I just turned off email on my phone

I’m a huge proponent of GTD. I use it to run my whole business and pretty much all of my life tasks.

GTD is all about removing cognitive load by putting tasks and notes in a trusted system. For me that system is OmniFocus and Evernote.

The thing is that I break my own system way too often by checking email on my phone.

For email on the desktop I use MailPlane and it has a great bridge that sends email links to OmniFocus. That means by highlighting some text in MailPlane I can create a to do note in OmniFocus with a link back to the email.

When I click the link in OmniFocus it opens MailPlane and takes me directly to that message.

It’s easy and means I don’t have to go hunting for email threads.

The thing is that I can’t do this from my phone. Sure I can email myself a to do item and it will show up in the OmniFocus inbox but there is no link back to the message.

Nor can I accomplish email tasks easily from my phone out of OmniFocus since the link goes to an application that doesn’t exist on my phone.

That means checking email on my phone (outside of when I’m out of the office for the day and need to) is a total waste of time.

Not in the system

Checking email from my phone means that I end up with a huge list of emails that are just sitting in the inbox and taking up some of my brain power.

Most of the emails simply can’t be dealt with. They need a server password, or links to multiple things. Maybe I need to look at the PSD file I was just sent. Maybe I need to type a long response that just isn’t suited to phone typing at all.

So they sit in the back of my brain and inbox not dealt with. Taking up valuable focus.

I need that brain power to get other things done.

I need those cycles to be fully invested in my family.

Instead I keep (yes despite best efforts) wasting them checking email on my phone.

So as I write this I’m turning off email on my phone. The simple fact is that if I need email I can toggle a switch and email will be back on my phone and if it’s really an emergency then call me.

For a long time I’ve had all notifications off for email. No badges, or beeps. Now I’ve taken the next logical step.

Do you have a system for email? Do you actually stick to it or do you get back to the habit of checking email in places where you can do nothing about it?

photo credit: PhilipRood.com via photopin cc

Emergency scanning just increases your stress

Oh email…yup I know it’s a pain in the ass for you. It’s like that for me sometimes as well. I’ve been on an email diet for a while, but there is more to dealing with email than a diet.

It all starts with how you handle email.

If you’re a GTD person you’re going to recognize a bunch of this from David Allen’s book. If you’re not that’s where much of this is from, go read the book.

Handling email by not handling it

One of the first mistakes that most of us make with email (even me some days) is just scanning it and not dealing with it. You open your email client and the first thing you see is a pain so you close it.

The email didn’t go away, you just are thinking about it now instead of dealing with the issue at hand. Awesome job, waste that brain power.

Another way we just don’t deal with our email is by checking it from places where we simply can’t deal with it. For me that’s my phone and since I use OmniFocus so heavily and MailPlane I just can’t push things from email to OmniFocus easily from my phone.

On top of that I’m typically just sitting downstairs and was at my desk where I could deal with it. Why on earth am I checking my email from a place I can’t deal with all of it?

Why on earth are you?

How we deal with it

Second up is how we deal with email, typically just picking out the most urgent or easiest items from the list instead of dealing with them in order. First to last or last to first doesn’t matter the practice of dealing with them in order is the important part.

Open your email and start at whichever end you prefer and work all the way to the other side of your email.

Dealing with an email doesn’t mean that you are going to answer it right away, it just means you decide how it’s going to be dealt with. For me that means pushing client emails into OmniFocus to deal with when I’m working on their project for the day. Anything that can be dealt with in under 2 minutes just gets a response.

Taking this approach of dealing with email only when I can actually do something about it and being systematic about how I deal with it took loads of stress of my back.

What’s your email system? Do you even like email?

photo credit: kenjonbro via photopin cc

Sparrow Mail

Today we’ll look at Sparrow Mail as a third entry in to our series of looks at email clients. If you’re interested in the other two here is a look at Mailplane and Postbox.


Sparrow is one of the newer entries in to the OS X email market and is made by Cactuslab, a company that designs websites and iOS applications a team of 3 that came together to improve the email experience on OS X. As pointed out in the comments Cactuslab made the Sparrow site.

The foundation in iOS development for the Sparrow team is pretty obvious when you first look at their application. The minimal interface bear strong resemblance to the original Tweetie interface. This gorgeous minimal interface is what made me fall in love with Sparrow in the first place. Looking at the applications I really love they’re all minimal and have a single function. Sparrow also offers a ‘minimal’ and ‘expanded’ view depending on your preferences.

Sparrow minimal and expanded interface
Sparrow minimal and expanded interface

One thing I always mention in a review is the amount of keyboard control that an application offers. Sparrow offers pretty much everything you could want in keyboard shortcuts. Not only does it offer a full suite of it’s own keyboard shortcuts, but its history as a Gmail/Google Apps only client shows in that it support the Gmail shortcuts you’re used to. You can also record custom system wide keyboard shortcuts to hide Sparrow or start a new mail message. I’m not really sure of the utility of the hide Sparrow custom keyboard shortcut since you can just use the OS X default ⌘H to accomplish the same thing.

Unfortunately most of us have multiple email accounts now so any must have feature of an email application is support for multiple email accounts. It’s also very possible that you’ll have multiple email providers that need to be supported in your email application. Well of course Sparrow has you covered on both fronts. While it started as a Gmail only application it now supports pretty much any IMAP interface you can think of. Add to that the ability to easily have different images for different accounts and it’s easy to see which account you’re working in visually.

Sparrow account configuration
Changing the image is as simple as dragging it on top of the old one.

If you’re a notification kind of preson (I’m not) then you’ll be happy to know that Sparrow supports many types of notifications. Prefer Growl, it’s here. Just want to see the icon in the menu bar with a little number for unread emails, you’re covered. Notifications are application wide (in what type you get) but you can turn them off or on for each account which can help at least stop notifications from higher traffic accounts that don’t matter immediately.

Again showing it’s Gmail based heritage Sparrow supports threaded conversations. I’m sure we’ve all spent time searching for exactly which email someone was responding to, well threaded conversations stops that. It’s present in most email clients (and all that are worth looking at) so I won’t go in to more depth then to note that it’s included in Sparrow.

Sparrow also has many other Gmail niceties like quick replies and starred conversations. I’ve got to admit that I’ve never used starred conversations for anything but if you do it’s here.

While Sparrow didn’t include support for calendar invites out of the gate (which was a reason I couldn’t/didn’t use it) in one of the last few updates it’s added support for invites. Clicking on the invite will take you to your Google Calendar (it’s all I use so all I can check) with further options on accepting/rejecting the meeting invite.

Many users (not me) also love a unified inbox which as of the 1.2 update Sparrow now supports. I’ve got to admit that I’ve never seen the utility of a unified inbox. Sure all the email is in one spot but when I’m on work time I should be dealing with work email only and when I’m not at work I don’t look at work email. If you’ve got a compelling reason that a unified inbox is a great thing then let me know in the comments.

Sparrow’s 1.2 update also added integration with Facebook. Let’s get the fact that I’m a Facebook hater out of the way. Really all Sparrow is doing is using Facebook integration to provide the images of your friends along with their emails. It already did this with Gravatar’s and images in your Address Book so it’s really just and extension of functionality already included in the application.


Gmail doesn’t have folders in the traditional sense (at least it doesn’t call them that) it uses labels as a way to organize email in to specific areas and of course Sparrow supports Gmail’s labels. Unfortunately labels are hard to find now. At one point they were in the top of the application interface next to other things like Archive and New Message but an update moved them down to the bottom left corner. When I got the update it took me a few minutes to find labels. My opinion is that labels are hard to find now sitting by themselves in the bottom of the application with no other interface elements and should be moved back to the top with the rest of the application interface.

Sparrow label icon
Hrm there are the labels.

Adding to the bit of label frustration is the fact that Sparrow doesn’t search the full label when you’re trying to assign it. When you start typing it only matches against the first word, unlike the support for assigning labels in Gmail proper. I’ve got a lot of labels so this is a big PITA for me and I’d assume a number of others.

I mentioned above that Sparrow has lots of keyboard shortcuts to keep me happy but it’s made a few odd decisions. The biggest one is that searching your mail is no the default ⌘F of 99% of all applications (or control-F on Windows). To search mail in Sparrow you’ve got to use ⌘⌥F. Sure it works but it’s non-standard. I’m of the very firm opinion that if there is a generally accepted practice of any sort then you should be using it. It’s not quite as bad as changing the cut/copy/paste keys but it’s not all that far off in my opinion.

Shortly after releasing Sparrow on the Mac AppStore Cactuslab added the always intended feature of support for many other mail sources (Yahoo, Hotmail, IMAP…). While this was awesome for some I’ve found the decision a bad one, bad enough that I started looking for other email clients. The real issue is that Sparrow became really really slow when checking for new mail after this addition. I have no idea if there is any relation between the addition of the feature and the slow down of the client but that was the halmark feature of teh release and ever since I’ve found it nothing but slow when checking my mail. Email is painful enough already without having to wait 60 seconds plus for your email to actually come in. I think they’d have a much better project without the extra support for email and keeping the speed, but all my email goes over Gmail so I may be biased.

sparrow multiple account support
Great you support multiple accounts but it so slow the app is useless now.

While you can send text to OmniFocus Sparrow has no special support for it. In Mailplane highlighting text in Sparrow will result in not only the text being in the note, but a link to the specific email provided in the note field. Sending text to Omnifocus out of Sparrow just results in the text and leaves you searching for the email if you no longer remember the exact context. I realize that not everyone is an Omnifocus user but I am so this is an issue for me.

One final ‘bug/note’ is that recent Gmail changes require some additional configuration of your Gmail account to work with Sparrow. Totally not the fault of the Sparrow team but a bit of a pain anyway. Read more about it.

I’m Not 100% sold

So do I use Sparrow? Well I used to. For quite a while Sparrow was my go to application with out a doubt but the speed issues I’m having have meant that I went looking for a new mail application and settled on Mailplane. Even when I wrote the Mailplane review I wasn’t sure I’d stick with it but after a day or two back with Sparrow I was missing a number of items in Mailplane so I just bought it and haven’t looked back.

If you’re looking for an email application and like the interface of Sparrow then by all means try it. It’s pretty dang great and the speed issues may be only mine or they may not bother you. I certainly update it and give it a few days to see if speed issues have been resolved and with the developer pushing regular updates it’s patching up many of the issues I’ve had. In fact this article sat scheduled for 3 weeks and has required 2 updates changing likes/dislikes around. The only lingering issue is the fact that Sparrow still seems to sync pretty slow, if that can be resolved then I’ll give it a full chance again.


I paid for all of the applications myself but most of the links above are affiliate links.

Email with PostBox

Email is something 99% of us do every day. Certainly if you’re an online worker (designer, programmer…) then email is a huge part of how you run your business. Gaining efficiency in your email sorting/writing/deleting can reap huge gains in overall daily productivity.

The Contender

In steps [Postbox](http://postbox-inc.com/ref.php?r=R8RFPKC) to help you battle the deadly time suck that is email. Postbox is based on the open source [Thunderbird](http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/thunderbird/) (from Mozilla) email engine. This means that out of the gate the developers of Postbox didn’t have to worry about the little things like connection to different email protocols, basic UI layout…and could focus on providing a refined product to users.

The Postbox interface
The Postbox interface

The Good

Aside from many of the expected features of an email client (multiple accounts, POP/IMAP) the biggest ‘pro’ for Postbox is it’s cross platform support, yeah that’s right it runs on both OS X and Windows. Couple that fact with the awesome license of Postbox (purchase includes both platforms) and you’ve got one awesome reason to drop some coin if you are split between systems and crave some consistency (as I was for a long time).

My second most loved feature of Postbox is the extensive list of [keyboard shortcuts](http://www.postbox-inc.com/support/postbox2_shortcuts) available. It’s a fact that moving from typing to the mouse slows you down so any time you can cut out that movement you’ve saved yourself some time. Need to move an email to a folder, no need to drag and drop when ‘V’ is right there. Need to move to one of the other accounts in Postbox hit ‘G’ then type inbox and pick the one you want. There are way more available so go check them all out and if you do a task more than once in an email session learn the keyboard shortcut.

Lots of Keyboard Shortcuts
Lots of Keyboard Shortcuts

For you Mac users Postbox also has special support for both Things and Omnifocus. I’m no longer a Things user but I can say that Omnifocus support is top notch and welcome. Clicking the link in Omnifocus will open the email in question, never have reams of unread email as ‘todo’ items in your inbox again.

Before I was a Postbox user I was a Thunderbird user so knowing that the stable platform of Thunderbird sat under this beautiful (seriously way prettier than Thunderbird) client was a huge bonus. I’ve set up Postbox on 3 or 4 machines (both OS X and Windows) and it’s always felt easy. On my Mac it imported everything from Mail.app with no issues. While I could be wrong I don’t ever remember having such an easy time switching email clients even when I was using Thunderbird.

The other advantage of having Postbox based off Thunderbird is that you’ve got a huge list of available plugins. When I wanted a proper Canadian dictionary I just went to the Thunderbird site and downloaded one. Even with that PostBox has a number of extensions that they know work and are [listed on their site](http://www.postbox-inc.com/extensions/).

Postbox certified addons
Postbox certified addons

The Bad

Just like any software Postbox has a few issues though. First the search is supposed to index all your mail (both on site and on the server) to make searching fast. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. I could never find a consistent reason for the search index failure but it happened. I just got in the habit of manually forcing an index of available mail every week or so. Depending on how much mail you have this might be something best left for while you’re on lunch as it can take a while and you’re email is not available while Postbox is indexing.

Indexing can take a while in Postbox
Watching the indexing chug along

Occasional speed issues were also a problem for some (not that I had any). It seems that when your email is starting to operate slow forcing an index cleared up the issue. Again, not a deal breaker but something that’s a bit annoying. Backup of the Postbox folders also seemed to slow down the performance for some so don’t forget to [exclude](http://support.postbox-inc.com/entries/110315-excluding-certain-postbox-files-from-time-machine-on-mac-os-x) them from local backup. Really we should all be using IMAP or Exchange anyway so having another backup is a waste of time/space.

Finally I’ll complain about the Postbox support forums. They have an awesome AJAX search that breaks if you try and navigate back with your browser. I know this isn’t something related directly to the application but if you’re looking for some help or tips you’ll quickly find it annoying which will be a point against the software.


Postbox is a solid email client with a beautiful UI that sits firmly within the predictable realm of every other email client out there. It certainly works and it works well but if you’re looking for true innovation on how you interact with your email look elsewhere (like the great simple UI of Sparrow). With that said I still highly recommend Postbox for its full features and cross platform support. It’s most certainly the best option for any Windows users I’ve seen.

If you’ve on OS X and only/mainly using Gmail or Google Apps then go take a look at my review of [Mailplane](http://wp.me/pTzzZ-1h).

Staying in the Zone by Killing Distraction

The zone is that place where things flow. Birds fly music plays. It’s cheesy, cliche and sometimes hard to come by. Really the zone is where we need to be regularly to get things done. For many of us the zone only sometimes shows its head. We struggle to find it. Love it when it happens and lament when we can’t find it.

It’s kind of like the ‘killing zone’ in the movie Wanted. You start off with it just happening and you have no control. Over time you learn how it works for you and grab the shuttle from the loom. Then you become a master.

The Distractions

Whether you work at home or in an office distractions come at us fast and furious. In the office co-workers visit your desk to chat. At home dogs bark, kids cry, neighbours stop by to say ‘hi’. In either place the phone rings while you are focused. Email comes in and audibly notifies you. You keep your twitter client open and it notifies you (my hands up on that one for sure).

The Weapons of Distraction Death

My primary weapon to kill office distraction is headphones or at the least music. Even if I’m not actually listening to music I have my headphones on. The headphones create a visual barrier for people when they come up to my desk. It makes them think twice when I don’t immediately react to their entry into the office (even though I see it at the edge of my vision). A number of times, when I stay focused for a few seconds extra they leave and shoot me a quick email which I can answer during my email times.

Second you need to turn off your email. Don’t leave it open all day. Don’t respond instantly to every message that comes in. Don’t open your email first thing in the morning. My daily routine goes something like this. I arrive at the office and login to my computer. Open Google reader and triage the items I’m never going to read. Fire up mail.app and triage my secondary email (99% of the time just filing and marking items as spam). Then I open my normal work email and deal with what needs to be dealt with. Once I have dealt with my email I close the window.

I personally have my email set to provide no notification of any fashion when new email comes in. This lets me Tab to Entourage if needed and create a new email from the keyboard without opening the app and seeing what might be there. I only open my email if I am between items of work and have a few minutes that I am not focused on a project. I also open it directly after lunch and just before I leave for the day. It takes a bit for co-workers to realize that you don’t answer email instantly but in the long term they learn and it makes you way more productive.

Finally, stop the social networking. Don’t have Tweetdeck open. At the very least turn off the notifications. For a while I used Seesmic and it lets you turn off all notifications but a small tone if someone DM’s you or replies to you. While I love this feature in Seesmic I went back to Tweetdeck cause it’s way faster. Unfortunately Tweetdeck notifications are on or off. So turn them off or close the application.

While multitasking is all the rage constant interruptions are unproductive. So let’s decide to kill the distractions and get more done. Have any other ideas to kill distractions love to hear them.

photo credit: el patojo via photopin cc