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Use Gmail's "star" to highlight your good news

Rottnest Island

As both a Gmail user and a practitioner of David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology for personal productivity, I wondered what to do with the star feature. After all, because GTD doesn't have you assign priorities, it doesn't make sense to differentiate between "important" and "other" messages - they all need to be considered, decided on, and then moved out of "IN." [1]. Thus the star is freed up for something else [2]. But what?

I decided to take a cue from Susan Jeffers' book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, in which she describes the idea of a "Book of Abundance" (briefly, a notebook of positive experiences in your life, both large and small, that you update daily). The point is the book helps us focus on the wonderful things that do happen to us, not just the "gloom and doom, wish and want."

Given that perspective, I decided to use stars to highlight good news that comes in. I currently have about 50 of them, including:

  • Testimonials from happy clients [3],
  • Support, praise, and encouragement from readers,
  • Feedback on things I've done that have helped others,
  • Requests for consulting,
  • Nice introductions from new friends [4],
  • ...

I've found that this practice helps me counteract bad news, and encourages an active focus on the positive. Plus, the act of clicking the star is pleasing, somewhat like that feeling of checking off a next action or finishing a project. So next time you get some good email, click the star!



Reader Comments (17)

You are a star! ;-)

September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPascal Venier

I think this is a great idea. You could even do a similar thing in Outlook with flags. Please check out my take on your idea (in Outlook) here: [ What to do with Gmail's "Star"... | http://www.legalandrew.com/2006/09/10/what-to-do-with-gmails-star/ ]

September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Flusche

Hi Matt, a good idea. The star are a quick way, apart from the labels, to find those standout emails. A question off the top of my head - is it possible to filter the starred messages within a label (tag)?

September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDes Paroz

Pascal, Andrew, Des: Thanks very much - three new stars!

Des: I'm not sure I understand, as I don't use filters. However, I do know you can search for stars via "is:starred" (from [ this | http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=7190&query=star&topic=&type=f&ctx=search ] help page).

September 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I came up on your article... and you know what, I've been wondering what to do with that freaking star for a while! Thanks a lot for such a great idea.

September 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Thanks very much, Michael - much appreciated. BTW, I liked your [ post | http://theslickhead.com/2006/organized-and-comfortable-home-office-productivity/ ] on your friend's incredible office.

September 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt

I'm a first time visitor here, thanks to Alvin's Life Coaches Blog that led me to you.

I never thought of using that star feature or flag in Outlook for such a purpose. This is indeed a wonderful idea. We all need encouraging words to nudge us when life's challenges is a little bit too challenging.

I shall start to use this too. Thanks Matt! Cheers

September 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKloudiia

Thanks very much, Kloudiia.

September 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Interesting.... I use my stars in a different way; to mark "ephemeral" messages, that is, messages that I want to keep around for a day or two and then delete. Every couple of days, I delete everything with a star.

Marking "good news" is a great idea, though. I think I might create a label corresponding to that category.

September 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Hi Margaret, thanks for commenting. I'd be curious to hear how you use those "ephemeral" messages, i.e., why you keep them around...

September 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Messages of short-term usefulness... things I want to read once or maybe twice, but I know I'll never need them again. If you refer to comments on the the lifehacker post that quoted your post, commenter Bob Ramsey described a similar function.

September 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Thanks, Margaret. (For reference, here's the lifehacker post: [ Star your good news in Gmail | http://www.lifehacker.com/software/rss/star-your-good-news-in-gmail-200449.php ]. I'm pleased they picked it up!)

September 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I love this idea, Matt.

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRainier

Thanks a bunch, Rainier. I really appreciate your reading my blog.

October 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I filter known reference stuff to star and skip the inbox. List emails, offers, anything I *know* will not require immediate action. Easy to get rid of the star and archive when I do get to them. I've found it very efficient.

December 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Ausbrook

Thanks, Michael. I guess that the items that are being directly filtered out of IN are going to have to be looked at eventually, right? So you've essentially created separate email inboxes/collection points, right? After some thought, I believe I do something similar with my RSS feeds - they are "FYI" items, so I don't have to see them when they arrive. Thanks!

December 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I've used both Yahoo! and Gmail. But i've converted to BigString. Check it out.

Here's some info if your interested:
BigString (http://www.bigstring.com), the new free webmail program, offers revolutionary features. When you send mail from your BigString account, you are protected. BigString is like an automatic shredder for your email. You can self-destruct or change an email that's already been sent or read. Don't leave your messages sitting in peoples' inbox forever.

July 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEthan

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