Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

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A simple script to postpone your own email

January 14, 2016 — Carlos Fenollosa

I somewhat use email as a task manager. Honestly, I believe we all do. We process emails in the inbox, then archive or delete them when we are done with them.

However, keeping track of emails that need a follow-up on a specific date can be difficult.

Around 2011 I wrote a script to perform that task. It is a very simple IMAP parser that searches for a folder with today's date and moves all its contents to a special folder named "Today".

Let me tell you my email workflow. I understand that not everybody works in the same way, but maybe you can get some ideas to improve your email handling.

My email folder structure looks like this. The interesting part is in bold.

\_ Mailing lists
\_ Project folders
\_ ...

\_ Deadlines
     \_ Today
     \_ Tomorrow
     \_ 2016-01-19
     \_ 2016-02-02
     \_ 2017-08-01

I follow the GTD methodology, which essentially states that tasks should either be done on the spot, delegated, or deferred. Thus, my inbox is exclusively for new tasks. A couple of times a day I process incoming email and, like most of us, either delete it, reply to it, forward it or —this is the interesting part— move it to one of the "Deadlines" folders.

Instead of using the inbox as the "email task manager", I use a folder named "Today". I've tried both alternatives, and I find that it works best for me. Since it separates new tasks from tasks I've already processed, I can work my entire day on "Today" and totally forget about the Inbox, even if new email is arriving.

The "Tomorrow" folder is just a shortcut so that I don't need to create a new folder with tomorrow's date every day.

As you may have guessed, the script runs once a day in a crontab, at 6 AM, and moves all mail from "Tomorrow" and the folder with tomorrow's date to "Today". That's it. And that "simple trick", as fishy marketers like to say, saves me a lot of time and headaches every day.

There is currently a commercial alternative, Boomerang, which you may find interesting if you aren't comfortable with programming. I haven't used it, so I can't comment on that. In any case, I usually prefer writing a small script rather than using a third-party service.

Update: this script by Alex Kapravelos does something very similar, and it integrates with Google Apps Scripts.

Here it is, as a Gist. The code is definitely not the best in the world, but it works. Feel free to use it, modify it (BSD license), give feedback and leave comments.

I hope that you can introduce some ideas from this methodology to your daily workflow. it can be as useful as it's been for me.

Tags: software, tricks, productivity

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