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ETech - Bit Literacy

Notes from an ETech session on Bit Literacy, by Good Experience creator, Mark Hurst.

Going to talk about "bit literacy" philosophy, and announce the launch of Goo'Todo (it's GoodTodo without the 'd', get it?)

Most ppl have an emotional connection with email.

Methods people use to manage email:

  1. cherry pick important emails
  2. totally anal, get everything
  3. moderate, try to manage effectively

The method of email management he's going to talk about works for him, and he wants to give us ideas about how this works.

One rule he encourages people to use is to get email inbox down to zero once a day.

How to get from whatever # of emails you have down to 0 initially? That's a separate conversation, and not focus of this talk.

He's going to assume you've gotten it to zero yesterday; now he'll tell you a method to get it down to zero assuming it's gone back up from 0.

Here's how to get it from, say, 100, back to 0 in a minimum amount of time.

Step 1

Answer the most important emails: personal emails from families and friends, pictures of kids, birthday invitations, etc. Take some time to enjoy responding to those. Once you're done, get them out of the inbox--delete or archive.

Step 2

Go to the least important msgs in inbox... newsletters, FYIs, cc:ed emails, etc. You have one chance with these, don't save the newsletter to read later (if you can't read it now, will you really have the time to read it later?) Read them and delete them.

Now you're free from important msgs and unimportant msgs.

Step 3

The only thing left in the inbox right now are action items.

Check any action items or todos that you can finish in 2 minutes or less, get them done, and delete them. Don't get up for coffee, start writing another email, check your email again, etc, because then action items queue up, and there's nothing more demoralizing than having a looong list of emails from ppl asking you to do something.

Step 4

Finally, you've got a list of action item that take more than 2 minutes to accomplish. You've got to move them to a proper to-do list, not a crappy to-do list, but a proper to-do list. Then delete the emails.


  1. family & friends. delete
  2. FYIs. delete.
  3. quick to-dos. delete.
  4. big hairy action items. delete.

You've got to get your inbox to zero. The difference between 1 and 0 is nearly infinite, psychologically and physically.

The key question, now, is: "what's a proper to-do list?"

Caveat that this system works well for him.

He thinks some other good ones are:
- Tadalist
- Remember The Milk

He would call them listmakers... really easy, really well-done, allow you to make lots and lots of lists... as if you were going shopping.

Gootodo is a decidedly low-tech tool, no ajax, blogging, rss, geotracking. "Usually when i show this to techies, they ask for new technologies that someone presented on at the last etech."

So, what is a proper to-do list?

  • gootodo allows you to email todo onto to-do list
  • subject and body map onto summary and detail
  • other thing... gotta be able to email the future. Anybody who's experienced the horror of the outlook task bar is that there's no easy way to sort to-dos by date. It's key to email the future, you don't want to crowd your space today and know you can't get to it today. It's the greatest thing... you forward it to your to-do list and don't see them anymore. You've created a space for you to be productive.
  • you need one list, not three, or five, or whatever, you end up with a list of lists in other productivity systems. You need to know what you should be working on at any given moment in time

(Ed: Mark demos the system here. It's incredibly simple to use, although it could definitely use some Ajaxy user experience improvements. Waiting for the page to reload when you're only updating a small chunk of the data has become intolerable for me. Demo'ed features include emailing to future days, redating an item, and how to share / prevent sharing your list.)

"If you start using Gootodo I want you to get really good at procrastinating." Put it off to the future.

(Ed: Mark demos a brilliant feature. How many times do you ask somebody to do something, but then don't follow up the request if whatever you ask to get done, doesn't get done? Happens all the time to me. So when you're emailing some person a request, you can bcc: a Gootodo email address that will save the body of the email and set a future reminder for you to follow up on the original request. It's a really nice implementation.)

There's now a discipline and a good tool now to manage incoming email.

Mark reads a fantastic testimonial from an exec who has been using Gootodo to manage her email. I missed the whole thing, but it includes the line, "I am sure I am going to live longer. I am not joking!" The full quote is here:

I am THRILLED to tell you that you have changed my life. I have lived with the yoke of email for the last several years of my career... For the first time in my life I am on top of my email and feel an incredible weight off my shoulders. I am sure I am going to live longer. I'm not joking! You are wonderful! Thank you.
(from Mark's Good Experience column)

I have been experimenting with Gootodo since last August, and while I thought it added some interesting features to the Todo list category, I didn't find it impressive. I think that coupling Gootodo with this simple system for email and task management could be very powerful. I've been thinking about using a system to be better organized, and until Mark's talk, GTD was it. Given that this is simpler, though, I think I'll first give this a shot.

Disclosure: I know Mark personally.

Update: Added full text of quote, above.

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. noah kagan said on Aug 15 2006:

great advice. it is one of those easier said than done things. or lazier than should be=)

2. kareem said on Aug 20 2006:

I know... i was on the wagon for awhile, now I have 75 emails in my inbox.


Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded eduFire, an online video tutoring company.

I've done time at ESPN and FIM.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderated a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live. I am now living and working in cool cities around the world.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer


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