I just completed a long overdue reply to a comment on my Simple GTD & Evernote System post.  Part of the reply was about how I use GTD with both Gmail and Evernote.  I figure that it is probably easier to detail the steps of how I use it to ‘Get Things Done’.

Here is what you will need:


Labs features – superstars and multiple inboxes

Sam Adams ‘Blackberry Witbier’ (optional, but highly recommended)

Admittedly, my first attempt at using stars in Gmail was a failure.  I hadn’t decided what the star meant to me.  Was it a reminder of something to do later?  Something cool that I wanted to archive?  In reality, it was all that and more.  They had lost their clean edges – much like a fridge with a recipe (reference material) and a phone number (was that somebody I was supposed to call?).  Eventually you stop paying attention to everything there and just eat.

In March I implemented the ‘Super Nick Email System’ after watching Nicholas Holland present at Ignite Nashville.  He had clarified a few spots for me and it all made sense in a blinding flash.  Watch the ‘Super Nick Email System‘ is on Youtube here.

This is what I ended up with:

By using the ‘multiple inboxes’ I now have a TO-DO folder, a READ & REVIEW folder, a WAITING FOR folder and finally the INBOX.  As you can see from the picture, my inbox is empty.

Here are the steps to setup all the features to make this work.

Click ‘Settings’ in the top right of Gmail

Click the Labs tab and enable ‘Multiple Inboxes’ and ‘Superstars’ and save changes.

Multiple inboxes setup:

Click the Multiplex Inboxes tab

Enter the following information so that each inbox is filtered Panel 0:   has:red-bang Panel 1:   has:purple-question OR is:starred -(has:red-bang) -(has:yellow-bang) -(has:green-check) -(has:blue-info) Panel 2:   has:green-check

Choose the layout, Right-side of the inbox, Above or Below the inbox.   I am using ABOVE the inbox.

Superstars Setup:

Simply drag and drop the stars into this order.  You’ll notice a blue ‘i’ star.  This is experimental and not being covered right now.

Save changes.


Multiple Inboxes & Superstars In Action:

Email arrives and I either process in my web browser window, or via my Gmail Android phone app.  BTW, I have keyboard shortcuts turned on for faster processing.

If the email is something that I want to read later, or review for action items, I star it.  If I know that it is going to be a TO-DO, I will click the Star two times.  If it is something I am WAITING FOR, it gets 3 clicks.

From my mobile phone it makes a yellow star only.  So, I end up with a bunch of items in my READ & REVIEW folder when I process from my phone.

All emails, whether starred or not, gets archived which leaves my INBOX empty.  This is critical for my sanity so that I don’t keep re-reading those emails.

If I processed from my mobile phone, I will go through my READ & REVIEW for TO-DO items and update the star to the red exclamation point.

Once I no longer want the email showing up (ie: I have read it or acted upon it), I uncheck the star and since it is already archived, it disappears from my viewable window.

That is pretty much it.  I think the most complicated portion is the filters for the multiple inboxes.  However, since that is just a copy and paste since I have provided them above, I think you should be able to implement this within just a few minutes.

Let me know your thoughts about how you Get Things Done with Gmail.

PS: I forgot to add this… I have set up a filter so any email that I send myself, or that comes from a specific person (such as a key contact, my wife, etc…) automatically gets a star.  Chances are I don’t want to archive their email accidentally and not take action on it.

4 thoughts on “Getting Things Done In Gmail”

  1. Or you could just use http://ActiveInboxhq.com and align the Notebooks, Tags and Context to Evernote. This is my system – crushing it from a time reduction and brain power perspective. This allows me to take GTD to a whole new level. By doing something right then and there with an email, such as Responding within 2 minutes if appropriate, select one of the waiting on, someday or active buttons in Gmail from ActiveInbox, or sending it to Evernote to archive and reference later if needed.

    Went from 72,000 emails in Gmail to 1,700+/- and working toward a Zero Gmail Archive and Inbox by using the Evernote/ActiveInboxhq combo. Really solid as a workflow goes.

    I have also added Projects as a Notebook to the GTD Evernote Workflow, and then tag with references as to what it is. I do heavy research in Social Media, Conversational Analysis, and Social Network Analysis so I need to reference many things. This allowed me to get the docs off my desktop storage and into Evernote at 1GB per month Premium. Don’t believe I will fill that up per month.

    Great blog. Love GTD. Let me know if I can add anything else – I am a process guy, and work to find efficient ways to generate more time in my day and for my clients.

    1. I’m going to have to check out ActiveInboxHQ. I’ve not used it, but it sounds like you’ve got an awesome system worked out there.

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