, but they were old enough that I thought the promotions had surely expired. Nope!

To get free Todoist Premium, go to todoist.com/redeem and enter the codes 1MillionTasks (for 1 month) and skillshare (for 3 months). They are stackable, adding up to four months total, and they worked for me as of April 30, 2017.

I was very surprised, but also very happy!

Initial Thoughts on Importing from Wunderlist to Todoist

In the import, subtasks came over seamlessly. I don’t generally use subtasks, but the few I had were just fine. My Wunderlist notes became Todoist comments. (Different term; same functionality. See the “tags vs. labels” discussion above.) I couldn’t add comments without Premium, but I could edit any comment that already existed. (Presumably, I could delete the random empty comments that were imported with some tasks that hadn’t had any notes in Wunderlist, but I wasn’t about to try it and lose a free comment!)

Todoist’s smart due dates are very useful. It is so nice to type “every month on the second Wednesday” and have all my computer cleaning tasks schedule themselves just right!

My checklists (for computer cleaning, house cleaning, blog posts, etc.) had all been preceded with numbers to allow easy sorting in Wunderlist. Those came over to Todoist, but not quite seamlessly.

As a completed task, the items still show numbers on mobile, but not the right numbers:
todoistnumbersannotated

But for some reason, the numbers don’t show up in the not-yet-completed task:
todoistnonumbersannotated

This is a known bug. I just took the numbers out, so they don’t show up anywhere now. The recurring tasks seem to stay in the correct order when I complete them out of order, though, so that’s okay so far.

Completed tasks can’t really be deleted from Todoist, which would have been terrible for my personalized Weekly Review if I hadn’t found another solution almost instantly. I use an IFTTT (pronounced like “gift”) recipe that adds a line to a Google Sheet every time I complete a task. I review that sheet each week, add a line so I know where to start reviewing next time, and skip the step from my old procedure where I deleted everything. It’s working well.

Finally, in the aforementioned Googling, I found and marathoned Carl Pullein’s excellent step-by-step, bite-size tutorials about using Todoist. The best episodes are:

I miss Wunderlist, but I’m excited about the possibilities that Todoist is offering me. It took several hours to get up and running, and of course I’m still tinkering with my system, but I am still getting things done.

Wunderlist and GTD: My Weekly Review

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Wunderlist & GTD.

A sad time has come, dear readers: I have to find a new app for my to-do list.

Microsoft acquired Wunderlist (WL) in late 2015. Nothing much had changed since then besides an Outlook integration. But last week, MS and WL announced the preview of the new app, which is called To-Do. The name and current bare-bones functionality leave much to be desired. I have to face the reality that my beloved, life-changing task management app will be shut down in the next few months.

I used Sunrise, too, and I ran away as soon as Microsoft announced its sunset (pun intended), so I am doing the same with Wunderlist. I always had a second-choice app in mind, so it’s time to make the move.

In the meantime, I’ve had the draft of this post ready to go for a while, so it’s also time to press “publish.” The concept of applying GTD principles to specific apps remains relevant even if my specific app will soon be no more.


I like to have an elevator pitch ready for my life-changers, so of course I have one for Getting Things Done (GTD). It sounds like this:

GTD is a productivity methodology popularized by David Allen in his book of the same name. It’s based on three principles: ubiquitous capture, the two-minute rule, and the Weekly Review. When you think of something you need to do, you capture it. Write it down immediately—unless it can be done in less than two minutes. In that case, you do it immediately. Once a week, you review everything you’ve written down.

The part that thwarts even GTD black belts is the Weekly Review. In my opinion, if you’re not doing the Weekly Review, you’re not doing GTD. Period. Once you build the Weekly Review (WR) habit, you will wonder how you ever maintained a to-do list before.

Do I always do my WR? No—but when I skip it, I feel the pain. When I was home with my family for Christmas 2015, I fell out of all my usual routines. I skipped my WR for two weeks straight and was horrified at the result. But I recovered, and now I make the WR a priority.

Tips for Actually Doing Your Weekly Review

  • Pick your best day and time. I do my reviews on Tuesday. The middle of the week is when my life slows down a little bit. I started out by scheduling it for Sunday. I never did it until Tuesday anyway, so I finally just changed the schedule. The best productivity method is the one that works for you!

  • Move quickly. It’s a review, not a retreat. It is easy to get bogged down in your Projects list or to get distracted by items you capture along the way. Just keep going. Project planning is a separate process.

  • Finish your review every time. It is best to complete the WR all in one go, but that’s not strictly necessary. A WR checklist is a checklist for a reason: if you need to stop before you’re finished, you can pick up where you left off. The point is to do a complete review once per week. Starting on Friday afternoon and finishing Saturday morning is okay. I start mine on Tuesday morning… or afternoon… and sometimes finish on Thursday. That works for me.

My Weekly Review Checklist

Screenshot of my Weekly Review.

Click for full-size.

I adapted this from the official checklist (scroll down at that link), and I have modified it since then as my needs have changed. I keep my checklists right in Wunderlist (WL) so I can check them off as I go. They are set to repeat weekly (duh), so they regenerate right away, which gets the checklist ready for next time.

As you can see, my actual checklist starts with step 00. Wunderlist will sort that to the top alphabetically, so I use it. Step 00 is processing my physical inbox. That doesn’t always happen at the same time I do the rest of my review. It’s limited to a place (my room) and time (when I’m at home), whereas everything else can happen online from anywhere.
The rest of my Weekly Review goes like this:

  1. Process Inbox list. Almost everything I put into WL goes to the Inbox smart list first. Here, I do the second and third steps of the GTD workflow: clarify what I’ve captured, and organize it into my other WL lists.

  2. Review Completed list and past week on calendar and write entry in Done Journal. This is the “get current” part of the official checklist, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the WR. My Done Journal is not part of GTD, and I do not keep it in WL. It deserves its own post. For now, suffice it to say that I go through the Completed smart list in WL and look back on my calendar (from the time since my last review to “today”). Anything that triggers a new thought gets captured. I move over to the Inbox list, type, hit Enter, and go back to reviewing. Don’t stop to clarify!

  3. Delete completed tasks. WL keeps every task you mark as complete. Every single one. That, to me, is clutter. I don’t need that kind of clutter in my system, so I delete them at this point in my WR.

  4. Review upcoming week on calendar. I capture anything that comes up as I look over the next week or two. This step frequently reminds me of things I forgot about! GTD is designed to let you forget about things until you need them, so it helps you set up a reminder system. This is one of the reminder phases.

  5. Review #monthlygoals. I don’t use stars or subtasks, but I do use limited tags. This is one of them. I currently have just one monthly goal, but this step reminds me that I should be making progress on that one goal every week. My monthly goal is also part of a Project. This part of my system is still messier than I’d like, but it works for now.

  6. Review Week list. WL makes a smart list of everything that has a due date for the next seven days, sorted by day. I look through it and reorganize as needed. Using WL for web, I drag-and-drop items from one day to another. In the web app, I can also remove due dates completely or change them to today or tomorrow with the right-click context menu. I capture anything that emerges in the process. I also compare my scheduled tasks for each day to my calendar. If I’m not going to be home until 9 p.m., there’s no use pretending I’ll get much done that has to happen at home. And yes, a lot of things are scheduled. For me, what gets scheduled gets done.

    Screenshot of my Projects and Project Plans.

    Click for full-size. Blurred for privacy. Yes, that says 2016; I’ve been working on this draft for a while.

  7. Review Projects list and plans for #NA or #waitingfor and #outcomes and log completed projects. I keep one Projects list and a separate Project Plans folder in WL. For this step, I sort the Project list alphabetically and add or remove due dates where applicable. I make sure I have the same number of lists in my Project Plans folder as items on my Projects list. For example, if I have 15 Projects and 16 Project Plans, then I’ve finished a Project and I need to delete the now-empty Project Plan list.
    Then, I click the tag (which is a clickable link because it’s written into this step on my WR checklist; see WR screenshot) to search for each Project’s Next Actions (NAs). The search results are sorted by list, so I count to make sure the number of lists with NAs matches my number of Projects. If not, one or more of them needs a Next Action, or it has something I’m waiting for that keeps me from taking any action right now. I click the “outcomes” tag and do the same thing. I do not review my Project Plans here! That’s how you get stuck doing a three-hour WR.

    Screenshot of my AoF list and items from my Dance AoF.

    Click for full-size. These are my real AoFs, by the way.

  8. Review Areas of Focus. I keep most of my tasks sorted by Area of Focus, so this is an important step, and it usually takes the longest. I actually read/skim through every single item. I sort each list by due date and review what’s in there—especially items I added in Step 1 of this WR.

  9. Review Waiting list. I follow up on anything that’s been here for a while, adding dates for hard and soft deadlines. Throughout WL, I use due dates as an electronic version of my physical tickler file. I’m okay with just remembering the difference between hard deadlines and soft ones.

  10. Review Someday/Maybe list. I skim this. I save the hard work of digging in and deleting things for my monthly review (which also deserves a separate post).

  11. Review Trigger list. I customized a version of the official list that I copied-and-pasted from 43folders. It doesn’t always jog my memory, but sometimes it does!

  12. Review Goals, Vision, and Mission. These are separate lists I keep for the “higher horizons” of GTD. GTD is not great for managing the higher horizons (long-term goals), but it’s useful to remind myself on a weekly basis why I do what I do.

  13. Download Wunderlist backup to hard drive. Just in case. Considering how much I rely on this app, I should probably back up more than once a week. I could probably recover if I lost a few days, though.

And that’s it! Everything I’ve captured during my Weekly Review is now waiting in my Inbox list, where I will process it. If I somehow miss processing for a whole week (like that Christmas), those items will be processed during Step 1 of my next Weekly Review.

The Weekly Review is just an overview. Finish it so you can get back to doing.

Additional Resources

Leo Babauta offers some tips for getting your Weekly Review done in under an hour. Tip #6 is my favorite.

If you’re an audio person, the rebooted GTD podcast has an episode that walks you through your Weekly review. You can download it and play it every week, if that helps you. It’s like having a free, non-personalized coach!

“GTD with Wunderlist – Part I” Is Available Here!

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Wunderlist & GTD.

The Internet is a vast and fleeting resource. As I often say, “the Internet never forgets.” That is, until it does.

If you’re just here for the plain-text archive of “GTD with Wunderlist – Part I,” click here! Otherwise, read on for the story.

As I keep mentioning in my ad-hoc WL + GTD series, I love the Getting Things Done productivity methodology (GTD) and Wunderlist (WL). I think Wunderlist is a great tool for GTD. With very few up-to-date resources, I built a GTD implementation in Wunderlist that works for me. I hear praise for GTD all the time and for various apps to use for GTD, but no one ever mentioned WL. I couldn’t be the only one. On a whim, I searched the Wunderlist Support Center to see if there were other aficionados hiding in a space not indexed by Google.

Lo and behold, I found my people! So many of the other threads are full of angry Internet personas (nothing makes people complain quite like not getting as much free stuff as they want), but we were actually cordial.

Our original thread's header in the Wunderlist Support Center.

Sadly, we had such a long and lively discussion that we discovered the Community Forum’s technical limits the hard way. After we had contributed the maximum 100 posts to our thread, I found myself mysteriously unable to post to it. The posts aren’t numbered, so there was no real way we could even know how many we’d made. I had to contact WL Support myself to find out there was a limit in the first place. There were no other references to that limit, so that was an unpleasant surprise.

I was, however, encouraged when a Support staffer created a new thread and added a (non-clickable, as usual) link to the old one in its first post. Hooray! Problem solved.

Until it wasn’t. After “a period of inactivity,” the thread was automatically deleted and unrecoverable. It only went inactive because we reached a limit we hadn’t even known about! That was extremely upsetting. After WL’s three-day sync debacle, I started seriously considering changing apps.

Happily, our original poster, Youssef E.B., saved us! Like a good GTD-er (and a good Internet researcher, really), he kept a PDF of the entire thread for Part I. He sent it to me, I extracted the text, and I am posting it here at Lindsay Loves.

Click here for the archived, plain-text version of the Wunderlist Community Forum thread “GTD with Wunderlist – Part I.”

I have the original PDF, but the file is too huge for me to host publicly. The Support Center only allows plain-text posts anyway, so that plain-text version is as close to mint as possible. The text is completely unedited. I copied, pasted, removed the upvote/downvote text, and did nothing else.

If you’re interested in Wunderlist and GTD, come join us on the Part II thread. No registration required. Also feel free to leave comments here or use my contact form; I’m just an ordinary user, but I do like to help people. Enjoy!

Wunderlist and GTD: Getting Started with Email Bankruptcy and Inbox Zero

I am not a GTD or Wunderlist coach or trainer, but I do like to help people. One of the biggest hurdles is just getting started, especially if you’ve heard that GTD is too complicated, or you’ve been burned by trying to use apps for GTD before. Maybe I can help. This will probably be the least app-oriented post in my ad-hoc GTD and Wunderlist series, but it tells you how I got started. Maybe this will work for you, too!

A note: Some people are dabblers. They think, “I will try this new app/system/process/thing to see if it works.” So they use it halfway, or two or three times total, and then they decide it doesn’t work. That’s not me. I am an “all in” kind of girl. I call it the “This Is My Life Now” Method. I said to myself, “GTD is my life now. Wunderlist is the app I’m using.” I gave myself permission to quit in a month if it wasn’t working, but during that month, I was all in. And I stayed there.

So, be warned: my advice will only help if you’re ready to dive in all the way.

Declare Email Bankruptcy

I use GTD mostly for my personal life, but I use a less-strict version at work, too. Unless you are starting a brand-new job, you probably have a backlog. (Life always comes with a backlog.) You have an old to-do list, or two, or three. You have Post-Its stuck to your desk, walls, and computer monitor. You have emails in your inbox that you read and then marked as “unread” because you need to do something with them, but you didn’t do it the first time you read them. Now, though, you can’t remember what it is that you have to do, so you have to re-open the email and re-read it to figure it out. I’ve heard stories of inboxes with 3,000 unread emails!

That’s not good. That’s no way to live.

The bad news is that you might not ever catch up, and all of that stuff is clutter that you can’t stop thinking about. David Allen calls these “open loops.” You are wasting time with every email you have to re-open and reassess. You have a note on your desk that says “Mom.” What does that mean?

The good news is that no one lets you forget something that’s really important. I forgot to pay taxes on my AmeriCorps Education Award one year, so the IRS sent me a strongly-worded letter. They did not forget. If any of those 3,000 emails is critical, you will get another email. If you forget to call your mom on her birthday, she will let you know.

There is really only one way out: declare email bankruptcy. Put every single email in your inbox into a “Backlog” folder. If you use Gmail, like I do, label them all “Backlog” and archive them. For physical to-do lists and Post-Its, put them in a file folder or envelope labeled “Backlog.”

Now, take a deep breath and enjoy the look of your clean inbox and clear desk. The Gmail iOS app even gives you a smiling sun as a reward!

Gmail at inbox zero says, "You have no mail. Please enjoy your day!" Thanks, smiling sun!

Sign up for Wunderlist and look at your big, empty Inbox list. Don’t worry; you’ll be seeing these beautiful, clear vistas again at least once a week. This is your life now.

Learn Inbox Zero

Inbox zero is a way of life. Your goal is to reach inbox zero at least once per week. This means that you will have:

  1. Zero emails in your inbox
  2. Zero items in your physical inbox(es)
  3. Zero tasks in your Wunderlist Inbox list
  4. Zero tasks floating around in your brain

Yes, this is possible. I’m living proof! (I struggle with my physical inbox.)

The simplest way to visualize this is to compare your email inbox to your physical mailbox, the one the U.S. Postal Service uses. Some things that wind up in there are fun, like birthday cards. Some are less exciting but very important, like bills. Some are things you just can’t figure out how to stop getting; we call that “junk mail.” I’ll bet you can think of parallels for things floating around in your brain.

No one goes to the mailbox, peers inside, shuffles through to get the fun stuff, and closes it back up with the junk mail and bills still inside. If you do that for too long, the box gets full and the Postal Service will literally stop delivering your mail until you go to the post office in person, with ID, and tell them that you’ve emptied it out. True story.

In GTD terms, any thoughts bouncing around in your head work just like emails lingering in your email inbox. Think of your brain like a gooey version of your email inbox. According to the cognitive science David Allen cites in the revised edition of the GTD book, your brain inbox can only hold about four items. After that, one of them has to go before something else can be stored. That’s why you forget where you parked.

The key is to get everything out of your inboxes and into a trusted system like Wunderlist. You will work out of that system. Not out of your head. Not from memory. Not in your email inbox. You’ll build a system, use the system, and work the system.

Practice Inbox Zero

I’ll use email in this part because it’s more straightforward, but the same things apply to processing your brain, your physical inbox(es), and your Wunderlist Inbox list.

From now on, you don’t “check email.” You process email. You will deal with every single email that hits your inbox as though it’s a piece of regular mail. Emails don’t live in your inbox anymore. They come in (something you can’t always control, just like regular mail), and then you process them out.

This is a shortened version of David Allen’s basic GTD processing workflow:

  1. Open the email (unless you can delete it without opening it, based on the subject line).
  2. Decide what to do with it. Ask yourself, “What is this?”
  3. Delete it, if possible. (It will be in your trash folder if you make a mistake.)
  4. If you need to do something based on what’s in the email, and you can do it in less than 2 minutes, do it right now.
  5. If someone else needs to do something, delegate the task by forwarding the email to that person.
  6. If you need to do something, but you can’t do it now, forward the email to me@wunderlist.com. The subject line becomes the task title, and the body of the email goes into the task notes.
  7. File the original email in one big “Archive” folder. Gmail makes this easy.
  8. Repeat until you have zero emails in your inbox. Then celebrate!

In summary: open, decide, delete/do/delegate/defer, and file. Move fast. It will be scary to start filing and deleting emails immediately. Everything’s still there if you need it, though. Even Gmail only deletes your trash every 30 days.

Aim to reach inbox zero at least once per week. When you get really good, you can reach inbox zero several times a day.

Stop “Checking Your Email” Constantly

If you have been “checking email” for more than 30 minutes, stop and do some other kind of work. Unless one of your explicit job responsibilities is to read and reply to email, you have other work to do. It’s called Getting Things Done, not Checking Your Email All Day. Open your inbox, and process to zero. Then go to Wunderlist and work from there. You will find all the work you have to do because something was emailed to you.

How often should you process your inbox? That’s up to you. The best of the best can do it just one a day, in the late afternoon. At a minimum, I process first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch, 30 minutes before my workday ends, and last thing. That last check usually consists of deferring everything to the next day. To figure out what works for you, try processing every 30 minutes. Adjust from there.

I can’t lie: it was scary when I applied this at my job for the first time. I made it My Life Now for a week, and now I’m never going back. It took my coworkers some time to get used to our new face-to-face exchanges.

Coworker: Did you get my email?

Me: When did you send it?

Coworker: Just now [or “two minutes ago,” “ten minutes ago,” even “thirty minutes ago”].

Me: No, I did not get your email. (opens Outlook, which I use at work) (discusses email with coworker)

But now I’m evangelizing them all about the glories of converting. It’s pretty cool.

Capture, and Work Through Your Backlog

You might also wonder what to do with new tasks, random task-related thoughts, or things like a honey-do list. Those don’t show up in Gmail. This is where the first step of GTD, Capture, is invaluable. When you think of a new task (or get one from someone else) by any channel other than email, enter it into your Wunderlist Inbox list or put it in a physical inbox tray.

As for your backlog, go through that in 30-minute or 10-email bursts once a day, every day. Start with the most recent emails (because those will have the freshest or most urgent information) and with any emails from family or friends (because they care about you). Truly urgent things (like a fire alarm) don’t let you ignore them, and people get angry when you ignore them. Once you reach items that are over about 30 days old, you can probably ignore those forever.

To manage and complete tasks in Wunderlist, you’ll actually be moving into the five-step GTD process. Discussing that is for another day.

Additional Resources

Sci-fi writer and Evernote Ambassador Jamie Todd Rubin offers some tips for how to stay at inbox zero. Skip the first tip. Boomerang makes you re-process email, and Mailbox is no longer available.

Wade Roush of Xconomy shares his story about declaring email bankruptcy. Don’t be scared! You can do this!

Gretchen Louise offers her own tips for maintaining inbox zero, including one for the Spam folder that I also use.

The widely-accepted originator of the term “inbox zero,” Merlin Mann points out that inbox zero is a state of mind, not just a number. Your actual work shouldn’t be maintaining that zero; just focus on reaching it more often than never.

The GTD VSG (Virtual Study Group) hosted a discussion on working from zero. You can download the recording directly or find it in your podcast app of choice. There is some great advice on how often to aim for and achieve inbox zero.

I really like the team at Asian Efficiency. They updated their recommended email processing technique to promote inbox zero and get rid of their previous folder system. The current recommendation is basically the exact system I use at work with Outlook (which has superb email-to-task integration).

Not Alone Series: Plans for 2015

notaloneseries

How are we going to make 2015 different than last year? What goals are you planning/making to be more YOU this year? These goals can be personal growth, spiritual life, physical/health, or even your love life! Maybe you don’t have concrete ones yet, but it helps to talk them out and get motivated!

I posted about resolutions yesterday, including a recap of my philosophy about making New Year’s resolutions. (I wrote about resolutions last year, too. I’m still going on both of those.) In a nutshell, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I make resolutions when I think they need to be made, and they usually stick.

My best resolutions of the recent past have been flossing, setting a bedtime, drinking more water, budgeting, and using GTD and Wunderlist. For the near future, I am working on setting a bedtime and something secret.

Past Resolutions I’m Going to Continue

I started flossing daily in December. I am embarrassed to admit that it took this long to develop the habit, but I’m in for the long haul now.

I did National Blog Posting Month in November, and it was great for my writing fluency, my traffic, and my confidence.

On October 14, I drew a line in the sand and gave myself a bedtime. Going to bed earlier than I would like forces me to be more efficient with my time. I set an alarm on my Google Calendar, which is synced with my phone. (That is how I know the exact date I started.) GCal is always open in my browser, so the pop-up interrupts what I’m doing and forces me to at least acknowledge that I ought to go to bed. It literally says, “Go to bed.” My phone chimes to alert me if I’m away from my computer (although it is rare that I’m not at my computer at that time of day). Most nights, I push through to wrap up “just one more thing,” but I know that it is bedtime. Knowledge is power.

I adopted GTD and Wunderlist in September. I needed a better to-do list. I think I’ve found it. My use of both tools grows and changes over time—and that’s exactly what I needed. I started to describe my implementation for this post, but it turned into enough for a separate post! Basically, I use the Wunderlist browser and mobile apps to write down everything I need to do. I cross tasks off the list during the day and review my progress daily and weekly. It’s been fantastic. More to come.

Last summer, I realized that I needed to drink more water. My office has a water cooler. I left my beloved FOCUS Nalgene bottle on the plane when we landed in Nicaragua in 2012, and I hadn’t replaced it since then. A cute striped bottle caught my eye at Target, beginning a new love affair. I used the stripes to measure how much I drank, and I slowly started increasing each fill-up. At home, I just refilled my water glass; I use one glass per day. I don’t always stay hydrated all day every day, especially on weekends, but I love the way I feel when I do.

I found YNAB (You Need a Budget) (referral link) in May. It changed my life permanently. I effectively fell in love with YNAB. Read my story, and you’ll understand.

New Resolutions

NaBloPoMo is biggest in November, but BlogHer actually hosts it every month. I signed up for January. I haven’t decided whether to keep going through February.

I feel good about my spiritual life these days. Lectoring is my favorite ministry, so it brings me peace to belong to a parish and lector on a schedule. I’ll keep going to Spirit & Truth every week unless I don’t live in Austin anymore or have a child I can’t bring with me. Resuming my individual weekly holy hour is on my Someday/Maybe list for now. Not only do I make resolutions whenever I need them, I make them only when I need them.

As for love life resolutions, I have one, but I’m not sharing. I love expressing myself here, but until/unless I’m ready to let the whole world know, I can’t blog about it. Trust me when I say that it is SMART and will hopefully be fruitful.


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