Gestures, Filters, and Scripts for Efficient iOS Email Processing with Gmail and Mailbox

I recently wrote about how I handle email, a lot of email. In summary:

  1. Schedule email processing; I mainly process my email at the start and the end of every day but I do dip in and out during the day.
  2. Process each email only once; read it then either archive, answer, or action it.
  3. Archive emails that don’t require further action; answer those that can be responded to immediately; action those that require further attention or follow-up.

This keeps me sane and productive.

The key point is not just getting to the nirvana that is inbox zero but  to ensure that those emails that do require further action are moved out of my inbox and into my task management system. An email client is not a good task management client and in my case I need to get relevant messages out of email and into Evernote where I can turn them into proper tasks.

My ability to process emails has been greatly enhanced by the Mailbox app on iOS. I can dip into email on the move between meetings, standing in line, or on the train home. Its gesture-based interface is a dream and with a single swipe I can archive emails that don’t require further action, which, for me at least, is a significant proportion of my inbox.

I have been forwarding emails that required further action directly to my Evernote mail address to get them into Evernote. This has worked well but it means a few separate steps: select the forward mail option, type in my Evernote email address (or at least the first few letters for auto-complete to kick in), and then select the send option. Not so hard but not so simple either, involving as it does at least 5 or 6 swipes/taps and increasing the potential for errors to be made.

It occurred to me recently that it would be so much better if I could assign custom actions to Mailbox gestures so that, for example, with a single swipe I could selected “Send to Evernote” as an action just as easily as I can archive or delete a message.  I tweeted the good folks at Mailbox to request the ability to assign a custom action, expecting them to halt all other projects until this was completed. Okay, okay, perhaps this was a bit much, but not even a peep from the folks at Mailbox was a bit disappointing.

Unperturbed I did find a solution using a combination of gmail labels and an auto-forward script; I accept that my delight may turn to embarrassment in the future if people tell me this is obvious, done already, or easier via another approach but I’ll risk it. Here is what I did.

First, I needed to create a new gmail label and attach it to a Mailbox gesture. Mailbox has a feature called lists; a long, left swipe applied a message brings up the current set of lists. By default these include things like “to read”, “to watch”, “to buy” etc. with obvious intent. Selecting one of these lists for a message attaches a corresponding gmail label to the message; actually the label attached is a sub-label of the main mailbox label such as “[mailbox]-to read”. Conveniently, Mailbox also provides a “create new list” option at the end of these lists. I created a new list called “to evernote“, so now I can mark any messages that require further action using a single swipe and by selecting the “to evernote” list.

Next I needed to get these labeled emails out of gmail and into Evernote. I have a special Evernote email address for this so the obvious solution is to set up some sort of action within Gmail that would automatically forward any message with a “to evernote” label (actually the “[mailbox]-to evernote” label) to my Evernote account. In my naiveté I thought that I could just create a Gmail filter to do this but no such luck; if I understand  filters correctly they just fire  when the email arrives so that by the time my Mailbox gesture has attached the “to evernote” label filters are no longer firing so my labeled messages go unnoticed, or something like that. Sigh.

Then I found this clever little gmail script and lo and behold by simply filling out a couple of table cells (with the gmail label and my Evernote email address) I am up and running! Now I can send emails to Evernote for further action will little more than a single swipe on my mobile device. The universe is back on an even keel and my emails are where they should be.

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One thought on “Gestures, Filters, and Scripts for Efficient iOS Email Processing with Gmail and Mailbox

  1. Pingback: Plugging a Leaky Task Management Workflow | Barry Smyth

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