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Processing the inbox

This post covers a few topics that show up for me when processing inbox. This is the “Get ‘IN’ to zero” process that is so fundamental to GTD.

First off, like many GTD apps the support for this core process in OF is spotty. As anyone familiar with GTD knows, this involves going through each of your inboxes one by one, and disposing of each item in roughly one of a few different ways:

(if it’s not actionable)
trashing it,
incubating it,
filing it for reference,

(if it’s actionable)
first, determining the next action and adding/integrating it into a project list if it’s a multi-step thing, then taking the next action and

doing it if it takes less than 2 minutes,
delegating it
deferring it (putting it on a action list aka context list)

Assuming we are operating under the principle that OF should support GTD well, while allowing for variations from that process, here are some thoughts:

+ Make sure this process is really doable, quickly, mostly through the keyboard. I should be able to quickly cycle through the inbox items, making these choices and disposing of each item accordingly. Right now, parts of it work well, and parts are not well supported.

+ Most of these apps seem to assume that the only inbox you have is the app inbox. GTD makes it clear – have as few as possible, but realize that your inboxes may include things like your OF inbox, your email inbox, voice memos, note pads, a physical inbox/pile of stuff, etc. I should be able to do this process cycling through my OF inbox, but it should also be as easy for cycling through my pile of stuff.

+ deleting works fine as long as I’m keeping my selection on an inbox item – seems to work.

+ defer: well… For the “tickler” file, I know start date kind of works. If I create a “defer” project and a context for the item, it will show up back on my context list for review – this is less than ideal. The point here is that I pick up an item in my inbox and I simply want to defer dealing with it, I don’t want it to have to show up on a project or action list. It’s not a project or an action. Most clean would be to be able to “defer” the item and have it show up back in my inbox. “Start date” is a misnomer because at this point, I have not decided to start it, just revisit the item at a later date. Same for “Someday/Maybe” – I realize you can create a project for this, but it is not in fact a project but a reference list for later review.

(Contexts and Projects is an arbitrarily constraining notion here. In GTD you have

Action lists (by context)
Project lists
Someday/Maybe list
Waiting for list
Tickler file (incubate list)

In GTC the action lists and the calendar are for moment-to-moment “doing” but the others are for planning/review. Right now, planning and review requires me to look in various places – projects, projects that are not projects, contexts that are not really work to do but place holders, etc. to find things to review.)

+ File for reference: Here’s a tricky one. I think we are left to a manual process at this point because, who knows where it’s supposed to be filed. I might drop someone’s phone number or birth date or a book reference in my inbox, but these go in various places and I can’t think of a good way for OF to support that.

+ Determining the next action/project. Here are some workflows I am aware of:

- the item is really a project and reviewing it brings to mind the NA, the project and NA need to be entered into the right place in the project list
- the item is a NA on an existing project and needs to be place at the right point with the right context in the project
- the item implies a (one or more same/different project) NAs but isn’t at all worded correctly, e.g., “follow from on Joe’s requests”

All these take a number of steps.

+ do it. Easy enough

+ delegate – no direct support for this. I'll post on this separately.

+ Defer to an action list – automatic for contexts. For the calendar? I don’t know. Maybe someone’s written a script for this.

Hope this is helpful. I'd be interested in other's thoughts.

This is an EXCELLENT post, and really reflects some of my feelings. At the moment we have an excellent, powerful to-do list application in my opinion. It takes some ideas from the GTD approach, but it is leaving out some key points....

I really think Inbox is handling the inbox part (surprise surprise!) very well of the GTD approach, but Omni Focus gives a much cleaner view of stuff I actually need to do, so I find it more valuable. I'd love to see some distinctly different ways to view the inbox though, rather than a flat list (which has been discussed before)
Thanks - I'll check out "Inbox".

This should be an interesting thread, Goeff. Thanks for starting it.

Inbox processing currently feels a bit clumsy to me too. One feature request that I've been considering is some way to lock open the Inbox so I can single click folders or projects in the side bar and still see the Inbox. This would make dragging inbox items to nested projects easier. (Currently I work around this by opening two windows, but its clunky.) I've also submitted a feature request for spring-loaded items in the Projects sidebar. Then you could just drag an inbox item over a project or folder and have it pop open in the content pane.

Note that you can do project planning within the OF Inbox. All of the outlining shortcuts from the Structure menu work there.

For handling non-OF inboxes, I actually use QuickEntry to create new items while processing my other inboxes. So my inbox processing is really two passes: a very quick gathering pass where I dump it all (but the 2 minute jobs) into OmniFocus, followed by a processing pass within OmniFocus.

For Someday/Maybe filing I currently use OmniOutliner. I like to keep those items out of the way and only review them on a monthly basis. I've already posted scripts to send the current OF selection to a new OO outline, and vice versa. I'll probably eventually spin another script to send the current selection to a specified OO outline.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I really don't use the Inbox much, as I usually know what Project a task needs to go to. Geoff's post is making me think of other ways I can use OF that do make use of the Inbox.

Originally Posted by geofffitch
+ File for reference: Here’s a tricky one. I think we are left to a manual process at this point because, who knows where it’s supposed to be filed. I might drop someone’s phone number or birth date or a book reference in my inbox, but these go in various places and I can’t think of a good way for OF to support that.
This is one way I might use the InBox ... if there was an elegant way to move items to their correct homes, as Geoff says.

Right now, I use QuickSilver for things like this. If I see something I want to save in an e-mail, I'll invoke QS, type a period (full stop) paste in the reference, and either create a text file for it or append it to an existing file. This doesn't take too long, but I have all these little text files wandering all over.

Much nicer would be to put all these snippets into the Inbox and be able to send them to their appropriate homes. Perhaps we could have a right-click "Send to:" menu that we could populate with our applications. So, when I have a great idea for a t-shirt, I can use Quick Entry to put the idea in my InBox, then later use Send To: -> OmniOutliner, select my "Shirt Ideas" file, and have the idea show up in a new line at the bottom. SendTo -> Address Book would make the item a new card, etc.

I could then use OF to save ALL my ideas, not just the tasks. And that would be very, very nice. Once a week I'd have a task group, Review (application) to remind me to put the snippets in their correct final places. [Shirt ideas in the correct grouping; address card info merged into existing cards ...]

Just musings ... unless our fearless ninjas have this in the queue, I wouldn't expect it for v 1.0.

As for the Somewhat/Maybe how about using Yojimbo or a similar program? You can copy urls, text, whatever you want to put in there. The key would be to give it a keyword like "maybe" and then setup a smart folder that you can quickly review.

Have others tried the processes for processing offered by Actiontastic and ThinkingRock? Opinions?

I'm using the hell out of OmniFocus, but I sincerely miss being able to process each task thrown into the inbox pit according to the principles of GTD. Thinking Rock was the most thorough, but the process was often cumbersome. Actiontastic was more succinct, but quite honestly, I couldn't deal with the Indiana Jones movie reference.

I had really hoped that OmniFocus wouldn't overlook GTD's second step, and instead, would create a surprisingly elegant solution.
One question, in OF, in the Inbox View, I am setting the project and context for a certain task, I am expecting it to "move to project" without me dragging the task to it, but it never happened.. the task stays in inbox, after I process it, and it have the project name beside it, and it never appears inside the project..

Maybe I got this wrong, but isn't it supposed to "automatically" move the task to the selected project? if not, why is there a project column in the inbox view ?

great post. One problem seems to remain, though: that most of us have more than one inbox. And I'm not just referring to mail, which can be integrated rather nicely into OF, but to oodles of notes, paper letters, memos, invoices and such accumulating in several places, including (but not limited to) the home and the office.

Consequently, we also need to consider the process of getting all those things into a single receptacle, which I would like to be OF.

Presently I'm typing in short notes of the items in my physical inbox. But how about a scanning function ŕ la DevonThink Enterprise?

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