Posts from  February 2013


Make your inbox responsive with Astrid and the 4Ds of time management

A responsive inbox is almost always empty within a few minutes of checking it. It fosters rapid response times. Think of how frustrating it is to wait for days for a response, or to never get one at all!

Conflicting Purposes: Notification and Time Management

For at least 10 years now the inbox has been a constant factor in our lives. This drives many of us to use it for conflicting purposes, a noification queue and a todo list. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Using "Mark Unread" to indicate high priority todos, "Mark Read" for low priority.
  • Sorting by date (to see new emails) leading to old "high priority" emails getting shuffled to the bottom of an ever growing list.
  • Constantly rescanning the inbox for things to do.
  • Never having an empty inbox.

Visibility and Trust in Astrid

Separating notifications from todos has significant advantages. The problem is trust and visibility in a task management system, putting it in front of my face almost as often as I check my email and maybe eventually moreso. Astrid hepls put a time management system in front of my face every day. It has a fantastic mobile interface on Android and iOS. The web interface is sufficient, though I hope they can speed it up. I pin it in Chrome, right next to my inbox. Astrid provides the visibility I need to separate notifications from time management.

Separating Concerns: Inbox as Notification Queue, Astrid for Time Management

The simplest way to achieve this separation is to treat our inbox as a notification queue. When we work on it we are actively handling notifications and scheduling tasks into something like Astrid. Processing notifications is really just a recurring task that could be scheduled too. Scott Hanselman recommends this to avoid your inbox becoming a distraction like facebook. Once the inbox is empty go back to Astrid for the next item of work.


Several blogs and videos advocate handling email, and other notifications, using the system of 4Ds: Drop it, Do it now, Do it later or Delegate it. This is a great foundation to get through your inbox quickly!

My techniques for my inbox

  • Automatic filtering to lower priority notification queues
    • If ads are important to me (ie: finding coupons or sales), why not schedule time for that? A recurring task on the weekend is a great way to handle this. If nothing else I can empty my ads folder at that time.
    • With appropriate filtering of your inbox, you can efficiently create separate notification queues with any level of priority.
    • These are automatic "Do it later"
  • Drop It
    • If the email requires no action, I delete it.
    • If necessary, I'll notify the sender of my inaction.
    • Most of the time this is junk mail or ads. I try to immediately unsubscribe or change filtering rules to move these to an "ads" folder.
  • Do It Now
    • If I need to act on an email, I'll decide when. If I can act in under a few minutes, I will. I'll waste at least that much time managing it in Astrid over the coming weeks, so it's often worth the time to do it now.
  • Delegate It Now
    • If it's something I need to delegate to someone else, and I can do that quickly, I will immediately.
    • I'll add a task in Astrid to follow up if it's something I am responsible to see to completion.
    • Usually I'll CC the original sender, especially if I'm not following up.
  • Do It Later
    • If I need more time I'll add a task in Astrid with a date when I need to come back to it.
    • Usually I'll notify the sender of the date, giving them a chance to raise timeliness concerns I may be unaware of.
    • Then I'll forget about it!
  • Delegate It Later
    • Some tasks may take time to figure out who to delegate them to, in this case I'll schedule the Delegation task as a "Do It Later".
  • Other Recurring Tasks
    • Consider scheduling time each day to check your inbox, schedule the frequency to match the level of responsiveness you want to provide. Otherwise, ignore your inbox.
    • Weekly task to unsubscribe from newsletters or ads that frequently get deleted. I prefer to get recurring news via RSS feeds. If you don't find yourself reading your RSS feeds often enough, you can always schedule a weekly task to remind yourself until it becomes second nature.
    • Consider a task per low priority notification queue you created with automatic filtering, like for processing ads.
    • Monthly task to review how I could be using my inbox more effectively.

A few Astrid notes

  • Read, especially the email forwarding, you'll want to use that for efficiency
  • Read
  • Subscribe to or the topic specific feeds
  • If you use gmail read especially see the section on the "Remind Me" button!
  • Sign up for a premium account, the batch editing is worth it to move groups of tasks quickly.
  • Put the 4 item (or larger) widget on your mobile device on your home screen so it stares at you every time you open your phone. This is part of making Astrid visible
  • Try out the sharing feature, it's great for delegating work. This is especially great for family.
  • The "Today" view helps you stay focused.
  • Don't attach time to tasks, use a separate reminder system if you are worried about a deadline. The best way to schedule work is to pick the day it needs to happen on, then mark it higher priority if it should happen first. It's inefficient to schedule everything by time, it never works in reality.
  • Turn off mobile notifications, they just clutter your notification bar, get used to the widget and the "Today" view and checking this every day. If necessary, create a calendar alert to check Astrid until it becomes second nature.
  • The web interface is a bit slow, especially with searching, so just be aware.


Stop using your inbox as a todo list. Clean it out every time you check it. Use the 4Ds to schedule a task for anything you can't handle quickly. Get used to using a time management system. This will keep your inbox responsive!


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