GTD, Gmail and the iPod Touch

The following tips come from my (somewhat obsessive) search to create a simple but effective GTD based system for my personal life.

I use Gmail as my hub for information management in my personal life: calendar, email, RSS feeds etc.

I’m one of those people who would love to mix business with pleasure, but my company makes that very challenging due to IT restrictions on my Blackberry and work PC. So I am stuck between professional use of Outlook and personal use of Gmail. So far this has worked pretty well, not ideal but hey, when given lemons…

My requirement for a system was something that was easy to use, accessible from a variety of places (I travel a lot for work) and reliable. I also did not want to have to utilize any special add-ons or plug-ins to make this system work.

I have an iPod Touch that I wanted to make my main tool for my personal mobile organization. I like the interface, especially the calendar, email and web browsing. Not to mention all the apps that are just plan fun.

I also wanted to find some way to have one main platform vs. several different apps in different places all over the web or all over my device.

What follows is what I came up with and seems to work pretty darn well. This is specific to calendar, tasks and email. From a capture standpoint, I still like to use pen and paper. I’ve found the David Allen Note Taker Wallet to be a fantastic tool.

Here we go…

The basic platform consists of the utilization of Gmail’s IMAP feature along with the native mail and calendar apps on the iPod Touch. Following these instructions will get your iPod talking with your Google Calendar and Gmail.

Once you get this set-up, you may want to make some changes as to how Gmail manages items deleted from your iPod. There are some great resources on this here via lifehacker contributor Adam Pash.

Now you should be set up to have Gmail push messages and calendar items to your iPod touch (I assume this would also work with the iPhone).

The next step is to set up your lists.  In my world there are two options for list management, although, my world is pretty simple ;-)I’m sure there are many other options for making this work.

1. You can send your tasks (more on that in a minute) to your inbox and manually move them to your lists.


2. You can set up filters that automatically send messages to your various context lists.

In order for either of the above to work you have to set-up your context lists. In Gmail I do this via the use of “labels” (for the purposes of Gmail labels are akin to folders in outlook). This is very easy to do. My personal labels look like this:






aWhatever you want it to be

Putting the ‘”a” in front of your label name keeps it organized to the top of your list of labels. I prefer to use the “a” vs. the “@” for a very dorky reason… I don’t have to hit the shift key to bring up the @ symbol any time I type something in. My pinky finger just likes the “a” button better than the “@” key stroke combination. Minor technicality (and yes, that’s a scary little glimpse into my mind ;-) but it does help when you love the keyboard shortcuts.

Now that you have your labels put together the next step is to easily create tasks in Gmail. As often mentioned, if there are barriers to one’s system there is less inclination to truly make a habit. To that end… behold the mighty Gmail keyboard shortcuts!

Task Creation using only email, from the InBox:

  1. hit the “c” key (to compose a message)
  2. address the message to your self (some details on this to come if you’re automating your system). I recommend creating a contact for your own email address so that you just have to type your initials, or something like that. Makes life even easier.
  3. hit tab to take you to the subject line and type your task
  4. if you want task notes, hit tab again and use the body of the message for the notes
  5. if you don’t want notes hit tab two times to highlight the “send” button at the bottom of the message
  6. hit the spacebar to send… That’s It

For those of you choosing the non-automated route, you now have a task in your inbox. The next step is to efficiently move it to your context lists (again… all hail keyboard shortcuts!). To do this:

  1. make sure the task is highlighted (the “J” and “K” keys will move you from message to message in the inbox view)
  2. hit “x” to select the task
  3. hit “v” to open the “move to” menu
  4. type your list name and Gmail will highlight what you want
  5. hit enter and you’re good to go

You now have context lists and the tools to efficiently move your tasks into your lists. One more step and you’re all set-up.

To add one more slick feature to the system, you want your lists on your iPod to be update when you turn it on, right?

Fire up your iPod and open settings>mail, contacts, calendar and go into your account options. Make sure you have all of your context list folders / labels set to “push” mail. This ensures that when you make a wifi connection Gmail will automatically update your context lists.

Next step – Automation

First I will recognize the source for my “aha” moment for this idea. Discovered via lifehacker and ultimately found on Steve Rubel’s Blog Micro Persuasion.

As you can read in Steve’s post on how to how to set-up a portable nerve center, Gmail has a unique feature called “plus sign Gmail address.” Basically this allows you to have an infinite number of email address.

For the purposes of this post here’s why this is relevant: you can have an email address for each of your context lists. Which allows for filtering tasks to be tagged appropriately and not clog the inbox.

How to make this easy:

  1. Create a contact that is
  2. label this contact “action” (or some other label of your choice) and save
  3. In Gmail, go to settings>filters>create new filter
  4. In the “to” field type out the full email address you just created ( and click next
  5. *Now you have a few custom choices, here is what I have checked: skip the inbox, apply the label “Action.”

*Note that I don’t mark the task as read. When I look at my lists (labels) in Gmail (or on my iPod) I want to see how many tasks I have (they show as unread emails).

Good luck with this set-up should you choose to go this route. Let me know what you think and if you run into any hitches along the way. Hopefully this helps you to Do – More.


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