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My Life is an Inbox

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  • My Life is an Inbox

    I am surrounded by stuff. I could describe it, but to be honestÖ I donít want to be honest on a publically accessible forum. It is pretty bad and stacks of paper abound. It is often ranked as the worst office seen, by casual observers.

    Iím not bragging. This has been my work-style for my entire life. In college, challenged to find a silver dollar in my desk piles, I was able to thrust my hand into a stack and retrieve it in short order.

    Successful at school and later at work, I compensated for this by having a good ďsenseĒ of what was where and an ability to churn out work when the crunch was on. Although supervisors would be critical of the appearance of my workspace, the work got done well Ö and so it was tolerated.

    I would temporarily reform for a while and clear off desks and straighten up. But it was usually short-lived. Although I can work amidst clutter and even feel comfortable with it, I canít say I like it. It is a horrible embarrassment and not what I would like to be known for.

    At the beginning of this year I stumbled across some GTD concepts online that caught my interest and traced it back to the source and found Getting Things Done in our local bookstore. Iím generally skeptical about things, but this system has given me a small seed of hope.

    Iíve read the book three times and various summaries on the web to ensure that Iím grasping the concepts. These are some of my first steps ... what I am trying to implement right now. Please tell me if I am heading in the wrong direction so I might avoid problems down the road.

    I have been capturing thoughts pretty wellÖ usually tasks that need doing or ideas that need follow-up using a pocketmod paper system. Everything is written down.

    I have been entering NAs and Projects into an Excel spreadsheet, where only immediately do-able actions are showing on the NA list. I am also putting scheduled and tickler items on this list. Since itís sortable and filtered, I can easily focus on dates or contexts.

    I emptied the file drawer of my desk (stuff was in there from the 90ís) and I put in this new-found space a 43 folder system and an area for reference files behind those.

    I set a wooden inbox on top of one of the smallest stacks and have habitually been putting new items in there and processing them daily. My work e-mail inbox has been emptied daily, as well, although my personal account is untouched.

    I still am surrounded by stuff so that there is no way I could get everything into an inbox for processingÖ so THAT might be problematic. I intend on putting 3 inches of desk into the wooden box for processing when time and energy allows and continuing until all of it is eventually handled. Iíll move on to other cabinets, storage boxes, car and home in a similar fashion. Merlin Mann said somewhere a first step is to ďStop SuckingĒ and move on from there.

    Weekly reviews at this point are mostly reviewing Next actions and Projects. Iím pretty good at adding and removing actions on a daily basis. Iím nowhere near getting all inboxes empty, so I think it might be a while before Iím brain scanning for things that need to be added to the system. I have been printing out hard copies of NA lists and Projects to keep with a paper calendar so I can review if not near my computer.

    Hope is the biggest thing right now. As I implement this, Iím sure questions will ariseÖ Iím grateful for this forum! I am trying to unlearn 50 years of bad habits, but it seems like GTD might be a great pattern to follow.

    Itís less dangerous than gasoline and a match .

    --- Vinny

  • #2


    I normally just stick to the GTD Connect Forums, but I feel compelled to comment on your post. Bravo for sticking your little neck out and posting! Lots of good information will follow, I'm sure. But here's one idea to help:

    All of that old "stuff" is backlog. Get a whole bunch of cardboard banker's boxes. Do an emergency scan to make sure there isn't anything in there that will bite you in the bottom, then shove it in and close the lid. Label the box "backlog one" and open a corresponding project for processing the contents of backlog box 1. Keep going until all the backlog is corralled and, in the meantime, keep processing new stuff into your system. DO have your weekly reviews!!

    Eventually, you'll get through it all. You didn't build up all that stuff in a day or a week and you won't get rid of it in a week either.

    I also highly suggest you do one of the following:

    Invest in the GTD Live audio cd set
    Attend a Live Seminar
    Join GTD Connect

    Reading the book is a great start, but your challenge is pretty big and your habits run deep. Give yourself the gift of the very best chance for success!

    Keep posting!


    • #3
      Keep going!


      keep going, I am sure you're on the right way... after all, you must be, since i'm there also...

      I so recognize what you're writing there! I also started with lists (in excel) and NA's and emptying e-mail inbox... and a tickler (simplified, ok, but still a tickler)... my weekly review is also mostly about reviewing NA's and projects... I started about a year ago... and I feel now as if slowly i'm getting some air and sometimes I even feel really good about how I'm handling things and following up on promises and engagements. I know, looking around me that I've got tons of back log, just as you do, but as Barb mentioned it, it didn't appear overnight, so as long as I'm getting it to become smaller, I feel I'm "winning" this battle.

      So all I can say is (to you and to myself): keep going!!!



      • #4
        You should still set up an inbox, but only put new stuff in it, so it separates new from the old piles of stuff.

        Definitely make a plan for tackling the backlog, and try to setup electronic project plans in Word for keeping the notes, project support information, discussion notes etc.
        Good electronic project files are essential to not creating new paper clutter.


        • #5
          I like the points made in Barb's post #2 above and would like to add a point about timespan.

          You could estimate the time it would take to process your backlog as a background activity - 3/6/12 months or whatever. Then do a fast run-through of everything to be sure there's nothing in there that can hurt you within that *same* timespan.

          Add an item to your calendar to remind you when time's up, in case you take longer.

          Hopefully, this would achieve the GTD goal of having an infinite amount to do, but not feeling overwhelmed.