Blog: Secrets from the Chef

My GTD experience: emptying my inbox with GTDInbox

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
10 February 2008

It was a year and a half ago, my head brimming with ideas about GTD, when I realized that an efficient system of self-organization based on the principles of GTD would make most sense if built around the email client; simply because the vast majority of incoming material requiring attention is delivered via email.

If the email archives and the GTD system are separated, you have to manually transfer information from your inbox to your to-do list. Not only do you have to actually copy across the information, which eats up your valuable time, but also, just as with paper-based systems, you are constantly struggling to keep track of what you are supposed to be doing: “if I know I have to do it, why do I need to write it down?!”

At that time I was a happy user of Gmail — still am — and a bit of selective searching led me to a wonderful Firefox add-on called GTDInbox (back then it was still called GTDGmail).

Having installed GTDInbox, my system of processing incoming mail boiled down roughly to the following:

  1. Quickly scanning through the message.
  2. Is it something important or just junk? Junk goes straight in the bin.
  3. Does it require any action? If not, I label the message with a project tag if necessary (e.g. P:Turbomilk-website) and click “Archive”.
  4. If an e-mail requires action that will take less than 2 minutes, it is easier to process it right away. Upon completion the message can be archived immediately (with labeling if required) so it is not in the way.
  5. So what if an e-mail requires more than 2 minutes’ work? We cannot deal with it right away because there is more mail still to be processed. We need to label it so we can get back to it later, at the right moment, and for the time being remove it from the Inbox so it is not in the way. Here comes the time for the GTDInbox magic. I assign a special label S:Action followed by a project label if required and most importantly a context label (e.g. C:Call), after which I can archive the letter — no need for it to stick around in the Inbox any more.

Contexts are a very important feature of GTD, as they are in any self-organization system. For example, Gleb Archangelsky in his book “Time Drive” uses the Greek word “kairos” to mean context — the right moment, the best circumstances for completing an action (as opposed to chronos — linear and measurable time).

Here is my set of contexts:

  • Sketch — when I have pencil, paper and an influx of inspiration.
  • CS — when I am at a workstation with Adobe Creative Suite (CS) and a large monitor.
  • Examine — when I have the Internet and a workstation fitted with all the tools I need to carefully study some web or maybe desktop application.
  • Brain — when I have no distractions and enough time and energy to analyze some data, put them in order and make proper conclusions.
  • Text — when I have no distractions, enough time and energy and also the right mood to write something – like this post for instance.
  • Read — when there is nothing else pressing to do and the mood is right to catch up on a backlog of articles.
  • Talk — when I have the chance to discuss something important with the right person.
  • Сall — when it is convenient to make some phone calls.
  • Office — when I am in the office.
  • Home — when I am at home.
  • Outdoor — when I have an opportunity to travel beyond the home and office.
  • Routine — anything outside the scope of the other contexts. Anything that does not require a lot of effort and can be done using a laptop hooked up to the Internet (which I nearly always have to hand).

So, GTDInbox helps to keep your Inbox clean, without clogging your head with details. Your mind is absolutely free for creativity. Everything you need to do is just one click away, stored under the relevant context. Really, what is the point in remembering about things that, for whatever reason, you cannot do right now? The developed system of contexts allows you to put aside unnecessary things and concentrate on what can be done here and now.

There are many other exciting features of GTDInbox that I did not mention in this post (by the way, Andy Mitchell the creator of GTDInbox is about to release version 2.0), not to mention the priceless pearls of wisdom in David Allen’s book which I barely touched on. And so, I once again strongly recommend this book to anyone who is even a little interested in the ingenuity described above.


To be continued…

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Thanks Yegor, that’s some great tips. When GTDInbox 2 is officially released I’d really like to link to a few guides like this. Please drop me an email if that’s ok with you!

Reply Andy Mitchell, 18 February 2008

Yegor, thanks a lot! I’ve read about GTD some time ago and since then I’m trying to use some of the techniques, but gmail inbox was always such a mess (even with labels).. this tool seems to be quite useful.

P.S. Privet zemlyakam ;)

Reply Galiya Hasanova, 8 March 2008

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