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Clean Inboxes are Addicting

GTDThis week I've started re-reading David Allen's Getting Things Done this week. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through the book, yet I've found it very satisfying. I'm happy to report that for the first time in my memory, I had a completely empty work and personal email inbox on Friday after work.

Actually, I this is my first real 'reading' of GTD — in reality I'd only scanned the book the first time. After my initial scan, I took a few ideas and sort-of made use of them, but not fully. Last weekend I finally got to the point of feeling the need for something to help me better manage all that I had to get done. I saw GTD on my bookshelf and resolved to really read it this time. So I started reading again...


While I've not fully sorted out the whole 43 folders idea just yet, nor have I completely integrated the principles David suggests. But rather than wait to complete the book, I decided to take one overarching idea away from my 2nd reading — to turn as many inputs as I could, into 'next action' tasks, then file those inputs for later reference (if needed).

I decided on Monday to first focus on email. I resolved to go through any open email in both my work and personal email clients and do one of 3 things:

1) Reply to the email. David Allen suggest that anything which takes 2 minutes or less can be dispatched immediately, so I followed this advice. I even dealt with some emails that took longer, just to trim down the list of unanswered emails.

2) Turn relevant info into next action tasks. I've recently switched from Palm Desktop to Apple iCal and really like the simplicity if offers. I created several new contextual categories suggested in GTD, and created many, many next actions. It really felt good to put those things into a solid place like iCal (synced to my Palm).

3) File processed emails. Finally I filed away emails I processed, and deleted or filed emails which really shouldn't have been there in the first place. It felt so good to see my email inbox shrink as the week progressed!

By the end of the day Friday, I had successfully emptied out both of my email inboxes. What a great feeling it is having an empty inbox! Even better was knowing that all of the latent tasks embedded in my emails had been turned into tasks in iCal.

Actually, using the GTD approach at work was very smooth, even though I know I've not yet got my head fully around all of the GTD principles. I felt productive and active without the nagging feeling that I was 'missing' something.

I'm looking forward to finishing the remaining 2/3 of GTD in the next few weeks, taking notes in my Moleskine notebook for books I've started as a result of Bren Connelly's How to Read a Business Book postings. I'm finding that taking notes with books really helps me crystalize the concepts and better ingest them.

So, if you've considered the Getting Things Done approach but haven't taken steps to give it a full try, I recommend it. Even taking some of the principles to heart could positively impact your stress levels and work style.

For an interesting interview with David Allen on the concepts behind Getting Things Done, check out Richard Giles' Gadgets Show Podcast (39 min @ 13.6 MB).

Have a great weekend!

Reader Comments (10)

Oh no, you drank the "empty inbox" kool aid? Say it ain't so, Mike! :-)
March 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBren
I drank it, I drank it... and it tastes pretty good. :-)
March 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I've been mulling it over for the last few days... but I suppose it's about time I just take the dive and buy myself a copy of this book.

GTD certainly seems to be *all* the rage these days!
March 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Christensen

I guess it's been popular for geeks lately, but AFAIK, GTD has been around a while now. All I know is, it seems to make sense, and even for the first week after only reading a portion of the plan, it's working for me already.

I like to say, if it works for you, use it. :-)
March 13, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Absolutely :)

Additionally, I've just recently taking up casual sketching again. It's been a good 4 years since I've drawn at all, really.. where I used to do it nearly daily.

It's nice to be away from the computer(s) a little more often ;)
March 13, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Christensen
I also found this book to be very helpful. As a graduate student who works full time, I really needed some time management advice and this book worked wonders.

A good supplement to the text is "Implementing David Allen's Workflow Processing Using Microsoft Outlook". You can find it over at David Allen's store for around $10.

March 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBrady
Congratulations Mike! You are now one of us. Although, as an addiction, I find GTD competes with tooth extraction fairly well ;-)

Seriously, I have the outlook extensions, and they help quite a bit. Not sure if they're available for the Mac.
March 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
How do you find time to switch from your old way to the GTD way? I feel like I would have to take a two-week vacation from all my other responsibilites to give this methodology the time necessary to set it up.
March 19, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
I just decided to change a single thing at a time -- hence the email changes. As I read through the book I'll implement it a piece at a time, as much as possible.
March 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Well, I decided to use the "little bit at a time" method, and today I deleted over 11,000 e-mails. I think the hardest part was that, in deleting those e-mails, I was deleting a bunch of old conversations, even though they were really about mundane things.

Once that feeling went away, having a much lighter inbox is wonderful!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

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