Hobby-hacking Eric


getting things done with mutt 2 (auto-review)

Last year, I posted some ideas for applying GTD to mutt. As you may have heard, GTD is a simple methodology to help people stay on top of things. The basic idea in my post was to use an on-board X-Label editor to associate each message with a 'next action' or a 'waiting for' tag, and to store them in the respective mailboxes ACTION and WAITING. This was accompanied by a small colour configuration to highlight the X-Label field of each message, thus making it clear at all times what the next action was.

After one year of use, I can report that I am 95% happy with the system. It is simple and effective... however, not entirely eric-proof. In this post, I propose a small addition to tighten up the system and make it more resistant to my foolishness. The problem is that GTD is a heavily review-oriented system. Once you move tasks out of your head and onto some external device (e.g. a pad of paper), you must also consult that device from time to time or risk forgetting to do them. For example, one thing that can easily happen to me is that I will move messages into ACTION and WAITING and simply forget they are there.

This is where the idea of automated review comes in. What I propose a simple method for reminding yourself that you have next actions to perform, or things that you are waiting on. It consists of a shell script and a crontab entry. First the script (I call it gtd-review):


# note: I am using the maildir format; if you are using mbox,
# you should just replace the 'find $1 | xargs $1' with 'cat $1'
function summarise () {
find $1 | xargs cat |\
sed -n -e '/^X-Label/G' -e '/^X-Label/p'\
-e '/^From/p' -e '/^Subject/p' -e '/^Date/p' |\
sed -e 's/From: //' -e 's/Date: //' -e 's/Subject: //'

echo '======================================================================'
echo 'ACTIONS'
echo '======================================================================'
summarise ${HOME}/Mail/ACTION

echo '======================================================================'
echo 'WAITING'
echo '======================================================================'
summarise ${HOME}/Mail/WAITING

And now the crontab:
@daily gtd-review 2>&1 /dev/null | mail -s "GTD review `date +%Y-%m-%d`" me@myaddress.com
I'm sure you could improve on this. For example, I would rather the dates were presented in yyyy-mm-dd format and accompanied with a friendlier description like "3 weeks ago"... but working on that would probably count as fidgeting.

Anyway, I hope others find this to be useful.

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