Making eMail excellent: A long-overdue rethink and a much anticipated application

Email client applications are all much of a muchness; some do more than others with tagging, highlighting and rules, but in the main they ultimately allow you to read email.

From a ‘Getting Things Done‘ (GTD) perspective, email has been the one ‘inbox’ (in the sense of GTD) that has been incongruous to the rest in my system; I’ve found it really difficult to smoothly integrate emails in my inbox into my GTD workflow.

Update March 2015: Since writing this post I have experimented further. You can see my latest thoughts in this blog post.

Amongst other methods, I’ve tried:

  • Tagging emails with project and a ‘verb’ (“@action”, “@waitingfor”, “@sometime”)  (but this leaves me with more than one place to review items);
  • Copying the email into Evernote (with tags), archiving the email and adding a task to Wunderlist (which works, but is ungainly and inelegant);
  • Simply adding a task to Wunderlist (with tags), archiving the email and relying on the Mail application’s search features to find the email when the time comes to process the task (which is the easiest at getting me to ‘Inbox zero’, but has the potential to make later review that much harder).

(Although not explicit above, you can read ‘Wunderlist’ as ‘Wunderlist/calendar’.)

So it is with great anticipation that I await the formal release of a new Mail application (for Mac) – Mail Pilot (@MailPilotApp on Twitter).

Mail Pilot is a Kickstarter funded project which has garnered over 150% funding, such is the demand for an email application that has been completely re-thought from the bottom up. Rather than new emails coming in as ‘unread’ they arrive as ‘incomplete’. They remain in this state even after you’ve read them; only when you mark them ‘complete’, do they disappear from your inbox. If you don’t want to process (complete) the email there and then, you can mark it for review. Like completed items, items for review are removed from your inbox. When you mark something for review you can optionally select a date for it’s review (and on that date, it’ll pop back into your inbox) and whether to add it to a particular list, or not. Review items that are not dated can be manually reviewed in ‘Review mode’.

The re-imagining of the inbox as a to-do list looks great as a GTD tool; quickly complete short tasks, mark items for review later, assign to lists (sometime, never, contact-specific, project-specific). It still leaves a couple of holes, though. Firstly, it’s still separate from the other ways in which items enter the (GTD) inbox – word of mouth, text messages, actions from meetings, etc – although it may be feasible to make Mail-Pilot the single GTD inbox by creating notes or emails to oneself. Not sure that that’s the ideal solution, but the alternatives are either to copy actionable items from Mail Pilot into Wunderlist or to have 2 inboxes. The second hole is with reference material – this still needs consolidating into (in my case) Evernote (though this is no different to my current situation).

So in conclusion, I’m looking forward to being able to try out Mail Pilot. I hope it lives up to the praise it’s followers and beta users are bestowing upon it. I can’t imagine that it won’t be a great application – eMail client applications have been in need of a re-think for a long time and this is most definitely a massive leap in the right direction. I’m still undecided as to whether it fulfils all the GTD needs and I’m not sure that ‘the general public’ will go for a paid subscription model in order to have the ‘new mail experience’, but time will tell.

Have you tried Mail Pilot? Are you one of the Kickstarter funders and beta testers? If so, I would love to hear from you! Post a comment below and let me know how you’ve been getting on with it.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Making eMail excellent: A long-overdue rethink and a much anticipated application

  1. Honestly, I don’t see anything here I can’t already do with Gmail, Google Tasks, Google Calendar and Evernote.

    Using the Priority Inbox view, I add a star to highlight a message for later follow-up, or Add to Tasks or Create event from the More menu. (In fact, Create event doesn’t currently appear to be working. Damn!) I forward reference material directly to my Evernote upload email address.

    I did try Wunderlist and a number of other cross-platform GTD tools, but integration with Gmail turned out to be the killer. Gmail tasks is incredibly basic, but it works for me.

    • And your last sentence sums it up – if it works for you then stick with it.

      It’s very much a case of ‘horses for courses’; I’m still trying to find my GTD nirvana – it’s become a mission now to the point of obsession. However, the system I’m currently using (a mixture of Mac Mail, BusyCal, Evernote and Wunderlist) works for me. It just niggles me that, with traditional mail client applications, one is forced into using idioms (highlighting items with a star, for instance) as this can be limiting. I’ve added the Mail Tags ( plugin into my mail client, which provides more subtlety / variety.

      But, in my spare time, I’m still searching for Nirvana 😉

  2. I use outlook 2010 but I built a workflow into it that meet these needs. I find that using all sorts of apps as a grid system is really combersome. Outlook can do them all.

    I flag all my mail as “for follow up” when it comes in. I use a rule in outlook to do that automatically. My root inbox has a “view” applied. I only see mail that is flagged. It’s there, and I’ve unflagged it, I don’t see it. I go through my mail unflagging it. When I see an email that I want to follow up on, I hit a button called “create task”. This is only of those macro things. It creates a task in outlook. It attached the email that I’m currently processing automatically. All I do is assign a category. I treat categories in outlook as gtd contexts, so @home, @computer, @calls, are my categories.

    What happens when I discover something that must be done on a certain date? I do like Allen suggests. I add it as an all day, non-blocking calendar entry. I do one more step, which is to attach an outlook item to that task. Usually the email that spurred me to create the task. I create few specific tasks assigned on dates. Rathe than deferring emails, I process them once…. But if I have something date specific, I use the above mentioned technique, but assign it to a future date, not today.

    I do use a mix of paper folders and Evernote. Using Evernote is not bad because there’s not really a native outlook feature to equate to it. Integration with OneNote is about e same as Evernote.

    • It’s great that you’ve got a workable system with Outlook and Evernote. I use Evernote a lot (well, for everything, really). I’m Mac-only with all my machines and devices, so that’s not a solution for me.

      There are some aspects of Mail Pilot that I think need working on – like you I prefer a calendar to hold anything that I want to do on a particular day, and I’d rather have everything in a single list, rather than one in my mail client and another in (in my case) Wunderlist. I’ve now got beta access Mail Pilot and I’ll post a review in the coming days.

  3. If you are really into this, a company is working on a solution called IQTell. I looked at it briefly, but the web interface didn’t seem appealing as an all day tool.

    • I have also toyed with IQTell. Like you, I wasn’t that engaged by the UI, plus a web-only solution doesn’t suit me.

Comments are closed.