Mobile Productivity

A couple of years ago I purchased a Blackberry Pearl. At the time I had just transitioned from working in an office to working remotely from home and a variety of coffee shops. While I had my Macbook, having a device that was connected indefinitely was going to be imperative to performing my role in the organization.

As far as I was concerned, the Blackberry was the perfect instrument for my needs. Using the Blackberry Gmail app, I was able to be available at a moment’s notice to field questions, solve problems and keep projects moving. A short few months later I was no longer with that organization, and found myself with functionality I no longer needed. I called up Rogers and removed the data plan from my account, and used my Blackberry as a souped-up cell phone.

About a year later, I bought an iPod touch. While the iPod touch can only connect via WIFI, it has become a fairly handy mobile device. I can email, tweet, keep to-do lists and much more. However, even though both the iPod touch and iPhone have some productivity features, I really don’t feel very productive using them.

Productivity and Me

On my Macbook Pro, I have a fairly structured system to stay productive. Here’s the basic setup:

Email

My email is handled through Apple Mail.app. While I have gone back and forth between Mail.app and the Gmail.com interface, I am brought back to Mail.app because of its simplicity and integration with the rest of my desktop.

All of my email addresses are forwarded to my Gmail account so they can all be managed through one inbox. Emails from my work account are filtered through a rule to change the text colour so I can visually separate them.

Using the principles of GTD each email is dealt with in one way or another until my inbox is empty. Emails that can be addressed in 5 minutes or less are dealt with immediately. This include emails that require a reply, a web update or simply need to be archived for reference. Emails that require action that will take longer than 5 minutes are input into my Things.app inbox (more on this in a minute).

Once I have dealt with all of the emails in my inbox, an AppleScript provided by John Gruber and initiated by a FastScripts keystroke sweeps through my inbox and archives all emails that are not flagged or unread.

Things

Things.app has been the most revolutionary piece of my personal productivity system. Even before starting to read Getting Things Done, using Things helped me to capture the things I needed to do and helped keep them in focus throughout the day. Once I began reading GTD, I really started to harness the power of capturing any open loops. I do this through the Things for Mac Quick Entry HUD and the Things touch app as well. By synching these two pieces of software I am able to keep tabs on everything I need to be doing as well as capturing anything that pops into my head at almost any given time.

Things + Mail.app

Using a tip from Shawn Blanc back in January, emails that require further attention are added to Things.app using the Quick Entry HUD. Once I have typed in the action, I click and drag the email from Mail.app into the “notes” section of the to-do item.

As Gruber wrote a couple of years ago, this function is possible due to Leopard’s “message” URL handler. This URL handler allows email messages to be linked in other applications, which when clicked opens the message in Mail.app. Rather than trying to write out notes to remind myself of what needs to be addressed for each action, this message URL handler allows me to simply go back directly to the message the to-do item references.

The Problem

This is where the system begins to fall apart when the iPod touch or iPhone are introduced. While Leopard’s Mail.app utilizes the message URL handlers, Mail.app for iPhone does not. This means that if I am checking my email on my iPod touch and I read one that requires further attention, I need to close Mail, open Things, write down an action that explains in enough detail what the email was referencing, then go back to Mail to continue checking my emails. The other option is less taxing, which is to simply ignore the email on my iPod and address it later when I am on my Mac. However, to me, having to address a dozen or so emails more than once feels very unproductive, and defeats the entire purpose of keeping a clean inbox.

If I am in a situation where I have time to address some of my to-do items and I am on my iPod touch, I have a list of all of my to-dos in Things. If I open a to-do to view its notes and the notes contain a link to an email, however, the link does not work. I need to open Mail and find the email through search in order to figure out what the to-do item is referencing.

All of this may seem trivial, but it is the only issue that keeps me feeling from feeling productive on my iPod touch. In my mind the solution is for Apple to simply include the message URL handlers in the iPhone OS. It would be even better if there were a way to click and drag bits of information such as an email from one app to another (possibly by dragging it to the bottom of the screen and holding for 3 seconds).

Multiple Accounts

One other issue with using my iPod touch for productivity is Mail’s inability to use multiple “from” accounts. Because I use one inbox for both personal and work email, I have all of my emails set up in Gmail with the ability to send from the appropriate email address. In Mail.app on the Mac, the same functionality is allowed by writing out the different email addresses in the Account setup. However, on the iPod touch you cannot differentiate which email you’d like to send from. This means that, once again, I am unable to properly address my email from my mobile device. The obvious solution is for Apple to allow multiple “from” email addresses on the mobile Mail app, but until then there’s not much I can do.

Patience

When I first started using email, I had an account with Mail.com, with a 50 MB mailbox and a horrible web interface. Even though I currently have a laundry-list of complaints, I also realize that the iPhone and iPod touch have definitely opened up the possibilities for what mobile productivity could look like in the very near future. As Apple continues to develop its platform and developers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible on a mobile device, we will begin to see incredible advancements in how we interact with technology, our friends and the world around us.

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