Sending myself emails

There is a lot of literature around minimalism - especially as it relates to our digital lives. I'm into some - not into others. But I do believe in digital efficiency. For me this means less applications and workflows the better.

However, a couple of applications have become so integrated into my workflow that I've become hyper-efficient on them and they’ve become a steady part of my day-day life. For me right now - that's email (gmail + superhuman) and messaging (WhatsApp). So for my own sanity and efficiency it makes the most sense to do as much of my work inside of these applications as possible.

Enter tasks and notes. There is a proliferation of notes and reminders applications - each with its own set of power features. However, my note taking and reminder flow is pretty basic - I write down some copy, maybe attach an image and want that plastered in front of me until I do it or have it remind me at a certain time. If I can label it - all the better. After having tried all of them - from Google Keep, Notion, Evernote, Wunderlist (RIP), etc. they all felt like I was getting a tractor when I really just wanted a scooter. So I fell back to the simple solution of just sending myself a simple email.

Email has everything I need - I can title my reminder or note to myself (subject line), have it plastered in front of me all day (sitting unread in my inbox), remind myself at a later date (gmail, superhuman, boomerang all support this), and the best part - it fits into my normal workflow. I don't need to check this specific todo app and my email everyday to figure out what I need to do. I can just open up my email to see all of my outstanding tasks!

After working in this flow for a couple years it hit a snag - as email applications got more fully featured they got slower to load and operate. The workflow became a bit slow to just send myself a quick reminder. Open up email app -> hit compose -> type in subject -> type in my email -> type in note -> click send. While maybe that 20 seconds seems short - it adds up and I rather have that time to think about something else - not staring at my device. Also in meetings and with people - staring at my phone for 20s while I write down a note based on our conversation can seem pretty rude.

So maybe I need a bespoke app to send myself an email? Well so goes my theory of less apps = better. But if I justify it as just a better and faster compose window for my email I can rationalize it all as one app :)

There's a couple apps on iOS that do something very similar - the most popular being Captio. I used it (along with a decent amount of people I knew) for a while, but it had a couple limiting features and the dealbreaker - it was iOS only. Ever since my love affair with Android I've been out of luck. So I guess I have to write my own.

Enter Paper Plane

It's very basic - like very basic. Imagine it as just a dedicated email compose window, with your own email filled in and the subject dynamically generated. Its built to be extremely fast and work in offline and online environments.

Available on iOS and Android. Quick list of features:

  • Does one thing very fast and efficiently. Sends your email an email for yourself.
  • Dynamic subject generation. You can add a prefix to it (to auto label the email when it hits your inbox). ie: prefix’s [TODO] then set up a filter and label in gmail to label and folder all emails with [TODO] in the subject line. Then it will copy the first X number of words to generate your subject. For the power users there’s also an ability to use a Regex to parse and generate the subject line.
  • Attachments.
  • History of emails: queued & sent.
  • Email can be sent from the Paper Plane email, IMAP (your email) or you can host your own server and do it all yourself!
  • The app and backend server are all open source.

Apart from being a useful app that I know use a dozen+ times a day it was also my first foray into mobile programming. Historically I’ve most stayed on the infra and backend side - but was a fun way to move forward a bit. Built it with React Native - which was a bit of a mixed back, but overall positive. Thoughts for a different post!