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Inbox emptying

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  • Inbox emptying

    Hello forum!

    I am new to GTD, and have only been using it for a couple of months. I have a couple of question about processing the inbox:

    1. During the processing phase, I know you are meant to take each item out, and not put it back, but I find myself resisting this sometimes. For example, this week while processing in my office at work, I pick up a note that I need to enter into Evernote (> 2 minutes to do), or pick up a bill that needs paying, I often just add it to my list, then put it back in the inbox! It seems a bit over the top to file a bill or meeting notes in a different place, just to do the action a few hours later. I know this reduces the aim of clearing the inbox to zero, but am not sure how to be most efficient! I wonder if others ever feel this?

    2. During a busy day, when urgent emails or paper documents fall on my desk, I often find myself doing lots of tiny cycles of processing and organising etc. I usually do a full cycle of process/organise/review each morning, but then it gets a bit chaotic during the day as things fly at me. Does anyone else get this? Do you stick to your guns and ignore the burning issues until your regular processing session? Or do you keep assessing and processing all through the day? I am torn between being too reactive (and maybe inefficient) or too rigid and not starting important tasks soon enough!

    Maybe it is time to read the book again! On balance GTD is great and I love it! But I feel it needs a lot of work to get it running smoothly...

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

  • #2
    Hi jmit and welcome to the Forums!

    To answer your first question, I would use an Action Support folder for these types of documents and I keep the folder on my desk so that documents are really easily accessible but are not in my inbox once I have processed them. That means that I know exactly where to find the related document when I get to do the task, but I don't have to keep shuffling through the inbox and thinking about whether I have or haven't placed an action for a document onto my list. The inbox is sacred ground in terms of documents that I have already processed. Some people keep action support paperwork in a tray below their inbox (labelled as such) so you might want to try that approach. I have a desk top file holder that I keep my current project files and my Action Support and Waiting For Support files in, so that they are really easy to grab and use.

    I hope this is helpful!


    • #3
      Action Support as well

      I also use Action Support for those things. I actually have 2 of them, one is a file folder in my top desk drawer. That drawer also contains my tickler file and folders for paper materials for active projects. The other is a bit more esoteric, it's a section on the counter by the front door. A lot of my action support items are physical things that need to go to another building or location so I place them all there. I keep thinking I need to get a pretty basket or something for them but haven't so far. It may look cluttered but at least it's contained into a single area.

      I agree that the inbox is only for unprocessed stuff. Otherwise there are no clean edges and it gets impossible for me to maintain.


      • #4
        Keep at it! It is worth it

        GTD is hard, otherwise everyone would do it. But they are not so you doing GTD will give you an edge, just keep at it and the wins will eventually come.

        Inbox zero is a fundamental part of GTD though and keep throwing stuff back into the inbox will not give you the big wins you deserve.
        To change this old habit you have to form a new one. Charles Duhiggs book "The Power of Habits" explains this really well. A good companion to GTD.

        To begin to smooth out the day you basically need two things:
        1. Inbox zero
        2. Trust your system
        They work in tandem. If the inbox is not empty you don't trust your system but if the inbox is empty you build trust into your system.
        Then you can take a step back whenever some emergency happens and say: I have nothing in my inbox and all my other commitments are in my trusted system, so I can take on this emergency immediately.

        Life is good


        • #5
          Originally posted by jmit View Post
          Do you stick to your guns and ignore the burning issues until your regular processing session? Or do you keep assessing and processing all through the day? I am torn between being too reactive (and maybe inefficient) or too rigid and not starting important tasks soon enough!
          Do you also sometimes spend time doing work as it comes up? (That's also part of the GTD system.)

          When something really urgent comes up, I usually handle it immediately. (e.g. not if I'm already handling something even more urgent!) I also often handle semi-urgent things immediately. However, I also have blocks of time when I resist handling semi-urgent stuff in order to be able to get stuff done on long-term projects.

          I think it depends on the type of work you do, how urgent the things are, how easy or difficult it is for you to get stuff done between frequent interruptions, etc. In other words, (I could be wrong but) I think that's one of the things that the GTD system doesn't answer for you and for which you have to use your judgement.

          Here's one way to look at it: if you're "torn" then that suggests that the value of each of the two choices is about equal. In other words, you're doing fine. You can decide one way or the other at a given moment (e.g. "I'm going to do some processing now" or "I'm going to continue focussing on this for another 30 minutes and leave other stuff for later") and then just go with your decision without worrying too much about it. You can think to yourself "I decided to do X. Therefore I get the benefits of doing X, and the disadvantages of doing X, and I don't get the advantages of doing Y instead, and I don't get the disadvantages of doing Y." or just (firmly) "I decided to do X." It doesn't have to be the same decision you would have made if you had spent 15 minutes evaluating the pros and cons of one or the other. There's a cost to spending that time, and snap decisions based on gut feeling are sometimes better anyway.


          • #6
            Thanks for all the advice! This forum is fast to respond!

            I do have a few Action Support folders that sit in another tray, but so far I haven't been using them much. Currently I use them for active projects that I run or am a resource for. I don't have one for personal stuff in the office (such as bills etc), maybe I should add one. I guess my concern is that is just another place to remember to look (I already have 3 physical inboxes and a few digital ones!). I will try and make more use of them, I guess the items moved to the Action Support folders are captured in a list anyway...

            Regarding the other point: I think I get a bit of anxiety when picking up an urgent task immediately without processing it in a formal way. But then I get a bit of anxiety if I spend too long processing and not actually 'doing'!

            Hopefully these worries will fade away as I form more positive GTD habits. I am grateful to hear that other people struggle to get it working as desired!

            After reading the book 'Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength' (with a section on GTD!) and the 7 habits book, I can see how habits are the key to GTD running smoothly.


            • #7
              One Action Support Folder

              Originally posted by jmit View Post
              I do have a few Action Support folders that sit in another tray, but so far I haven't been using them much.
              I have a single action folder not several. If it's one of those small things not tied to a full project or not needing it's own folder I put it in the my Action Support folder. If that folder gets too big, which in my world is about 1/3 inch thick, I know I've got a problem and I go through it carefully and make sure I know what each piece of paper is and why I have it there. If my physical action support place gets full of stuff I also know I need to clean it out by doing some of the things those items relate to.