WorkFlowy – Your Email Inbox Death Star

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The Death Star was a moon-sized battle station constructed by the Galactic Empire… It boasted a primary weapon, a superlaser, with sufficient firepower to destroy an entire planet with a single shot. 8 giant kyber crystals powered the superlaser. – Wookieepedia – The Star Wars Wiki

I’ll be giving you 8 WorkFlowy kyber crystals to superfocus your superlaser – to once and for all decimate your email inbox. Join me on the WorkFlowy side of the force.

It’s true. All of it.

What if immediately is not the opportune time to respond to all incoming emails? We know exactly what happens: Email inbox and anxiety levels start increasing proportionately. Tension mounts.

There are nice little apps which help in our pursuit of inbox zero (or annihilation)… but exist only as sub-plots. I make good use of Gmail’s “Inbox“ app, which lets me snooze emails and have them reappear in my inbox at a later time. You should also try it. But. There are a couple of challenges I face when using this as my primary Modus Operandi: I find myself hitting the “snooze button” several times as specific snoozed emails sneak up on me again and again. Also, When you snooze an email on mobile, all of the emails in the conversation reappear individually in your inbox on desktop. Aaaargh!! I know you know what I’m talking about.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what WorkFlowy can do for us:

iv – A New Hope (Email URL’s to WorkFlowy)

Okay, so here’s the WorkFlowy backstory: You do know that email URL’s exist and that each of them is unique, right? If WorkFlowy can organize your brain, why not also your email workflow? Simple use case: copy an email URL (in your web browser) to WorkFlowy… and click on it when the time is right. It will bring up the email you need.

So we’re going to take a look at why you should be clipping your email URL’s to WorkFlowy – en masse.

v – The Empire Strikes Back (Clip & Archive)

It’s time to crush your inbox. Once you’ve clipped an email URL to WorkFlowy, you can go ahead and archive (not delete) it. That will take it out of your inbox… however, it will still be reachable when you click on the link in WorkFlowy. Your email will open in a new tab.

The whole thrust of this effort is getting emails out of your inbox – especially if you want to deal with them later – and into the WorkFlowy contexts/ lists you need them in. When it comes to email links, WorkFlowy, as an outliner, is your new playground.

vi – Return of the Jedi (Clipping tools)

Every Jedi (or Sith) has Jedi-like powers. They’ve got some tricks up those long sleeves of theirs. So how do we clip both an email URL and the subject title of your email in one fell swoop? You’ll want to install Rawbytz’s Clip to WorkFlowy Chrome extension. Rawbytz wrote a post on it here. Just click on the Clip to Workflowy icon in your browser… and what you paste into WorkFlowy will look something like this:


You get the email subject in the list title and the email URL in the note.

i – The Phantom Menace (Get the whole conversation)

If there’s more to an email conversation than just one email – and you’d like to see everything in context; instead of clipping an individual email URL, go ahead and search for a contact in your email search utility and clip the URL of the search results. That will give you all emails in the conversation, including ones you’ve sent – in chronological order – with the most recent email on top. That way you won’t have to keep clipping the most recent email URL of a conversation to WorkFlowy, especially for collaborative projects.

ii – Attack of the clones (Copy project links to a WorkFlowy calendar)

Clones are useful when aiming for total dominion… or when plotting project-related email links in a WorkFlowy calendar/ tickler file. To better coordinate your email plan of attack, you could include the link to your email conversation within a project outline, like so:


Above you can see that I’m going to get in touch with Chandler via email on January 4th. But what I also want to do to make my strategy all the more incisive is to use the Clip to WorkFlowy extension yet again – to clip the WorkFlowy list URL of whatever project (by first zooming into the project list) and then pasting that into what I like to call my Kanban Calendar, which is really a tickler file of sorts:


You will see that when you clip a WorkFlowy URL, Clip to WorkFlowy does us the courtesy of adding “See…” to the WorkFlowy list title and italicizes it for us. Very nifty. You just know that you have to follow the internal link… which in my case takes me to the original project list – which in turn contains the email link I need to get the ball rolling.

iii – Revenge of the Sith (Overthrow your inbox)

You feel like taking revenge on your email inbox for all those years of overwhelming anxiety – for working against you and not with you?

You can take any email link you please and pop it into WorkFlowy. Of course, if the email you need to take action on is not part of a project, you can go directly to your WorkFlowy calendar (if you have one) or WorkFlowy context (perhaps with date tags) and pop in your email URL. If, for instance, you ever get emailed bills for specific expenses, clip the email URL and get it into a WorkFlowy tickler file. Here’s an email link to my cell phone bill in my calendar/ “tickler file”:


I’ve written about my GTD-esque “ticker file” and much else about handling date-specific tasks, in my WorkFlowy book. I also write about the Japanese Kanban principles of visualizing your workflow and limiting your work in progress – which is all the more relevant when it comes to emails that you can’t deal with all at once because you have too much on your plate. In that sense, if you’ve scheduled an email response for a time that is still not convenient when the time arrives, you can “push” your email link further down the road in your calendar.

Take a look at the nature of the emails you get. Delete/ archive those that demand no action. Clip to WorkFlowy those that might be useful. Do some head-scratching and figure it out… but get things out of your inbox. If, say, you subscribe to a couple of good blogs (like the WorkFlowy blog) – but you don’t have the time to read the content just yet – clip those email URL’s to a WorkFlowy reading list or schedule them on a WorkFlowy calendar. You could also grab the actual URL of the blog post/ article and get that into WorkFlowy.

vii – The Force Awakens (Tags and search)

How about those emails that are neither urgent nor have any time frame within which to be tackled – yet you don’t want to archive them without representing them in WorkFlowy? You could get your GTD on and either include those email URL’s in “Someday”/ “Maybe” lists… or tag them as such. Get creative with your tags and make sure you have a system.

You could liken WorkFlowy tags to The Force. They are (or can be) everywhere. Wield them wisely and you’ll be able to find your email links wherever they are, whether or not they are part of a WorkFlowy date system. Similarly, if, say, you are using Gmail, you could do a global search for “mail.google.com” – that should reveal all email URL’s wherever they might be. The Force is there for the using.

viii – Find your own workflow

The end goal here is that your email inbox is brought into submission and your email finds its way into the niches and contexts it deserve to be in – the way only an outliner can achieve. This takes us way beyond the traditional dynamics we’re confined to within an email account or even a 3rd-party email app. You may also want to nest your email conversation URL’s, together with twitter and LinkedIn profiles, site URL’s, etc:


When it comes to inbox zero, fortune favors the ruthless. It requires some bold moves and decision making to keep this thing under your thumb. You’ve got to bring down an iron fist on your email inbox. Moving into 2016, use your WorkFlowy Death Star to squelch your email inbox as it rises up against you – so that all might be right with the galaxy.


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39 Comments

  1. Your tips are very useful, and much appreciated. But it can sometimes be a be a bit of a slog through the movie/tv metaphors to get to your point. I’m sure some people love them, but for the rest of us, could you consider toning it down a bit? Thanks in any case.

    1. You make a good point there, Jack. Thanks for weighing in. I shall most definitely take your advice into account and look into toning down future posts.

      Happy New Year 🙂

    2. Thanks for the gracious reply. Do remember to have fun, though – I for one hope you keep doing this. And I did buy your book, by the way. 😉
      Happy New Year to you too.

    1. Stefano, another little tweak I’ve been using you might enjoy is the following:

      Because Clip to WorkFlowy gives us a list title with the URL in the first line of a note… just 3 email/ project references take up 6 lines… and one’s calendar might get cluttered. So what I’ve been doing is nesting more than one email in an “email” parent list. Actually, I use a Unicode symbol.

      Take a look at this animated GIF to see what I do.

      Also, you’ll see that I’m starting to tag the Unicode symbols that I use most often (or think I’ll use) for quick access. I then keep a saved search in my Starred Pages Viewer for quick access. Copy, flip back to whatever outline and paste.

    2. I love that tip for a parent email. I was trying to find the best way to make my descriptions shorter in GMail as well. I can also see a million other uses for an icon as the parent item. 🙂 Thanks again for your wonderful tips!

  2. Hi Frank.

    I’m sure this is a great post, but there’s two things that I’ve been increasingly feeling as I’ve been reading your updates over the last while, both of which are, paradoxically, the antithesis of what I would consider to be “the Workflowy way”.

    1. Hacks just feel like they make life *more* complicated, and somehow validate this complexity by their very existence on the blog.

    They sadden me for several reasons:

    – Often these hacks feel like a LOT of work to set up or accomplish, which is just the opposite of Workflowy – if you can type, and know what a bullet and an indent is is, you intrinsically understand Workflowy. Having to jump through hoops to bastardise such a beautifully pure product feels dirty and wrong, no matter what the result (which will I suspect be a poor cousin).

    – Non-programmers view hacks as kind of “magic” whereas programmers (like me) just shake our heads at the lack of extensibility in the core product. I understand the reason for the hacks as development has been slow or what seems like non existent for a long time – but somehow the hacks seem to validate the developers’ lack of time / enthusiasm / organisation / funds / output.

    – Hacks would serve far better as feature requests, and reinforce the above point, yet again. I wish Jesse and Mike would set something like Get Satisfaction to garner input from some very dedicated and often imaginative users, and could use the voting system on this to work out what we, the users, could really use next, as well as using the info to help plan any future architectural changes.

    2. These posts are all *really* long

    Honestly, I skim through them. I’m not knocking your editorial effort / writing style / personality, but I am so busy and really just need the meat rather than the waffle.

    All these paragraphs and sections and flowy prose is just more “stuff” I have to wade through to find out something potentially (or not) useful to me. I would much rather read something shorter and to the point:

    1 – idea
    2 – result
    3 – process
    — 3.1 – foo
    — 3.2 – bar
    — 3.3 – baz
    4 – further examples (if needed)
    5 – wrap up

    Again, not to knock your efforts, which have been excellent for ramping up the energy levels around Workflowy; I just don’t really know where else to leave feedback.

    I hope you can read this in the positive nature it was intended to be received anyway!

    My best regards 🙂
    Dave

    1. Good points. I’m excited to see more activity on the WF blog and really appreciate Frank’s contributions here, It’s made me more excited about using WF and I’ve learned some useful info. But my excitement is tempered by the ongoing reality that development is slow/halted and most of the hacks really should be features of the core program.

    2. @stefano – as a software developer myself, it’s perfectly possible to build in features as plugins. This is how the jQuery and most other frameworks work, and keeps the core lean and mean whilst offering non-hacked functionality for those who want it.

    3. I actually disagree too. WorkFlowy is what it is because of a lack of feature bloat. I would like some sort of add-in system perhaps as opposed to a hack, but I really don’t want to see a whole load of new features polluting the water.

  3. Frank,

    Thanks for the post. It inspired me to discover that Outlook emails have URLs that look like this: “outlook:[GUID]”. Unfortunately, when I paste these links into Workflowy, a hyperlink is not automatically created. Is this a Workflowy issue or a browser issue?

    Thanks again
    Dan

    P.S. I bought and am reading your book.

    1. Same here, I am working with outlook and tried to make it worked but I don’t think there is a solution. A pity, this is the only thing I am missing from Todoist which has a dedicated addon for Oulook!

    1. Yes, I started using this extension as well. It’s a nice complement to the existing clipper and bookmarklet.

    2. Thanks El, I use both clippers. The “WorkFlowy Clipper” you linked to is great for clipping multiple URL’s to one WorkFlowy outline. It also allows you to select text from any page, which goes into a note, under the URL.

      The Clip to WorkFlowy extension serves me best more often than not because I can go ahead and paste my clipped URL wherever I want, as opposed to the WorkFlowy Clipper, which you have to set your inbox for each list you want your clipping to go into. Also, Clip to WorkFlowy allows one to clip internal links in WorkFlowy, as described in the post. WorkFlowy Clipper doesn’t do that.

      So, as j-lon mentioned, I also find it a nice compliment for those projects where I’m doing a lot of research and clipping more than 3/4 URL’s. Even then, it takes some getting used to switching between clippers… so I tend to stick with Rawbytz’s “original” clipper.

    3. I’ve actually been using both clippers as well. Sometimes I want to paste the clip exactly where I want it, but other times I don’t want to lose my train of thought, so I’m happy for the clip to go into my designated “inbox” for me to file later.

      I just wish they came in Firefox!

  4. It’d be great if we could have a workflowy forum where users could share tips/tricks and also maybe discuss/vote on feature requests!

  5. Hi all. I am neither a programmer nor a real nerd 😉 so i am a bit slow in figuring out all them WF ‘hacks’. Nevertheless they seem really useful and fun, and i am half way through reading Frank’s book. I have two questions, mainly regarding the peculiarities of using WF on the mac, as opposed to the PC.
    1) how on earth do you get the URL of an email? In the comment above Frank assumes ‘we all know this is possible’ but i didn’t and when i tried to work it out I failed. By the way i use mac Mail app on my laptop, and not the web-based email such as gmail etc. I have other systems set up in there, and would rather not change. In the mac Mail you can ‘view raw data’ of an email, but thats all gobbledy gook to me – if any of those ‘raw data’ parts are the URL which can be pasted into WF for a follow up later, than i’d be delighted to know?
    2) Another mac thing – i normally use Safari but have switched to Chrome because of liking the use of Stylish extension, which Frank raves about in his book (and i really like it).
    But – mac keyboard extensions do not work in Chrome 😦 [these are built-in alternatives for PC-based PhraseExpander which Frank also advocates]. I would love to use keyboard shortcuts for more complicated or frequently used tags and expressions. So now I’m stuck between giving up Stylish and using shortcuts in Safari instead, or giving up later. If anyone has worked out how to use mac keyboard shortcuts in Chrome, i’d be very grateful for the tip. (I have posted on Chrome forum about this, but who knows if they will do anything)
    Many thanks

    1. Someone smarter than me could probably come up with a more detailed answer, but I discovered that I had to “clip” a Gmail “email” to my designated WF “inbox” on my PC. It didn’t work for “OUTLOOK” emails.

    2. Thank you. I didn’t know that since Frank’s book, they made Stylish for Safari. I have now set this up and it is all working for me.
      FYI – by mac keyboard extensions, i actually meant shortcuts (sorry, not extensions!) that one sets in sys prefs > keyboard > text so that bits of text can be replaced by shorter abbreviations. This doesn’t work in chrome for some reason, but it does in Safari , so that’s good for me

    3. I am also on a Mac for my personal life. Check out textexpander. It is app agnostic when performing your keyboard shortcuts, meaning your shortcuts will work in any app. It does cost money but it is well worth it and will save you loads of time!

  6. For those who use the apple mail app, I’ve found an apple script which allows me to copy an email while in the apple mail program, and then paste it into workflowy to create a clickable link.

    I find these useful to put in the notes areas of workflowy. Ie: follow up on email with so and so next week, with the note containing the link to the email in question. It really helps me to clear my email inbox efficiently and connect my emails with my actions and plans in workflowy.

    The apple script has been well described on Daring Fireball, here is the link:

    http://daringfireball.net/2007/12/message_urls_leopard_mail

    Once you acquire it, you can just select the applescript from the mail script menu when you are in the mail program, when you highlight the particular email.

    I took an extra step and assigned a keyboard shortcut to the script, using a program called fastscripts from red sweater software. This way you can just hit a keyboard shortcut to create the link while you are highlighting or opening the email message. Then its an easy matter to paste it into workflowy note field using the standard mac paste control +v shortcut. Takes only a couple seconds per email.

    Now its super easy to link emails to tasks and notes in workflowy using the apple mail app. I’ve been doing this for around three years and it is quite reliable and useful to me.

  7. Thanks so much. I wanted this email linking capability back when I first got Workflowy. If this works for me, I’m buying your book as a thank you.

  8. Here’s how to do this in Apple Mail …

    It requires a very simple AppleScript provided by well-known & respected blogger, John Gruber. This is a link to an article from his site, Daring Fireball, that describes the Apple Script.

    http://daringfireball.net/2007/12/message_urls_leopard_mail

    The Apple script code is near the end of the article. The article references an older version of Mac OS but it works for the later versions, including the latest, “Sierra”.

    Set up / configuration is very easy.

    – Copy the AppleScript code from the article (link above).
    – Open Script Editor (included utility in Mac OS)
    – File > New
    – Paste
    – Save ~/Library/Scripts/Applications/Mail/

    Once set it complete …

    – Select an email in Apple Mail.
    – Run the script. This copies the unique message id to the clipboard.
    – Go to Workflowy
    – Paste the link to desired location.

    Clicking the link in Workflowy will open the message in the default mail application.

    This tip is specific to the Apple platform. I’ve tested it with Mac OS “Sierra” and Workflowy running in Google Chrome as of 12-Sep-2016.

    1. Thanks a ton Scott! This tip fills in the blank for a bunch of people who don’t use, say, Gmail in their browser.

    1. My thoughts exactly. Since having written this post, I’ve since moved over to Google Inbox on desktop as well. One is still able to activate the traditional Gmail from within Inbox… but if your default is Google Inbox, even when you’ve got a specific email/ thread URL in WorkFlowy – clicking on it will bring you to Inbox’s Inbox. Hopefully they’ll make some sort of a change in the future… then I’ll be able to revisit this workflow and grab any specific email’s URL. I guess I find Inbox’s snooze function to be worth the sacrifice.

      Incidentally, this change also seems to have affected the Evernote workflow (forwarding an email to your Evernote account)… it doesn’t seem like you can link back to the original email any more – because Inbox doesn’t send it with the link. So it’s more than just this WorkFlowy flow that has been affected. Crikey, just tested… and the Evernote Web Clipper also refuses to even open in Inbox… whereas it still does its job in Gmail proper (and gives a URL link to follow in the toolbar of an Evernote note).

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