Vlad Skvortsov's Blog

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My name is Vlad Skvortsov, I'm a software engineer: it's my job, hobby and addiction.

My primary interests include high-performance, scalable, fault-tolerant distributed systems; server-side applications; information retrieval technologies; procedural aspects of software engineering process.

I work on several private and open-source projects, hacking in Python, Haskell, Erlang, Perl and C.

Guitar, hiking, ice hockey and other hobbies help me to balance my life.

My e-mail is vss@73rus.com.

Getting Things Done With Thunderbird's Customized Views

Jan 27 2007, 13:29 permalink
Tags: gtd projects

Any open source development nowadays requires a great deal of electronic communication, primarily email. The DITrack is not an exception: the three of us are in different parts of the world and we heavily use e-mail to coordinate our efforts. The great volume of the messages first put me a bit off track: I couldn't reliably ensure that nothing will left forgotten in that pile of emails. But a couple of days back I've came up with a solution to help me getting things done.

The first line of defence were, of course, message filters offered by Thunderbird. I've set them up a while back to sort my incoming messages into different folders. Thus, all emails coming from the ditrack.org domain have been automatically moved to the 'ditrack' folder. That made my life a lot simplier.

However, there was still another problem. Basically, I could split all messages in the folder into two groups: those that required action from me and those that required some kind of follow-up. The first group usually includes any messages not authored by myself, such as commit logs (for me to review) or any discussions (for me to read, think, and respond).

The second group needs a bit of explanation. Any discussions (be that a commit review, design decision rants or whatever) usually either stall or come to some conclusion, requiring action from one of us. Since we are building a system for issue tracking, we tend to record all valuable information in there. So the desirable outcome of discussions is either a commit (if needed, it can be followed up after relevant automatic commit notification) or an addition to an issue record.

We are people, still, and thus occasionally forget to follow-up with one of these actions. So, I needed to have a mechanizm that would prevent me from forgetting.

Long ago I started the practice of treating my mail folders as to-do lists. I usually delete messages only when they require no furthe messages from me. It works quite well for my regular inbox, but in case of DITrack it soon became a mess, because the volume is too high and I just get lost in dozens of concurrent threads.

I'm not anyway near a Thunderbird freak, I've been using only the basic features of that. So the first intuitive thing I decided to do is to setup new message filters that would go through the 'ditrack' folder and move messages into two other folders ('ditrack-requires-action' and 'ditrack-requires-followup'). Didn't work. There seem to be no way to make a filter go through specific folder (other than invoking it manually via the menu, which doesn't work for me). I was about to give up, but suddenly came across the 'view' button/menu in the folder view.

That turned out to be quite useful. I've set up two 'views' for the 'ditrack' folder. The first is named 'ditrack-requires-action' and simply filters all messages not originated from me. Thus, when there is a new message in the folder, I can see that right away, act on that and remove it.

The second view is 'ditrack-requires-followup': it displays my own mails that are older then three days. Thus if I made some comment and that hasn't been replied to or acted on, I still have a chance to follow-up myself, ping another person or simply drop it. This way things do not fall through cracks and I have better control on what's going on. One more tip on getting things done.