Category Archives: Email Productivity

Some Different Free Productivity Tools

Sometimes a productivity system just isn’t right for your lifestyle and it can be a massive headache to discover this too late: such as after you’ve already taken your wallet out to give it a spin.

To help with this problem, DIGTD wants to showcase a few different but still useful productivity tools that won’t require any payment to try out.


The first area worth looking into is Firefox-based add-ons; small plug-ins that can provide a little extra functionality for your browser. Mozilla’s Firefox 3 has swept the browser market so thoroughly that many computer users are already familiar with the program and this has resulted in the availability of a massive number of community created add-ons.

They can be a bit difficult to wade through however and it is for this reason that we want to detail a few of the better productivity focused extensions worth an installation.

OpenItOnline is a great time-saver that allows users to bypass the traditional launch of word processing programs such as Microsoft Office and instead open documents straight from their browser. Rather than requiring the installation of an Office Suit package, OpenItOnline gives Firefox users the ability to directly access .doc, .xls and many other common extensions right from their browser. It also hosts compatibility with Google Spreadsheets, Docs and more.

Screengrab! is another invaluable Firefox add-on that can be used for a variety of different, time-saving functions.

Users can save or copy image files of whole pages, rectangular sections or visible portions of any browser displays for later reference without having to print out the entire page.

Firefox ShareaholicShareaholic is a fantastic tool for the demographic that uses the Internet for regular linking and news sharing, allowing for a substantial cutting down of the usual amount of time that frequent access can require.

The add-on supports popular services such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious and Digg and hosts the option to quickly check traffic rates and comments without actually having to visit the given network’s site.

As well as Firefox, Shareaholic also supports Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 and above as well as the Flock Browser.

This really is a great tool to help you build you collection of social bookmarks for various sites that you visit. There may also be some Search Engine Benefit in making sure most of your pages are bookmarked on various social bookmarking websites.

HP Smart Web Printing is one of the rare free extensions that is actually made available from a leading technology company. The Web Printing add-on allows for an excellent shortcut and editing program to be accessed directly from Firefox. Users can save pages as .pdf files, arrange and delete information exactly as they wish and combine multiple pages into one document before printing.

Evernote Web Clipper is an add-on from the popular productivity developers, Evernote, and functions as a free extension to help users conveniently import information to their Evernote account. A handy toolbar menu allows for in-depth context sorting and quick data management without actually requiring the user to launch Evernote.

Evernote Web Clipper

Evernote is another of the big companies that offers a free GTD-centred service. Although it does cost more to fully register with a “premium account” most of the key features of Evernote are available with a no-charge account.

There are a few Getting Things Done programs that can be downloaded completely free of charge as well and it’s a good idea to have some of these bookmarked to try out for yourself. The sign-up and/or installation of these applications is usually extremely simple and quick, something that makes a trial run of any of them well worth the required time.

Nozbe is one of the leading developers in the GTD community and it has definitely earned its place by virtue of some fantastic work on the software client. For strict adherents of the GTD system Nozbe is well worth a shot due to its careful consideration of Allen’s directives and suggestions.

Free Nozbe accounts can access all of the sorting and information entry features responsible for making Nozbe so reputable among its users and purchase of the full version unlocks absolutely everything for the serious user.

Nozbe GTD

ThinkingRock hosts great functionality, community and ease of use without requiring any payment. The developers at ThinkingRock are great at keeping up with their user’s needs and latest editions of the productivity client are always improving on an already formidable GTD system.

Thinking Rock GTD

The shareware and freeware communities are always worth a shot as well. One of the best results of the GTD explosion the Internet has seen in the last few years involves the massive amounts of programs constantly developed by enthusiastic developers, eager to try their hand at the perfect adaptation of Allen’s system. Try a few out for yourself and see how they work for your purposes.

Email sorting has long been a popular area for Getting Things Done adherents to work on and better manage, incorporating GTD organization as a front-line method for dealing with new, incoming information.

Here are a few cost free solutions to email clutter and inbox sorting.

To start off it’s a good idea to take a look at Google’s Gmail and the organization possible through making use of a few of its built-in features.

Gmail is a great email service for message organization, context sorting and more. Setting the site to HTML or Google Docs viewing can allow for the opening of .doc files for starters, allowing for much deeper levels of customization and specification.

Gmail users can also install Greasemonkey (designed by a Google Reader engineer) for free and then widely enhance the functionality of the email client by sorting contexts and actions as soon as emails enter the inbox.

Email Templates is another quality extension that uses Microsoft Outlook as its basis. Email Templates allows users to create custom frameworks for email sending, a feature that can make it into an invaluable tool for anyone that needs to send mass emails or standardized messages to multiple recipients.

Each of the frames created in Email Templates can be applied to as few or as many contacts as desired, making it into a great way to add personality or regular form to any message without spending a lot of time doing so.

There are also a number of other email add-on services that offer free trials to demonstrate the true value of their software. Additional worth for users committed to default email clients can be important and this is where most of these titles come into play. Here are a few licensed programs that deserve a trial run before purchase.

Thinking Rock GTD

Mail Act-On is a great program to increase the usefulness of Apple Mail and boost the productivity of the email client’s regular users. The plug-in allows Mac fans the ability to assign hot keys or reference pop-up menus in order to quickly navigate the most valuable Mail features with ease.

The Rules panel in Mail Act-On expands for great sorting, providing a handy method for the context filing of all sent and received messages. Combined with hot key shortcuts, Mail Act-On is a fantastic way to immediately sort and clearly organize all of your messages before they get a chance to clutter up your message folders.

Claritude Software are another provider of email productivity tools based on Microsoft Outlook so Windows only.

Claritude Software offer a 30-day trial that gives users the opportunity to try out the powerful sorting engine available with the program.

The main benefits of Claritude are found in the organizational potential that is brought forth by being able to quickly file both outgoing and incoming emails, saving large amounts of time while allowing for easy GTD sorting. Find-as-you-type file searching is another well developed aspect that makes navigating an inbox much faster, cleaner and simpler.

Trying out the above programs is a great way to find your favorite systems without having to spend a dime to do so.

Take a few of them for a spin yourself and then explore the categories on your own as well in order to get the most productivity potential possible out of your everyday software.

Have I missed any free apps that I have not covered before? If so, please leave me a comment so that I can readdress this post.


AwayFind – Increase your Email Productivity

AwayFindIn the last update from my email productivity experiment, I mentioned that I had been told about a new online service called AwayFind which apparently would help with the issues I was having.

This blog post is worth reading as it will save you time, just as it saved me time. I use AwayFind as my email solution and do not get paid anything for telling you that I use it. You are getting the best type of recommendation for this product as I am a Raving Fan of it and believe that it can save you time.

I get a lot of free invites and requests to check things out but after a few days, I did manage to log in to the account that had been created for me and check it out. I am happy to say that I was very happy with what I saw.

From the AwayFind website:

Awayfind is not just a web tool,
it’s a blueprint for escaping email, with a handbook and a community to ensure your success.

In a nutshell, AwayFind is a web application that provides you with a web contact form that you can use in your email signature or auto-responder that enables people to contact you. There is also a methodology and associated free eBook once you sign up with simple, clear instructions on how to configure the system in order to reduce the burden email puts you under.

So, somebody sends you an email. Your auto-responder thanks them and tells them you are not checking email frequently so if their matter is urgent to please contact you via the AwayFind contact form. If the matter is not urgent, the email stays in your inbox ready for you to read it at your will.

If the matter is urgent, they will fill in the contact form and you will be contacted immediately via your preferred method.

To get started with AwayFind you need to head over to the AwayFind site and sign up for a free account.

Once you have an account you can login and from here you get your AwayFind Inbox and a very simple control panel. The first thing you want to be doing is editing your contact form.

This contact form is the form that you will direct people to in order to get in touch with you and it is the key component of the AwayFind service.


You can really personalize this form with your own details and logos to make it look an extension of your corporate branding.

Once this is complete, the next important step is to set how AwayFind reaches you. This is the method of contact once somebody completes the AwayFind web contact form. This is an important part. If you are not checking email, there is no point using your main email address as the contact method. It kind of defeats the purpose.

The way I use this is twofold. I have entered my cell phone number so that I get an SMS message and I have also cleverly entered my MobileMe email address.

As I use an iPhone and MobileMe, these emails are pushed to me and it does work pretty neat. I do not use the MobileMe address for much else so I know when I get an email on that account it is an important one. I sometimes have data and no cell coverage and sometimes cell coverage and no data. So, I always know I will get the urgent message.

Once AwayFind is configured you need to set up your mail server to send the auto-responder, for which instructions are available via AwayFind for the major mail server vendors. AwayFind even produce some sample auto-responders for you to use.


So, how have I got on with AwayFind?

Well, I have been using AwayFind for the last month or so. I check email twice a day, or when I need to. I have stopped mail notifications and I manually check email on my iPhone.

I am totally free of “notification twitch”, that common complaint suffered by anybody who has ever owned a Blackberry!

I get on average two or three urgent requests a week. I have had no complaints out of people who email me, just curiosity about the system and how much time it is saving me.

If you want to save time and check email only twice a day, or less, then you either risk missing the occasional important time sensitive emails or you sign up to AwayFind.

I do realize that this will not work for everybody as unfortunately some people would not get away with this in their working environment due to the outdated attitudes of their superiors. However, give it a try, make them try it and I am sure, that you will see the benefit of the system.

I know this has sounded like a long sales pitch, but it is a subject that I am passionate about and I am full of enthusiasm for AwayFind. I wish them every success.

Have any of you tried AwayFind?, any views about the service or methodology? I would love to hear.


Email Productivity Experiment – Update 4

This is the fifth post in my mini series about email productivity. For those of you who missed the first four I have provided links to them below.

Email Productivity Experiment
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 1
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 2
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 3

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post on the subject of Email Productivity. In my last post I had hit a few problems with my rigid system due to the fact that I was working on a news story and therefore I had a requirement to check email much more than I would have normally done as I was getting very important information via email that required immediate action.

Unfortunately, whilst doing this it also meant that I collected my other email at the same time as well, totally blowing my email productivity system out of the water.

What I had achieved so far was to reduce the amount of timed I checked email from 62 times to 4 times during a working day. I loosely worked out that this was saving me around 93 minutes in my working day. Now, that is a pretty nice saving!

The only issue was, if somebody needed to get a hold of me between the times I checked email, they couldn’t. Obviously if they had my mobile phone number they could try that but I do tend to screen mobile calls from unknown numbers (another good post topic). So, the system fell down during the time when I was receiving time sensitive emails that required my attention.

During my normal working day, there are not that many times when somebody MUST get hold of me as a matter of urgency. I estimate that this requirement may be once every two or three days, when my input is required at that point either to answer a critical customer request or to provide information to the sales team in order to close a deal.

So, I needed a solution that allowed me to check email less frequently, but still provided a way for urgent emails to get through.

As a matter of sheer co-incidence, I was contacted via Facebook by a reader of this blog about a new web application and servie that he was launching called AwayFind. Sounded very interesting so I checked it out.

AwayFind is based on a principle from the Four Hour Work Week book by Timothy Ferris. I have read this book and loved it, although a lot of it is very impractical in my opinion I still picked up some great snippets from it. The review of the book has been in draft post format and I am just waiting for my third copy of the book to arrive as it is that good I keep giving it away!

Here is the blurb about AwayFind from their website:

AwayFind is a communication tool that bridges the gap between emails and phone calls. AwayFind enables people to reach you with critical information via a web link to your AwayFind Contact Form. Just place this link in your “out of office” auto response message or your email signature. This Contact Form routes messages to your cell phone or delegates them to your co-workers. When traveling with limited cellular or internet access, you can also quickly login to AwayFind and read only your critical messages.

I started to use AwayFind but must admit that I expected a few people to hate it. We were in the middle of migrating company email from IMAP to the Google Apps cloud services so it was a perfect time to start using AwayFind.

Now I am not going to go into too much depth about AwayFind as I am drafting a full review that I will link to from here once the review is ready.

The service from AwayFind auto responds to people who send you email letting them know that you do not check email frequently. There is a URL provided in the auto responder that points them to your branded AwayFind page.

From this page users can send you a message that can be delivered to you in a number of ways such as Email or SMS Text Message.

I have been using this system now for the past three weeks and it is fantastic. People have commented on how good it is as they do not expect an immediate response but they have a mechanism of getting a hold of me with their urgent requirements.

I now check email two to three times a day, when my schedule permits. Email does not control me, I control it..

This pretty much wraps up this mini email series. I went out looking for a solution and I think I found one that fits my working life and practices. I am going to attempt to write a little email productivity eBook that I will provide via this site covering my problems and solutions. I am also going to review AwayFind in great detail along with the way I have implemented it.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini series, please let me know your thoughts and comments.


Email Productivity Experiment – Update 3

This is the fourth post in my mini series about email productivity. For those of you who missed the first three I have provided links to them below.

Email Productivity Experiment
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 1
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 2

After the last installment of this series, I had changed my email collection timer from the default 5 minutes to one hour. I had seen quite an increase in productivity as I was working on emails in batch rather than what seemed to be every five minutes.

I decided that the next step was to check my email four times during the working day. These times were to be at 0900, 1200, 1500, and 1700.

There is no automated way to do this within, the default mail client on the Mac and the one that I use so I had to turn off the automatic mail collection setting and set this to manual. So, from now, I received email when I manually clicked on the Get Mail button within

For the first few days this was going great. I informed the people directly involved with me that I was only checking email at these times and if something was urgent, then they needed to tell me in another way.

It generally worked out very well. Just like with the one hour gaps, the time between email on a three hour gap soon came around and I was amazed at how fast time was going in between email. It was nice and actually felt quite liberating to be free of the feeling that you have to check email.

All this was very well and good until I stumbled across a little item that resulted in me working very closely with the BBC and other journalists for just over a week on what became quite a well covered news story, even making the front page of Digg!

Because of this, I found most of my good work go straight out of the window as I had to check my mail frequently as I had to answer time sensitive questions. So, I found myself checking mail very frequently to ensure that I had not missed anything from any of the people I was working on the story with.

This has identified to me that strict email systems like these have to give sometimes, unless that is I can find a way around this. Some way of being able to filter the mail before I get it to my mailbox so that if I am working on something like this in the future I will be able to selectively receive mail. I could use a second address but that is not really an elegant solution so off I go looking for a way to achieve this.

Just out of interest, the story I did was posted here on the BBC website and was covered on many other technology and security news sites. The hits to our company website at RandomStorm sure did increase as you can imagine!

The report went live on Monday and it has been a very busy week. I am back to checking email once an hour and aim to go back to the four times in a working day from next Monday.

This has been a great lesson to me about flexibility in systems and the fact that sometimes the system has to give. It was in my interests for it to give as it was a priority for me to ensure I gave a speedy response to questions asked.

I am looking forward now to improving this.

Email Productivity Experiment – Update 2

This is the third post in my mini series about email productivity. For those of you who missed the first two I have provided links to them below.

Email Productivity Experiment
Email Productivity Experiment – Update 1

Well, I have had a rather busy week this week and not had a great deal of time scheduled for writing. I have however being able to implement a few changes to my email system and track the outcome. It is always great to schedule things like this when you are at your busiest so you can get a real grasp of how effective the changes have been. This week has been a great week for this next test.

In the last installment of this series, I tracked over a few days the number of times that I checked email in a normal working day. I was quite shocked to find out that I had checked email 62 times during the working day. Wow, that is a lot of email!

Using a distraction penalty of 90 seconds, this works out to just over an hour and a half of wasted productivity due to checking email.

So, what I have tried this week is very basic and I have just set the default mail collection time from the default five minutes to one hour. So, instead of checking for new email across my 8 email accounts every 5 minutes, it now only checks for new mail once an hour.

I was very skeptical if this would work for me as I am rather a heavy email user and my time is always requested from many people within my organization. But, I gave it a try.

As I was very busy, and not twiddling my thumbs, the first few hours passed like a dream. I must admit that I even forgot about email and then remembered on the hour when my new mail notification would sound and I would merrily go and check my email. What I found is pretty obvious. Rather than dealing with the odd email every five minutes, and also the annoying ones that bypass the spam filters, I was working in batch. Working in batch really does save you time. I was getting roughly 15 emails every hour. I could skim through these, delete what I did not need, archive ones that required archiving or clipping ones that required more thought into my OmniFocus inbox for processing during one of my processing sessions.

So, how did I do. Well, I checked email 23 times during the day. This is a great improvement from 62 times and I did actually feel that it made my day more productive. I have been really busy and focused all week and I must admit that the time between email seemed to fly and I found myself using it as a time marker, often remarking that the last hour had flown by.

62 to 23 is a reduction from 93 minutes to 34.5 minutes of distraction (based upon a 90 second penalty) therefore saving me an hour a day of productive time!.

Wow, what a simple way to save an hour a day!

Why did I check the email 23 times and not 10? (as I normally work 10 hour days). Well, I did find myself being asked about topics and emails that had been sent at times throughout the day and I just could not resist being the odd one out in the office so I did find myself hitting the Get Mail button to check for new mail in between a few of the hourly regular checks.

This is an area where I need to improve and I plan to stop the automatic collection next week as will only allow you to set one hour mail collection as the maximum default. I plan to check mail at 0900, 1200, 1500, and 1700. 4 times a day from 62 times. Should be fun!

I have had some fantastic comments on the last two posts and I hope you all keep the comments up on this post as I love to read the ideas you are all having about saving time and becoming more productive when dealing with email.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Email Productivity Experiment – Update 1

Over the past few days I have been using my trusty Moleskine to record the number of times I have checked email. I did not change anything about the way I worked, I just checked mail as normal using the default settings on my laptop. I was out a few days and in the office a few days so I evened out my results in order to get a view from a pretty average day.

What I found was quite shocking! I checked email 84 times in an average day. This was split into 62 times during my working day and 22 times outside of work, whilst at home.

I use a Mac, and as my email client. My laptop is hardly ever turned off. It sits on the desk in the office all day, and when I get home it sits on my desk in my study which is a dedicated work room on the ground floor of my house. I have the default setting to check for new email every 5 minutes.

With the default setting to check email every five minutes, that means that my machine checks for email 12 times per hour. I start work at 0800 and leave the office at 1730 so that is 9.5 hours in the office. This equates to my Mac checking for new email 114 times during my normal working day. Out of this 114 times, I checked my mail 62 times. The other 52 times I did not get email. I do not manually check email, but I tend to switch straight to when a new email arrives to read it.

When my machine is in my study at home, I normally have the sound on so that I can hear the new email notification. I don’t jump when I hear the notification but I do log it mentally and then go to my study to check my mail when I pass the room etc..

Lets treat the during office ours and away from office ours as two separate entities. During office hours you would like to think that I am working on something, normally related to a previously collected task or project so these email notifications are an interruption. At home, I should be relaxing with the family, learning by reading, or as most of the time working, but in a more relaxed environment.

Each time I am interrupted and check email I am going to allocate a 90 second penalty. This penalty is against the break in my focus and the time it takes me to regain the flow on the task that I was performing. So, during the working day I have 62 such interruptions. 62 * 90 Seconds equates to 5580 seconds, or 93 minutes. Just over one and a half hours out of my nine and a half hours of productive working time (not counting lunch). Maybe 90 seconds penalty is a bit high, maybe it is too low. Would love to hear your thoughts about it.

The bottom line, and the basis for my next post on this fascinating subject is that I am losing roughly 15.8% of my productive time due to email interruptions.

Email Productivity Experiment

Email Productivity
Email is one of my main communication methods and in a quest to try and improve my productivity, I am going to start a little experiment into getting the most out of email. Hopefully, this is going to lead to an ebook that I have been planning for a while. This ebook will outline my methodology for dealing with Email in the most productive way based upon my experience and knowledge gained from the books and methods I have studied.

So, to start this experiment, I am recording the number of times I check email per day, over a few days. I am out on a client site today so probably will not check it as much as if I was in the office.

I get the feeling that this will be the start of a great series of blog posts regarding email productivity.