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Getting Things Done (GTD), Mutt, and Vim

I've Googled about 100 articles in the past couple days detailing how people best use Mutt to implement their theory of how GTD works for them. I found alot of good articles, but many implemented alot of scripts and extra headers, and tagging... yuck. Way too much!

The point of GTD is to make the world and your email in particular work for you, not you work for it. I don't want to manually have to edit a "X" header everytime I want to tag an email with "Defer" or "Reply". I want to just hit a one or two keystroke combination and be done with it.
The major point of GTD is to navigate through life easier, not have alot of things pending in your mind. Get it out of your mind and get it on paper, (or whatever) and be done with
thinking about it. Just have it in a trusted bucket where you can store stuff.

So I have a different theory. First off let me preface this by saying that I do not keep my To-Do list and "Next Actions" list in Mutt. I use a VIM outline. This is an excellent way for me to keep up on how things are going with my actions simply by looking at them. I know what needs
to be done next, I know what things I am waiting on, all at a glance.  This is how I envisioned it.

My contexts are simple:

@home -- All the tasks that could be done at home, Cleaning the Garage, organizing the basement, getting the taxes together, being an awesome dad. You get the picture.

@work -- All the tasks that could be (should be, have to be) accomplished at work. Doing Timesheets, filing bug reports, answering email, talking with a coworker about a project.

@waiting -- Stuff I am waiting on someone else for. Do I need to ping them? No, but I reguarily review my @waiting list to make sure that people get back to me on items, and if they don't then I make a next action item to ping them back @work or @home.

@someday -- Someday/Maybe. All the things I'd like to accomplish someday. Clean out my Closet, Finish that Snort paper i've been working on.

@review -- Weekly/Daily tasks. This is usually the first thing I check. Things I need to do "today". If I need to do something on a particular day, I'll make an appt in iCal to do it. Nothing goes on the calendar unless it WILL get done that day. The Calendar is sacred territory. Then I make a reminder in iCal to alert me. Things I need to accomplish that are "next action items" in @home or @work, I'll simply say "check @work" in my @review list. Simple.

@phone -- Phone calls I need to make. These can be done anywhere.  Whenever I have a chance to do them, I'll make a couple phone calls.  Things rarely go in there because I basically loathe talking on the phone. I'd rather do everything through IRC, IM, or email. I keep records of stuff this way.

That's it. Under the contexts, if I have a particular project I'll indent it. For example.
Clean Garage
-- Go to Lowe's
-- Buy Shelves
-- Assemble Shelves
-- Make time to clean Garage
-- Clean Garage

Simple enough. When I indent once, it's a project, any indents under the project are next action items. Now, next to the Next action items, I have lines. "--". Let me define my lines.

-- To do.
++ Cancelled.
\- Done
-> Deferred or assigned to someone else
?- Waiting on this.

That's it. No need to get tricky. Now I can easily glance at my list and tell what needs to be done, what has been done, and what I am waiting on.

KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid!

Now, for the other part. Email, mutt (or muttng -- which I use) and how I have it implemented.

Before I started the GTD philsophy, I used the folder method. You know the one.. "All email from Sourcefire goes in the Sourcefire folder." "All email from snort-users list goes in the snort-users list folder." What do you wind up with? A hundred folders! This isn't the most
efficient way to do anything. So I had to get away from that. I started thinking, what is the most efficient way of sorting email? I got a hold of a friend of mine Emory, and asked him what he did (he's a big GTD guy as well), and he gave me a couple thoughts. So I took his ideas, combined them with a couple of my ideas, and here we are.

I made 4 folders.
_Read -- Emails I have read.
_Reply -- Emails I need to reply to, but it will take me over 2 minutes to do so. (GTD's philosophy is, if it takes >2 minutes to do something, you need to alot some time to do it. If it takes <2>

_Waiting -- Emails that I am waiting on someone else to get back to me about the contents on.

_Defer -- Emails that I assigned to someone else but I need to stay in on until completion (things rarely go here).

I have another folder called "lists" that I already had. Under the folder lists I had about 20 subfolders with all the listservers I subscribe to. This.. was too much for easy sorting.

First thing I did was move all the email from all the subfolders under "lists" and put it in "lists". Of course, I wound up with about 13,000 emails in here, but who cares? It's all in context and it will make more sense in a second.
Second thing I did was change all my procmail recipes (or rules) to instead of putting everything in subfolders of "lists", just dump it all in "lists".
Third thing I did was get rid of all the auto-processing rules to sort emails by sender. I had rules in there, if they came from to put into a folder called sourcefire. If it came from or, put it in apple. Too much. Put it all in the inbox. Pretty
simple so far.

The next thing I did, since I am going to have more email coming into my inbox now, is to have a way to easily process it. I wanted to be able to read an email, mark it, and know exactly where it is. "Hey that email from Billy-bob, is it in sourcefire? is it in snort-users? In defer? Where
the hell did I put that". Spotlight on the mac makes this very nice, however, I am using mutt. So I needed a better way. Finally I came up with my answer. Macros. I wanted to be able to mash a key or two and have my email sort automatically after I get done reading it. So I made
some muttng macros.
macro index,pager \1 "=_Read" "Save Message to _Read"
macro index,pager \
2 "=_Reply" "Save Message to _reply"
macro index,pager \
3 "=_Waiting" "Save Message to _waiting"
macro index,pager \
4 "=_Defer" "Save Message to _defer"
macro index,pager \
5 "=lists" "Save Message to Lists"
macro index,pager \
6 "=spam" "Move Message to spam"

Now, when I mash "esc 1" the email is copied to _Read and marked for deletion in Inbox. No selecting the folder, no hitting "yes" no hitting enter. I just mash Esc-1. Done.
Same thing with 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I don't have to change headers or anything. They are sorted by folder, and I don't have to worry about it. I use the sidebar patch (built into muttng) to see how many emails I have in each folder at a glance. If you use mutt and you don't use the
sidebar, I suggest a look. Very handy.

That's it. In my sidebar I have 6 folders. Now my workflow is simple.

Email comes in, do I need to respond, or assign it to someone else? Yes or No?   If yes, will the response take longer than two minutes. If Yes, file to _Reply, if No, respond. If I do not need to respond file to _Read. If I need to assign it to someone else, forward it. If I need to
track it, the email goes to _defer until tracking is done, then it goes to _read.

All listserv traffic goes to lists. I check this a couple times a day just to skim through.

The spam folder is for spam (duh). And I get ALOT of spam. Fortunately for me, I have built some really bullet-proof spam rules in procmail and they do 95% of the sorting for me. However. Everyone once in awhile, a real email will get sent to spam (empty subjects, people who write in all caps, people who send me subjects with all Caps, or a whole bunch of

The only other folder that is automatically filed is a folder called "big". All emails that have attachments that are over 3 mb/s in size go to this folder. This rarely happens and 100% of the time people will ask me "Hey I just sent you an email with a bunch of pictures in it, did you get it?"  I'll go check big. Done.

I think this system will work for me. Let me know if any of it works out for you.

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uzoma said…
So how is this working for you so far? I'm just now really looking into switching back to text-based mailers.
Joel Esler said…
It works great. I use more then I use Mutt now, simply because opening attachments and such is a pain in the ass over ssh.
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