The Inbox- Unsightly Annoyance or Useful Tool?

Lately I find myself developing an interest in time management. I wrote an entry in the recent past about David Allen’s system, “Getting Things Done“, or GTD as it’s being called in the vernacular. I am working to embrace GTD, yet there are still a lot of qualities to the old Franklin Covey system that I find useful. Many other bloggers have pointed out that Franklin Covey is a really good top down life management system, and GTD is a good bottom up system. Quite a few people have found some useful ways to combine the two in a way that works for them.

One tool that both systems differ on is the inbox. Years ago, I bought the tapes that compliment the Franklin Planner, and one of them got into a discussion of the inbox. The speaker said to get rid of it; to give it to somebody who is trying to take your job. Their method is to have a drawer or some other “out of sight, out of mind” collection place for paper. This was in the days before email. I attempted to follow their suggestion, but found that paper would go in and not be touched. It is very easy to forget to get back to it.

In GTD, the idea is to have inboxes; as many as you need but as few as you can get by with. You collect what comes in and put it in your inbox, then you go through it and process everything at a convenient time. Everything must have a decision made about it based on two criteria: is it actionable, or is it not actionable? If it is actionable, do you do it, delegate it, defer it, or drop it? If it’s non-actionable, do you need it for reference later or do you trash it? I find this useful because it forces me to go through my inboxes. They are prominently displayed where I can see the clutter that builds up in them if I don’t process them. I have one at work and one at home, and of course my email inboxes on my computers. I have been trying to consolidate all of my email into gmail, which offers pop3 access and permanent archival of all emails. I am really impressed with it. I use ypops for my Yahoo account. It is a pity that I cannot use the MSN Outlook connector anymore. I really appreciated getting my MSN email in Outlook, but I’m not going to pay for an MSN subscription and I canceled Verizon DSL when the service stopped working and they couldn’t get a tech out for more than a half of a week. It’s a long story.

In addition to the stuff that normally makes it into your inbox, David Allen also says to write down anything that comes into your head and place it in there. I keep a small notebook in my inbox to jot ideas down in and come back to later. I get sidetracked very easily and I find it useful that, when one of these sidetracks pops up, I can write it down and feel confident that I won’t forget about it. My Pocket PC also has a voice recorder, so while I’m out and about I can make a voice note to come back to later.

I find that, as long as I process my inboxes regularly, fewer things slip through the cracks. Often, I will put my inbox from home into my work bag and process it the next day at work. I do this because with a one year old and a one week old, I don’t really get time at home to go through very much. My job permits me to set my own priorities, and I’m able to fit in a few of my own interests at times.

On the subject of inboxes, GTD 1, FC 0. GTD is the clear winner on this front.

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