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Apparently we got different things from David Allen's book. I see the Inbox as a big hopper that incoming ideas, tasks, information, what have you get dumped in for guaranteed input into the trusted system. At some point in the not too distant future, the Inbox is iteratively processed, with each item either being discarded, immediately done (if doing so would take less than a small number of minutes), or filed for future action. Depending on your environment and collection habits, that Inbox processing might have to happen several times a day, or maybe just a few times a week. I think you'd be hard-pressed to point me to a paragraph where DA says you need to process each item as you put it in your Inbox!
 
Whoops, Gardener slipped in a response before I posted mine; hopefully it is clear I was answering Reelsteve, because I'm in agreement with Gardener :-)
 
On the question of how much to break up the task - I think that to some extent it depends on the nature of the task and your relationship to it.

Tasks that you resist may need to be chopped into smaller actions. For example, making a doctor's appointment takes me only a few minutes, the same actual work time as most people, but those few minutes span several weeks, because I cut the "project" up into multiple actions, one action per week, each of a size that I'm willing to do. (Look up number and put in phone. Update calendar. Choose possible dates. Make the appointment already!)

Tasks where you're still learning may also need to be cut up. If I'm making fried chicken for a potluck, that will involve one or two actions. (Buy fried chicken ingredients. Fry chicken.) If I'm making something more complicated that I don't fully understand, it may involve several actions. (Research the principles of classic hollandaise. Read at least six hollandaise recipes. Choose a recipe. Buy double boiler if called for by recipe. Find whisk. Make ingredients list. And so on and so on.)

So I guess a proper-sized action, for me, is:

- Something that I'm willing (even if not eager) to do.

- Something that I can just _do_, without having to figure out how. If I have to figure out how, then the "figuring out" needs to be broken into actions.

- Something that is simple enough that I won't lose track of it in the doing. If I might forget steps, then I break those steps into actions.

- Ideally, something that I can do in one unbroken period of work.

Other factors that might make me break up an action include:

- If a piece of the action would be usefully included in a different context. This is why "Buy fried chicken ingredients" would be separated from "Fry chicken." I could easily stand up, go to the store, buy the ingredients, come home, and fry, without losing track of what I'm doing or having to take a break or having any trouble figuring out what to do, so "Fry chicken" could be a single action for me. But it's more efficient to pick up the ingredients when I'm at the store anyway, so it gets another action.

- If breaking up the action is useful in managing time. For example, if I want to make sure that I don't forget the substantial cleanup time from frying chicken, I may add the cleanup as a separate action or actions. (Do double dishwasher load of chicken fry cleanup. Put cooled frying oil in bottle and give to biodiesel guy. Take out chicken trash before it gets stinky. Clean stovetop.) These are relatively artificial actions, because except for the biodiesel delivery I know to do "chicken cleanup" as a single action, but sometimes having the workload in front of me will reduce the odds that I'll commit to too much.

Gardner
 
 


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