Organising micro task emails in Thunderbird

The title of this post sounds very significant but to be honest, it’s a small thing.

Everybody has her/his/its own workflow regarding emails. For example me: I LOVE folders! When it comes to the crunch I probably would be able to organise my whole life into folders.
Well, at least this is what I thought until I began my internship at FSFE. I was used to a high income rate (do you say so?) before but something changed: Normally I read my emails and if something’s important, I open a new task in my taskmanager or simply write it down. In the office I also read lot’s of emails and can put them easily in folders via filters (in Thunderbird and with qmail/maildrop on my mailserver), for example emails in mailing lists.

But now it is more often the case that by reading those emails, there are beginning some mini-tasks: Commit this translated file on the server, answer these emails, send out that package to a fellow (but not today, do it next Monday), and most importantly, book some restaurants for the General Assembly. You see, these are all small tasks, but they exist. In dozens. And I’m quite sure they will increase. But creating for each micro task a new task in my task manager (Getting Things Gnome by the way) is overload as well.
For that I’m a forgetful technocrat sometimes, I wanted to pre-empt any mistakes and searched for methods to mark/tag those emails when reading them. Afterwards it should always be possible to find these marked/tagged with one click. In short, I needed a Remembrall, that additionally tells me, what I exactly forgot.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, here’s my odyssey of finding the perfect method for me:

  1. Well, because I LOVE folders (did I ever mentioned that before?) I just thought of drag-and-dropping the emails I wanted to be able to find again in another folder like “To-Do” or “To answer”. This has the disadvantage that the original email isn’t anymore where it has been before. An email belonging to a mailing list’s thread is away and this causes even more inorganisation. Dead End.
  2. Okay, when moving emails is not suitable, why not copying them into separate folders? Well, this is possible but requires 2 to 4 mouse clicks in thunderbird (no, I don’t want to use another mail client) and includes the danger to copy(/move it in the wrong folder (I hate dropdown menus…). Dead End.
  3. For I’m a proud user of the calendar/task addon Lightning, I have also the possibility to create tasks and events out of emails. But this also requires to much information for micro tasks and lacks the same problem as creating tasks in my GTG: it costs too much time and is overpowered.
  4. Shame on all technical stuff, let’s to it the old way: writing it down on my notepad with my…does ANYONE have a pen here? And where the hell is my notepad by the way?! Dead End.
  5. Yes, I finally found a solution which is quite simple but requires some searching. In Thunderbird you have the possibility to create virtual folders (Yeah, more folders!). In these folders, you can collect all emails that match specific criteria, similar to those of the “normal” email filters for incoming mails. But as a first step one could simply tag or mark an email:

Each method has its advantages. The tags are quite nice because you can differentiate between (own) tags and you can simply press the corresponding number on the keyboard to tag the mail. The marking method does not have such features but on my mobile (K-9 Mail) I cannot tag an email but only mark it. So I’m able to save some mails for later work when I’m sitting in the train for example.

No matter how you decide (I’m not quite sure as well what’s the best for me), it’s quite hard to find the emails if you have tagged them. Of course, if you look in the folder, you see colored mails or those with a star but to find them by hand in dozens of folder… good luck boy.
I already mentioned virtual folders: You can open a virtual folder that lists all emails that match a (or more) special criteria which you can define. If you untag/unmark an email, it just disappears from the virtual folder, but still exists in the (now untagged/unmarked) way as before.

The images show you how to create this folder with filters. It is important to choose the folders to search in (image 4). Now I can mark/tag emails that should be processed in some way, and I can do this on my notebook as well as on my mobile. I hope, this method satisfies my needs for a while and I will give an update if I (or you?) find a better way. And if it helped you as well: you’re welcome :)

What methods for (micro) task management do you use? Do the tools you use suit your needs?

Sorry by the way that all screenshots show the German version of Thunderbird. I hope you could follow the steps.

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  1. Hugo /

    Hey, nice tip Max!

    It’s true that creating tasks from email is sometimes a hassle. Some months ago, I changed my email client to Mutt, and I’m now starting to use Orgmode to manage my tasks. So hopefully I’ll be ableto integrate the two, with http://upsilon.cc/~zack/blog/posts/2010/02/integrating_Mutt_with_Org-mode/

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