In my world, my inbox is my second biggest frustration, right after poor/inconsiderate communication of any form. I tried my extreme method of checking my inbox for a while, but it didn’t last more than a week in this form. It wasn’t realistic to go hours into the day not knowing that someone had changed their mind about a change overnight.
Why e-mail isn’t ideal for projects
Then new issues in my inbox started to become more frustrating. I learned in my last corporate job to not start with the oldest messages because someone usually took the reins or put an end to a thread by the time I got to my desk since many people had company laptops and worked from home after hours. Recently, I noticed several e-mails from people that looked like they were ready for an answer with the latest send, but there was information in the first message that was missing in all of the others.
In the end, in order to answer any e-mail from someone or for a project, I have to read all of the messages before responding to anything. My brain is too full for that. It simply doesn’t work that way with all of the other floating points that are informational spinning plates. I miss things. Wires get crossed because one thing overwrites a change made moments earlier, sometimes irretrievably.
That’s where P2 comes in
A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of using P2 as a way for each client to work through a project with me in a linear fashion with each item getting its own thread to follow and resolve. I’ve tried BaseCamp and I did’t like it. By the time I was done with a project of any length, I was ready to be institutionalized.
For those of you who don’t know what P2 is, it’s the blog theme that the developers of WordPress at Automattic use to communicate with their team and with core contributor users across the globe, so to say it’s effective is an understatement.
Personally, I didn’t yet have the experience to build a site like that because it involves multisite, a particular install of WordPress that I’ve avoided like the plague until October 2013. I started a pet project for long-term income that uses multisite and I have learned a lot since then.
Setup of multisite for P2
Installing multisite is the easy part for me, since I am a big user of WP Engine and they have a world-class, security-minded installer that has the option when you create an instance to create a multisite install right out of the gate. It may take some massaging of the domain settings to get it just right, but you should be able to get it up and running on a subdomain of one of your primary domains without too much trouble. Soon the fun begins.
I use subfolder sites instead of subdomains because my P2 multisite is a subdomain, so I want each install to be a subfolder. That requires an edit to the .htaccess file and the wp-config.php file (down at the bottom), besides the multiple domain name items throughout.
It should be noted that the Network Setup in your multisite will show a slightly different chunk than this if you’re on WP Engine. The chunk is already there, so you just need to modify what’s there based on your hosting. Line 1 isn’t in Network Setup, but it’s in my wp-config.php file.
Ready for fun? Plugins! Here is the set of plugins I have running on my business P2. It’s pretty bare-bone as far as installs go, but it’s very powerful for what you need to accomplish – and by all means, P2 is new enough to me that I’m open to great suggestions.
I only have P2 and the WooThemes child theme, Houston, so I have Default Theme (premium) to select Houston for new installs so it doesn’t default to a non-existent Twenty-fourteen theme.
P2 Resolved Posts is a way for me to track what’s remaining. If my client remembers, it is already that way by the time I get there, but it’s not an issue at all. It creates a widget you an put in the sidebar, so I can quickly look to see what’s open if it’s a long-term project with dozens or hundreds of posts.
Subscribe 2 allows us to be notified by e-mail of new posts with it set with checkboxes and users defaulted to be subscribed. It’s for posts, not comments to posts, so I also use Subscribe to Comments Reloaded, also with checkboxes defaulted to subscribe. See update at the bottom for a replacement plugin.
I’ve used Trusted Only on all of my staging sites for a long time now and it works great to block people from seeing the content at all unless they’re logged in.
Who’s Online creates a widget so I know if I can expect a reply any time soon. I really like this plugin’s simplicity and function.
When you put all of these together, you get a homepage that looks like this.
I already have six P2 sites fully ready and adding a new one only takes a few minutes, though I’m sure that I’ll find a faster way in the near future. I expect to see my inbox switch to a notification center for P2s rather than a mess of 20 threads with 6-30 messages each now.
Hit me – do you like this idea to break free from your inbox as a to-do list for projects, especially ones with multiple parties?
Update – 01.10.2014
I’ve switched out the two subscribe plugins for P2 by Email. It handles both subscriptions to the posts and the comments AND allows you to reply or post via e-mail if you’ve got access to WP-CLI or Apache cron jobs.