Editor: We asked Mark Hurst, author of the book Bit Literacy (our review) and developer of the web-based task manager Gootodo, to tell us why he built Gootodo and how it fits into what he calls "bit literacy." Here's what he said.
Let me start with this provocation: there's no such thing as email overload... in a certain sense, anyway. For years I've encouraged people to empty their email inbox at least once a day—an important skill in "bit literacy," which I write about in my book. But here's the thing: most people have no trouble deleting emails that they no longer need (spam, CCs to the entire office, lunch invites, and the like), and lots of people have some filing system for messages they want to keep. The trouble stems from everything else in the inbox: namely, the messages containing action items, or to-dos. The bulging inbox is thus best understood as a problem of to-do management, not email management. When I wrote my book, intending to offer a solution to email overload for all internet users, I needed an appropriate tool: a well-designed to-do list.
But as of 2006, when I wrote most of the book, there were no good to-do lists. The current version of Outlook was still saddled with the old Outlook Task Manager—one of the worst-designed features I've ever seen in any app—and no Web 2.0 company had yet stepped up to fill the gap. Without anything to recommend, I somewhat reluctantly designed and launched my own application. This was, and is, Gootodo.
Here's the killer feature: Gootodo interfaces with any email inbox, anywhere, taking action items out of the inbox and placing them on a to-do list, where they belong. All it requires is for the user to click the "Forward" button—as in, forward this email to my to-do list—and then delete the message from the inbox.
What's more, the user can forward an email to a particular day's to-do list—today, or any day in the future—by sending the email to the appropriate address. Today's list lives at [email protected]. Tomorrow's list is [email protected]. August 4 is reachable at [email protected]. This upcoming Saturday is [email protected]. Three weeks in the future is [email protected].
When people first start using Gootodo, they tend just to send things to today's list—which is fine. The to-do list in the webapp itself has drag-and-drop sorting (like the Netflix queue page), so that alone makes it easier to manage the list than if you left the emails in the inbox.
But the more you use Gootodo, the more reasons you find to forward items to a future day's list. For example, you may get an email that you know you can't work on right away, so you send it to a day next week, and delete it from the inbox. So for several days, the to-do is (appropriately) out of sight—not in the inbox, not cluttering your mind, not distracting you in any way. It appears on your to-do list only later, when it's the right time.
Another use of Gootodo I've found extremely helpful is BCC'ing a future day when I email someone a question or an action item to complete. For example, I may ask Dave to answer a set of questions for a report I'm creating. I send the email To: Dave, and in the same message I BCC [email protected], which is my to-do list one week in the future. I can now move on to other things without any stress; either Dave will write me back with the answers, or in a week I'll see on Gootodo.com the reminder to nudge him. There's no way the ball can get dropped.
The idea of deferring to-dos, by forwarding them to the future, is no longer unique to Gootodo. As of June 2008, I'm happy to say that several services—Highrise, I Want Sandy, Remember the Milk, among others—now allow users to send to-dos into the future. Even the latest version of Outlook, Outlook 2007, allows users to drag emails onto future days of the calendar—a big improvement. Even so, I still recommend Gootodo.com as the key to managing to-dos and thus getting the inbox to zero at least once a day. There are several reasons—an especially simple UI, for one—but on this score I know I'm biased, and besides which, I've said enough already for this post. :)
P.S. I'm happy to answer questions at mark at goodexperience.com, or I'll just watch the comments board here on this post.
Gootodo currently costs US$3 a month, but new users can try it free with a 10 to-do limit per day for 30 days.
Mark Hurst is the founder of Creative Good and Good Experience, and host of the renowned Gel conference. Hurst and his companies help organisations work more productively and create better customer experiences.