People often ask me “how do you integrate email with Omnifocus?” so I decided to share how I do this. There are a lot of email clients out there today, but no matter which one you use, the principles are the same. Here’s an example of a workflow that you can use right away.
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Email Management 101
Before we get started, I first want to make sure that you have read our article on email management where we explained a simple system you can use for managing your email. This workflow is the same to what you are about to read, but I will zoom in on dealing with Omnifocus in the workflow.
So assuming that you have read it, here is the workflow in a flowchart.
Here are two things to keep in mind:
- Any email that can be dealt with is less than 2 minutes, you deal with it right away.
- Any email that requires a response that takes more than 2 minutes turns into a task in Omnifocus.
Anytime you read an email and it takes longer than two minutes to reply, you create an action item in your Omnifocus inbox to process. (Or you directly delegate the email action into the right project, whichever your preference is.) You can see email as another source of information that you can gather for your Omnifocus inbox. Once it is in your inbox, you treat it the same way you would do any task in your Omnifocus inbox.
The challenge is how to effectively manage tasks that come from emails and dealing with the sender. Adding tasks from email into Omnifocus is not a problem, but properly prioritizing among other tasks, managing them and getting back to the sender can be challenging.
We have covered many ways of setting up and using Omnifocus which briefly included managing emails. I highly recommend you create a context called Email which you will use for action items that involve replying to emails. You will only use this context for emails that require lengthy responses and nothing else. This is a really important part of the workflow. If someone sends you an email asking for reviewing an attached contract, you wouldn’t assign the Email context in this case. Rather, something else that is more appropriate (see our Omnifocus setup). Near the bottom of this article you will see how that works.
Then the next step is setting up a perspective for the Email context so you can easily access tasks just revolved around emails. This becomes really useful whenever you have some spare time for replying to emails. All you have to do is fire up your Email perspective and you will have a list of emails you can work with.
With so many different email clients out there today, I will show you how to use Omnifocus with Mailplane. The principles in this workflow are the same no matter which email client you use, but I will show you specifically how to use Mailplane with Omnifocus.
For all Mailplane users, you need to install this clipper plugin. This allows you to clip emails with links back to the original email. This is VERY USEFUL. I really can’t live without this plugin and this is what makes the workflow work. Other email clients will have this feature by default, but for Mailplane you need to install this plugin. I simply use Mailplane because I love the Gmail interface.
Examples of Email Management with Omnifocus
To give you an idea how this workflow works, I’m going to show you three different examples of emails and ways of handling them.
Email One – The Quickie
Quick question: Who is more efficient: you or me?
Since this email requires a response from me but takes less than two minutes to act on, I’m going to respond right away. With any email that you read, estimate how much you time think you need to respond. If it is longer than two minutes, turn it into a task (see below). Otherwise, respond right away and move on. In this case, I just replied with “my mom.”
Email Two – The Thoughtful One
Sometimes you will get emails that require a little longer than two minutes to respond to, but don’t require a lot of effort. In that case, you still want to put it into Omnifocus as a task with the context set to “Email”. An example of this is:
I love the Asian Efficiency blog. Do you have any more articles on the site that I should read for someone who is brand new to time management?
Thanks in advance,
Technically, I could respond in less than two minutes. But anyone who loves this blog and emails me, always gets an in depth response that often takes more than ten minutes. So I select the body of the email, right click and select Services > Omnifocus: Send to Inbox.
As you can see in the inbox and quick entry box, when you check the note of the task, there is a link back to the original email. When you click on the link, Mailplane gets opened and opens the email. I can’t say how awesome this is. Other email clients that work with Omnifocus offer the same functionality.
Now that it is in my inbox, I would label it with the Email context. This is because the email takes longer than two minutes to deal with and requires a thoughtful response. There are emails which require you to do other things besides responding. For example, someone is asking you to generate a report and send it back to the sender. How you process tasks of that nature is shown in the example below.
Email Three – The Biggie
I need some analytical data from Google Analytics. Can you send me a report with some statistics on brand engagement, most popular posts and traffic sources? Anytime this weekend should be fine.
Such an email obviously requires a lot of work, besides the lengthy reply. You can have it as one task, or even as a project. In that case, what I do is:
- I respond with something like “Okay I will get this for you” so the sender knows I read the email.
- Create a task from this email in Omnifocus, but NOT with the Email context.
- See where this tasks fall into my daily priorities and then act accordingly.
It’s important to understand why I am not labeling it with the Email context. That context is only reserved for emails that simply require long responses. Nothing more, nothing less. Any email that makes you act on something else, gets another context.
Whenever you are then working on the task derived from an email and finish the work, this is what you usually do:
- Click on the subject line link that brings you back to the original email.
- Reply and attach your work.
- Tick off the task in Omnifocus.
That’s really it. It is that easy.
NOTE: Just because you received an email on a specific day, does not mean that the work needs to be done in the same day. You have to be able to prioritize. Unless it is specifically stated that something needs to be done the same day the email was sent, you can safely assume you can do it another day if that fits with your priorities.
Email and iOS Omnifocus
Nowadays I’m sure you also process emails from your iPhone and/or iPad. As of now, you can’t directly use Omnifocus from the Mail app on iOS. To workaround that, if you use the Mail app on OS X, you can send yourself specially crafted emails that will land in your Omnifocus inbox.
Since I don’t use the Mail app, I usually keep the email unread in my inbox and the next time I’m inbox zero’ing on my Mac I will deal with it. It’s not really efficient because you touch it more than once but it does work. If you have a better solution, I would love to hear it in the comments!
- For any email that takes longer than 2 minutes to respond to, create a task in Omnifocus. Otherwise, respond right away.
More Email Tips
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