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Most GTD apps including OF seem to handle the inbox in a way that doesn’t really capture the philosophy of GTD. In particular, implementing it as simple list invites the error that GTD tries to avert – falling into making your inbox your to-do list. David Allen makes a point, write down everything on a single piece of paper and throw it in a pile (a pile, not a list). This is even represented in the OF icon – the stack of 3x5 cards, rather than a check list, but it’s not represented in the implementation of the app.

I find this true of most if not all GTD apps – the better representation of the inbox would be a pile of stuff, where you could only see the top and you could only remove the top item. Sure, you could sift through it somehow, but the bigger it gets the harder it gets. Counter intuitive? Why would Allen recommends a pile of stuff and not a list, which would be much easier to scan and manage – because it implements an essential rule – one item at a time, never put it back once you take it out. It forces you to do the planning and not revert to the usual mess of random stuff we collect as an org system.

Secondarily, it would make sense not to place this in the same area as the projects, as if the inbox was just another (albeit less well organized) project. I want to throw stuff in my inbox, not see it until planning, then be able to see it separately from my project list, perhaps even in a separate window.

This philosophical error seems also evident in the idea of the Cleanup function and also the option to specify a context and project in the Quick Entry window. It really blurs the line between Collecting and Organizing. I am going to avoid the Quick Entry window in favor of Quicksilver for this reason. Seeing those fields automatically makes me think – what is the item? What should I do with it? What project? What context? Etc. The whole point is – throw it in the in basket and move on.

well said Geoff
Interesting. It might encourage a better workflow to have the inbox be yet another view. A sibling of the project and context view.

Probably more intuative too. A very interesting idea.
Great post, Geoff!

It would be awesome if the project/context columns could be turned off in the Quick Entry window.

I would also be very interested in trying a one-item-visible-at-a-time inbox for OF. The biggest risk would be accidentally sending an item off to the wrong project. But if Undo would return the last processed item to the top of the inbox, then that wouldn't be a risk at all.
I don't think a "one-item-visible-at-a-time inbox". Using your script (Curt) I've been dumping handfulls of messages into iCal from apple mail and/or my Treo, along with the quick entry. When I go through the inbox, they are often related. If they are, I like to order them, sub-action them, and decided what is parralel and what is strictly ordered, t, all in the inbox. Then when I'm done I "clean up" and send them off to a project or make them their own project.
Very interesting post.

The idea is excellent, because it would really force the user to stick the important principle of one item at a time. I like the idea of having the Inbox implemented as a separate view.

However, I like the way OF handels attribution of contexts and filing actions into projects. That is very quick from the key board.

So what about, just applying the color scheme of e.g. Next Action. All the items are in the Inbox, but only the top most is really capturing your attention and non of the others can be touched.

Though I would see that rather as a user option than an obligatory feature. Let the user decide how he organises his work.

D. Allen ideas are super, but I do not agree to dogmas and I like to use software that allows me sufficient degrees of freedom.


Very insightful post, I definitely agree with you: the Inbox should be a pile of stuff (I kind of use it this way: things I quick input into it are not actions or projects, just things which need to be refactored before being first class citizens).

What I'm missing is something I've seen in some Midnight Inbox screencast: a way to process the inbox items one by one, choosing to create projects for them or actions, due dates, and so on. I'm often distracted by the number of things in my inbox, and I have trouble concentrating on the first one only (I can't help but scan if there are other easy things on the visible list).
Excellent ideas! But different users want different things, so I think this is best dealt with in preferences. Having a one-item-is-visible Inbox, in a separate window, and hiding the context and project columns in the Quick Entry windowlet would probably not be too hard to implement as user preferences.

I am new to GTD, but I would certainly give such a more 'orthodox' use of the Inbox a try.

Last edited by HiramNetherlands; 2007-06-16 at 12:59 AM..
Geoff, excellent post. You've reminded me of some of the basics of GTD.

Going to have to think about how I can better implement my use of the Inbox and get away from it being a "to do list for items with no project to really assign them to."
Originally Posted by geofffitch
Secondarily, it would make sense not to place this in the same area as the projects, as if the inbox was just another (albeit less well organized) project. I want to throw stuff in my inbox, not see it until planning, then be able to see it separately from my project list, perhaps even in a separate window.

This seems to be the way ThinkingRock works. Everything goes into the 'Collecting thoughts' box. You then process these one by one, led by the hand in a nice logical way. iGTD has an inbox, but you either get it in a list with your projects or contexts, and the process part is a pain, because you have to keep jumping in and out of the inbox rather than just moving through your 'pile' sequentially.

I really like the way TR does it, even though their UI sucks visually

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