Posted in February 2012

Email is not your to-do list

Over the past year, my email inbox has slowly spiralled out of control. My job is email-intensive, with messages from community members, customers, colleagues, mailing lists, and more. We use Google Apps at work, which means I’ve tried many methods and Google Labs features to get organized, includes starring, multiple inbox views, labeling, filtering, and more. Despite aggressive filtering in Gmail, I often get really backed up, with lots of messages sitting in an unread state (particularly after travelling).

A colleague of mine pointed out that email is like a to-do list that anyone can add to. It was at that moment that I realized I needed a change in perspective when it comes to email. I had a horrible habit of marking things as “unread” when I didn’t have time to deal with them. And then the unread messages would just pile up, until I was completely overwhelmed every time I looked at my inbox.

Once I realized that I had a problem, I needed to take control back. Here are some of the email tools that have helped me get organized:

Gmail Filters

This is an obvious one for anyone using Gmail, but I’ll reiterate nontheless. Any mailing list or automated email that I receive in my inbox instantly gets an email rule that auto-archives and labels the message in the future. At designated times during the day, I review all the unread emails in my “user group” or “mongodb mailing lists” or “news” labels.

Send & Archive Button

In Google Labs, you can set up the “Send & Archive” button. Instead of simply sending the email, you can send and archive the conversation instantly.


I hate leaving things in my inbox as a reminder to follow up. That’s why I use Boomerang. With Boomerang, I can set an email to return to the top of my inbox after a designated period of time if I don’t hear back from the recipient.


Rapportive is a Gmail plugin that displays details about the person that you are emailing in the right rail, including their LinkedIn bio, last few tweets, and other social network memberships. This is very useful for getting some additional context when trading emails, especially with someone that you don’t know well. It also allows you to connect to the person on LinkedIn directly from your email.


This is also somewhat obvious, but if something needs to be discussed before moving forward, I set up a meeting on my calendar. Better to talk to the person than go back and forth over email a dozen times.


I haven’t tried it yet, but ToutApp looks like another great email tool, though probably optimized for salespeople. It allows you to set up email templates, track open rates and click throughs, and guage the performance of your templates. It also integrates with Salesforce.

Task Management Tools

We also started using several task management tools, particularly JIRA and Mavenlink. In general, I try to put the details for various projects that I’m working on into one of these tools so that everyone can access and comment. This prevents important information from being “trapped” in someone’s inbox. In my next post, I’ll go into more depth on how we use those tools.

WebFWD Presentation on Building an Open Source Community & Business: Lessons from MongoDB

I recently had the opportunity to present to the Mozilla WebFWD program. WebFWD is a Mozilla incubator for startups building businesses around open source software. I talked to the group about how we are building the MongoDB community and ultimately, the 10gen business. My talk is now featured on the Mozilla blog, and I think that they actually did a better job of summarizing my points than I would:

  • Pivoting from being a Platform provider to being a database provider.
  • Getting people to “pay for free software” by developing revenue models around support, training and subscriptions, etc.
  • Treating support “as the most important marketing.”
  • Scaling their community by breaking it out geographically, achieving a multiplier effect: in Meghan’s words, “We see our community as a product manager.
  • Growing from zero sales reps to a position where they are now investing in their sales & marketing team over the past 1.5 years (12-15 sales reps worldwide today).
  • Managing and prioritizing large volume of users and lead flow that comes from being an open source project.

You can watch the entire talk on the WebFWD blog.


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