Patterns of GTD #1 - The inbox

I've been practicing David Allen's getting things done (GTD) philosophy, having achieved a good level of awareness and control over the stuff in my life. Over time some interesting patterns have emerged, which can be adapted and used in other situations. Let's have a quick look through them and how you can adopt them too.

Today we'll go through the entry point into your trusted system, the inbox.

The inbox

One of the earliest concepts you learn in GTD is the idea of an inbox. The inbox acts as the catch-all location for everything in your life. At some later time you look at your inbox and serious deal with everything in there. Maybe you throw away some unwanted receipts or plan a trip to the spa for which you got a brochure.

Actions and tasks

For action-tracking I use OmniFocus which provides you with an inbox. At home I have an inbox where bills, letters, post-its, brochures, and other materials get dropped into.

Text on the go

Capturing on the go happens in Drafts on iOS. Textual snippets like tweets, messages, shopping lists, present ideas, and others go into the Drafts inbox and are sent to the appropriate place like running lists on Dropbox or Twitter.

Text at the station

When I'm on my Mac I use nvALT as my inbox for medium to long textual information. Notes from work, course notes, code snippets, small tutorials. Even this blog post is actually being written in nvALT.

Running lists

Lately I've started using running lists to keep track of songs, books, movies, games, and TV shows I get exposed to when I'm out. You can even have a running list of gift ideas. Particularly useful now that the holidays and my anniversary are coming up.

Used clothes

My girlfriend has a large pile of clothes in our room, clothes that she's worn but aren't to go into the laundry basket. This always irked because there is just a random pile of clothes. After some thought I realized this was her clothes inbox pile. Maybe she doesn't have time to put stuff up or put it into the laundry basket, so it just goes in a pile. Brilliant!

Joe Buhlig (@JoeBuhlig) has written a nice little article on our natural tendency to create inboxes for almost anything.

What's the benefit?

Capture it all

There is one place and you can just throw almost everything into it. There is no need to think or plan, just type, save and forget. Without the mental burden of organization you can quickly capture a huge number of items without a second thought. You never miss anything and spend very little energy on it.

Let's it perculate

In some cases some ideas or content might look interesting at first but later turn out to be useless. Like a site that might have relevant information now, but because of a change in plans the content is no longer relevant. Having an inbox allows for these items to be recorded and then later easily discarded without the wasted overhead of organizing it.

The take-home

Inboxes can be a very powerful tool in your productivity arsenal. They allow you to capture and collect everything that might be of interest in a singular location reducing the amount of places you need to go looking for things.

Go ahead and try to identify a few of your inboxes and a few places you could use an inbox. Post your results in the comment section!

In part 2 we will look at the idea of breaking things down and tackling the individual pieces, helping you focus and getting more done by avoiding inefficient multitasking.