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Paul Bibbings is a healthcare worker by profession, a spare-time software hobbyist by nature and a life-long learner by design. Paul’s aim, in all of these pursuits, is to maximise productivity through use of just the right tools, at the right time and in the right way. As a some-while user of the Swipes task management app (for iOS; also available for Android, Mac and web), he has been focusing on pushing this already well-crafted and simple-to-use app to do just that little bit more. Here he shows you how to maximize the new integration of Swipes with Gmail to move one step closer to the mystical Inbox Zero.

Image Paul Bibbings and his family

Paul, his wife and their daughter graduating University at the same time.

An Empty Inbox is a Productive Inbox

Inbox Zero is that Zen-like state of having an empty, or near-empty, e-mail inbox most of the time. It is reached through applying the simple but effective strategy developed by Merlin Mann (43folders.com) to help manage the ever-growing demands of the modern inbox, promising instructive guidance in the art of “how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life.”

We are not productive merely through sitting by our computer with our e-mail client open all day, reading through every item of mail that comes in and firing out long replies to each and every one of them as we get to them. Some of our mail doesn’t require any response, many being unsolicited and unimportant in the first instance.

Mann’s approach is to encourage us to take one of five actions in sifting through our daily influx of e-mail: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do. The first of these – delete – is aimed to take care of all the stuff that we are not interested in. Our inbox is already thinning.

If an e-mail requires us only to respond, and we can do this in less than two minutes, type out a reply, press send and archive it. We are being productive. Two of the simpler choices of possible action down; that leaves us with delegate, defer and do.

E-mails as Tasks

This is where Swipes, as a ground-breaking and popular mutli-platform task manager, comes in and offers real leverage towards our ultimate aim of Getting Things Done and maximizing productivity.

With only the minimum of expenditure of both time and effort, what we should have achieved to this point is an inbox containing only those e-mails that will become our tasks. These are the items that we need to action as our “things to be done” to achieve whatever it is that forms the backbone of our daily business. But if our e-mails have become our tasks, th en we need some way of co-ordinating them effectively as we focus next on assigning them to one of the three remaining actions of either delegating, deferring or simply ‘doing’.

Swipes with Gmail Integration

The newly-added integration of Swipes with Gmail provides just the right tool for turning e-mails into tasks. To illustrate how this works, let’s suppose we’ve already got Swipes installed on our iOS device – the screenshots below show the set-up on my iPhone 6 running iOS 8.3 – and let’s put it through it’s paces.

The set-up process for the Gmail integration is straightforward and intuitive, through the Swipes ‘settings’ screen. I’m going to be using the integration with the Gmail app on my iPhone, so I have the following as my set-up, which works by creating a folder under my Gmail account called ‘Add to Swipes’.

Image 1: Swipes integration with Gmail on iPhone 6

Image 1: Swipes integration with Gmail on iPhone 6

Let’s say, then, that I have an e-mail that I want to become a task in Swipes. I simply move the e-mail to the ‘Add to Swipes’ folder and let Swipes synchronize, the Subject of the e-mail becomes the task name, and a clipped section from the start of the e-mail appears under the notes section at the bottom of the task view in Swipes.

Image 2: E-mail as task in Swipes

Image 2: E-mail as task in Swipes

Clicking on the e-mail link for the task opens the original e-mail in the Gmail app, and I can now use Swipes in the usual way to schedule the task for whenever I plan to action it, and then swipe it as done ready for whatever comes next.

Pushing the Envelope, Extending the Motif

Any effective extension of functionality of a tried-and-tested application is only as good as the use that you can make of it. To my own thinking, the utility of the additional functionality needs to be measured against the flexibility with which it can be adapted to the workflows I am wanting to manage with it. If the solution is too static in its application, if it lacks the flexibility to enable me to shape it to what I need it to do, then it becomes less of a real productivity aid and more of a ‘gimmick’. I shouldn’t need to adapt to my tools; I am the piper, and the tools have to be able to play to my tune.

In pursuit of the Inbox Zero motif, we’ve so far managed to weed out the unwanted junk mail, deal with the quick-fire, easy responses, and we have used Swipes to help us defer and action some of the things that require actioning directly. What we have not yet addressed is delegation.

Let’s say I work for a small team with two colleagues – Peter, Paul and Mary. I’m co-ordinating the team and the majority of the e-mail correspondence is arriving directly in my inbox. Let’s say we’re all using Swipes as our task management tool of choice.

From the morning’s email, there are a number tasks that I will need to action myself, and many that I will want to delegate to either Peter or Mary. For the former, I can move them to my ‘Add to Swipes’ folder and then schedule them in my Swipes app, as we’ve seen above. The remainder, I can then forward to Peter and to Mary individually, on the agreement that they utilize the same set-up in the same way, moving the forwarded e-mails to their own Gmail ‘Add to Swipes’ folders for scheduling and actioning.

This is a reasonable workflow, but the beauty of the integration of Gmail with Swipes is that we can do so much better with this. In what follows, we can also aim to push the new integration with Gmail so as to overcome what we might otherwise be forgiven for seeing as constraining limitations to its utility.

To highlight a couple of these, so as only to be able to overcome them:

  1. Currently, when moving an e-mail to the ‘Add to Swipes’ folder, it is not possible to change the Subject field of the e-mail, which will then become the title of the task. “Re: Sending you the requested designs and budget projections for the Carlton Project” is probably not the best name for an e-mail as a task.
  2. It is very likely that I will need to manage a number of separate e-mail accounts as well as my Gmail account – for instance, I regularly use my Outlook and iCloud accounts and have to co-ordinate tasks that may be arriving as e-mails addressed to any one of them.

Automating the Process of Task Creation

There’s a neat little hack that relates to the way that Gmail handles e-mail addressing that we can take advantage of here, in order to add a layer of automation to the process of turning e-mails into tasks in Swipes.

Suppose that my Gmail address is my.email@gmail.com. Then, of course, any e-mail sent to this address will arrive in my Gmail inbox. But, so will any e-mail that is alternatively addressed to my.email+anythinghere@gmail.com. In it’s delivery, it is treated in just the same way in Gmail, but now we have a way of applying a nifty Gmail filter to send e-mail tasks directly to the ‘Add to Swipes’ folder. Let’s set it up.

In my own Gmail account, I create a new filter which takes e-mails sent to my.email+swipes@gmail.com and automatically sends them to archive whilst also adding the label ‘Add to Swipes’.

Image 3: Setting up an Automated Filter in Gmail

Image 3: Setting up an Automated Filter in Gmail

Peter and Mary apply exactly the same set up in their Gmail accounts.

In my various electronic contacts lists, I can now add entries for something like ‘My Swipes Tasks’, ‘Peter’s Swipes Tasks’ and ‘Mary’s Swipes Tasks’, each with the primary Gmail addresses appended, as above, with ‘+swipes’, and now the fun can really begin!

Assigning Tasks in Swipes through E-mail Forwarding

With the Gmail filters set up as above,
I can now go through my e-mail inbox and forward any actionable e-mails to either ‘My Swipes Tasks’ or, say, ‘Mary’s Swipes Tasks’. Because I am forwarding the e-mails, I can change the subject header to something more meaningful as a task in Swipes; I can also add a few lines to the e-mail to identify what exactly it is needs to be actioned from the e-mail. Because the filter, as I’ve set it up, skips the inbox, I’m not creating duplicate e-mails in my primary mailbox – the whole process is silent, as long as I don’t have notifications on the ‘Add to Swipes’ folder. And finally, again because I am forwarding the e-mails, I can do so from any of the many e-mail accounts I have to manage, and they can all get converted automatically into tasks in Swipes.

Once forwarded to tasks in this way, I can now archive the original e-mail and get that one step closer to Inbox Zero, confident that Swipes will handle all the scheduling for me, so that everything gets actioned by the right person at the right time.

You Cannot be Siri-ous

To add yet one more layer to the gains we’ve already leveraged from the set-up described here, picture the following.

I’m driving home from dinner after a long and productive day in the office. I have my iPhone on car charge, when I notice that I had forgotten to ask Peter to pull the report for the meeting tomorrow afternoon. It’s late, and I recall that Peter will be at the game. I can’t call him, but I don’t want to wait until the morning to remind him.

Whilst driving, I wake up my iPhone with “Hey, Siri.” She asks me how she can help. I say “Send mail to Peter’s Swipes Task.” Siri then asks me for the subject of the e-mail – this will be the task name as it will appear in Peter’s Swipes app when he next looks at it. I answer “Print x reports for the board meeting at 2pm.” For the body of the e-mail, I add whatever context is needed to ensure the job gets done, and ask Siri to send.

Peter checks his Swipes in the morning, sees the new task, schedules it to fit in with whatever else he is doing and then, when it’s done, swipes it to archive – job done!

So, this is how I’m getting real productivity out of the new integration of Swipes with Gmail and living the Inbox Zero dream. Hopefully, it will have given you some ideas about how to improve your own workflows, out there in the driven world of ‘Getting Things Done’. You may have your own hacks to extend or streamline your day-to-day use of the Swipes app, so let’s hear them.

Stay productive, and keep Swiping!

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