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Very Scary Inbox

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  • Very Scary Inbox

    Hi everyone.

    My implementation of GTD started with:
    • Setting up a physical inbox
    • Setting up a Hipster PDA
    • Creating projects in Outlook
    • Tying tasks to projects in Outlook
    • General tasks not associated with work projects on Outlook’s main task list, not in my GTD views
    • A kind of weekly, sometimes semi-weekly review
    • A Kanban system with clear project pockets (via ishbadiddle )
    • A tickle file
    • Outlook calendar
    • A kitchen timer

    What happened:
    • Inbox piling up, but only lately (right… at first I didn’t use it, so of course it wouldn’t pile up until now)
    • Hipster in use all the time, even at home. It’s great.
    • My Outlook projects list has actually stayed up to date
    • General tasks not associated with GTD views largely ignored (even though I see it at least once a day)
    • Weekly review, never regular to begin with, has slipped for weeks and weeks and weeks
    • Kanban system keeps paperwork for projects organized; my desk stays uncluttered (this is revolutionary… who knew my desk was made of wood?)
    • Tickle file checked daily for months and then poof! – largely ignored
    • Outlook calendar used when needed, but I don’t often have a lot of appointments
    • Kitchen timer keeps me from spending half a day or more obsessing over something that, if I were to only get away from it for a while, the solution would come to me as soon as I got back to it

    Recently began using:
    • Evernote (not working so well. Need a better notetaking app)
    • The Destruct-O-Matic Task Project Tracker from David Seah (working amazingly well)

    What’s working:
    • Hipster
    • Outlook project and associated tasks lists
    • Kanban system (in a somewhat modified format)
    • Outlook calendar
    • Kitchen timer
    • Destruct-o-matic

    Pitiful cry for help: The inbox is now very scary. I don’t want to go in there. It will take more medication than I have right now to actually process the contents of my inbox. Not that it's huge, but there are things in there I wish weren't in there. The tickle file hasn’t been touched since the middle of November. Neither has the list of tasks not associated with work projects.

    Good news: A mini review tonight (matching up my project pockets with my project list and generating next actions) gave me a surprisingly short list of next actions and an equal-sized list of Waiting Fors. I have something concrete to focus on. However, the inbox is very scary and I don’t want to go in there…

    The big question: So what do you do to reverse slippages like this? I try to see a pattern in what I have anxiety over (and don’t want to deal with such as the inbox – yikes! even more anxiety!), but I’m not really very good at stuff like that. I can at least recognize that my weekly review has slipped because of my aversion to the inbox and long-neglected tickle file. I also recognize that there are things in the inbox I need to process but don’t want to (just looking at the papers causes anxiety). I have no idea what went wrong with the unassociated tasks list.

    I need to find ways of dealing with these little monsters. Tricking myself into it somehow is a viable solution, though coming up with cool tricks is not my forte. Any tricks you’ve found that work for you? I’d love to hear them.
    Last edited by raisdbywolvz; 01-10-2006, 10:25 PM. Reason: adding links to referenced resources

  • #2
    If you aren't doing the weekly review, you aren't doing GTD.

    Originally posted by raisdbywolvz
    [*]Weekly review, never regular to begin with, has slipped for weeks and weeks and weeks
    That's the main reason of your problems. As Ricky Spears says "If you aren't doing the weekly review, you aren't doing GTD." Do read his recent blog post


    • #3
      Originally posted by raisdbywolvz
      I need to find ways of dealing with these little monsters. Tricking myself into it somehow is a viable solution, though coming up with cool tricks is not my forte. Any tricks you’ve found that work for you? I’d love to hear them.
      Pile everything in front of the door and don't let yourself out or anyone else in until its gone.

      Tom S.


      • #4
        Or, if you promise to forget this advice the moment you've carried it out, and you promise not to tell anyone associated with the David Allen Company in case they come round and arrest me:

        1. Whizz through the inbox and tickler file for anything that is so totally urgent that it's going to be a huge disaster if you miss it. (Money owed, for example, that could incur penalties if you don't sort it out.) You will, of course, be breaking the cardinal rule of Never Putting Anything Back Into In.

        2. Sort out the emergency stuff now.

        3. Put all the rest of the inbox stuff, the non-emergency stuff, into a new folder or plastic wallet or cardboard box or whatever. Label it "Backlog" or "Old Inbox" or something. Turn the processing of this old inbox into a project itself. The next action could be "Spend 30 minutes processing old inbox".

        4. Your main inbox is now empty. Feel happy, and watery-minded.

        A related approach for email is at (under "The Email DMZ") though I swear I got there independently!


        • #5
          Ludlow's got some sound advice there. Just a few things I'd add:

          1) Once you've emergency-scanned yout ticker file and emptied the ENTIRE THING into your in-box: FORGET ABOUT THE TICKLER FILE. If you're not checking it daily then it's not helping, so you'd be better off not having it. It's not required, but then neither is anything else in GTD -- it's all about tools and methods that you will use and that you will find helpful. I was using other parts of the GTD system for nearly a year before I added the tickler file; like the other parts, I added it once I felt a NEED for it. (Now I don't know how I'd work without it, but that's another story.)

          2) When it's time to go through the in-box, be it your initial emergency scanning or later processing of what remains, block out some time truly dedicated to this, and try to make the experience as physically and mentally comfortable as you can. Wear confortable clothes. Put on some music you particularly enjoy. Pour yourself a glass of wine, or another favorite beverage, if you know you can enjoy that and still function well enough for the review. In general, try to set up pleasant physical and emotional associations with the processing phase, so that you have less resistance to coming back to it in the future and so that during the process you have all the mental energy and flexibility you need.


          • #6
            Tickler tip

            An alternative to the good suggestion to take a planned hiatus from the tickler file is to make it unavoidable (can't remember who to credit for this). Put essentials into it:

            - All bills
            - Keys at night
            - Get one trip ahead on the ATM and put the money in there if you do regularly scheduled trips
            - If you are religiously observent, put your tithe check in there under the proper day for your faith.
            - All concert or sports tickets
            - In general, everything that is associated with a scheduled, future activity

            Hey, thanks for reminding me...(physician, heal thyself!)


            • #7
              Been there and doing that!

              Similar idea as above but I suggest_

              -make sure you have a 2006 calendar at hand and folders, etc.

              1. You first "project" is prbably going to be something like "Make sure that no utilities are cut off or credit cards stopped or appoinment like a vital cardiac test is misssed." Brain storm and either outline or mindmap the emergency tasks, rather than seeking the paperwork for them through a search. Searchs can lead to distraction and more regrets about what has piled up. You probably know what is due and over due and it is eating whole in your brain. Then as quickly as possible call or use computer or checks that you mail to take care of any bills, call if you need to ascertain the dates or times of deadlines or appointments, and if you need a second copy of something because you know the first one is in the pile(s), just ask for a new one to be sent or faxed. Scanning your calendar may help as well as looking in your check book for dates payments are due and any bills you find lieing around might also help with phone numbers etc. You probably know in the back of your head what you need to do. As you go along note the next date any specific bill will again be put them on a list.

              2. Write out your GDT efforts in the form of a project or projects or sub-projects-what are you expecting to accomplish and how it will help you. Put these in your active project list and if need be, file the support information such as your notes, in a labelled folder in your active project file box. Put these at the top of your proejct list too.

              3. This is not GTD but it works for me. Try to determine your active projects before you start processing. Remember that certain routine things that keep your life going may be need be on-going projects, especially if you have been doing them erratically (e.g., work on in-box). If these are basically working and running smoothly you need not list them, but if they take time from your day you might sketch them into your basis "schedule" so that you accord them the time needed. For me, I have to have am, midday, late afternoon and pm checklists, and even some specific day of the week check lists, I need an hour and half in am before leaving for work and an hour to unwind after everybody else has retired for the night. As for things on specific days, I try to have all the cars gassed up between Tuesday and Thursday, and I try to synch my schedule with the rest of the family on Sunday and again on Wednesday, so these are on lists for those days of the week.

              4. Now start processing but be ruthless about what is active now vs. someday specifically (e.g., Complete cottage resident list by May 1st could have an activate date of April 1st) vs. SDBM. For those that will need to become active on a certain date (put them on your calendar as well as on your list ). .

              4. Limit the use of tickler to stuff that is completed but needs to be mailed or taken with you on a certain date. Put "check tickler" on your daily list, if you do choose to use it.

              5. Set up a file box or drawer to hold your active project files only and that can include checklists for the routine things that are running the background and will never really end.

              6. Process the day's mail and anything else that is new. Then, some planned portion of the old, whether you go by amount of papers or amount of time is up to you. It is really satisfying to process until either the shredder bucket or the trash can is full and then have a chocolate bar! You might find it useful to have a set of temporary folders, about 30 folders labelled A to XYZ in one box that is easy to move around. Anything that is not part of an active project will go in these temporary A to Z folders, for example, Alleghany Community Plan, Agameme Realty and Antiqueing Guide will all temporarily be in A. These are a bridge from Processing to Filing. Or you could use the bound A-Z Quick Sort, but it ain't so quick if you have a lot of items in it. And, you might find it helpful if after A you have an "Addresses to Enter" folder, after F a file just for Financial, after T one for Taxes 05. In other words you have labelled folders to collect papers that you know for certain will not be singletons. As you process, it is essential that write on the upper corner the file head what the paper will be filed under. If there is more than one possibility, write all to cue you to look at what files you may already have imade in your reference set. Then when you are tired of processing you can easily file these into their individual folders--it will require no mental energy at all. You will have saved time and used your good mental energy for processing.

              7. Again this is not GTD but at this stage I am making more progress by checking my projects list daily and keeping it as small as possible.


              • #8
                10 + 2

                I love all the energy in this thread! Clearly this is an issue a lot of us can relate to.

                My two cents:

                1) I got this from 43folders, and it is a lifesaver. Get a timer. Set it for ten minutes. Process your In-Box. I know it's scary, but it's ten minutes. I was in labor for 27 hours, you can survive ten minutes in your In-Box. (append smiley) When timer goes off, set it again for two minutes and go goof off. Your goof should be something rewarding. The chocolate bar idea is very sound.

                If you feel like doing another round of ten minutes, do. You probably will. I predict that no matter how awful your In-Box looks now, it will take you no more than three rounds of these.

                2) Put your In-Box in a closet and use your kanban system exclusively. It sounds to me like that is your *real* In-Box, and you have mentally categorized the desk In-Box as something that you can deal with later.

                3) Use Outlook calendar as your tickler file. It works just swell for this purpose.


                • #9
                  I want to say thanks to all you lovely people. You rock! I can see I'm not alone in my waywardness, and that alone does wonders.

                  I read through the replies several times and wondered why everyone was freaking out over the bills and stuff. And then it dawned on me. Most people actually put mail and bills in their inboxes! What a novel idea! Not good for me, I dare say, but nice idea all the same.

                  So obviously I don't use my inbox as everyone else does. I've had my stack of bills set aside in basically the same place for years and years and it never occurred to me to add them into the GTD system. I'm either very thick or I just have a quirky work style. Yeah, that's it. Quirky.

                  The suggestion that I'm sure wasn't from ludlow (*cough*) to stash the offending inbox contents into a folder and treat them like a project appeals to me. I can see that actually working.

                  Sonia has exposed the core of my faulty processes... my inbox obviously isn't a real inbox in my mind, and my kanban system really is. I simply hadn't realized it before. So I'd just have a project pocket for each thing or group of related things that would otherwise go into the inbox? Seems to be a long-term version of the emergency dump mentioned above. It just might work.

                  Kudos to Jamie for having the good sense to remind us all of the reward value of chocolate, and the motivational influence the very promise of chocolate offers! Definitely a fitting reward for scary inboxes tamed.

                  I guess I should confess that my general, non-project-associated tasklist has a recurring task called "check tickler" and I bet you can guess what happened there... that's the task list I virtually ignore now. (Oddly enough, the inbox, the tickler and the general task list all went south at the same time. Can you believe it???) It's gotten way out of hand. I suppose I could assign all the tasks in that particular list to a task DMZ, similar to Merlin Mann's recommendation on 43folders for an email DMZ. Start anew.

                  Stringdad offered some wonderful tricks for checking a tickler, except that I work at home and none of those things would force me to check my tickler. I did read a wonderful tip from somebody a while back, maybe in the comments of a 43folders topic, who said that at the end of the day she dumps what she's working on into the tickler, so in order to do any work the next day, she has to check the tickler. I'm actually scared to go there, knowing how easily I can ignore my tickler.

                  Using Outlook's calendar as a tickler works for many things, but how would it work for physical papers that need action on a specific date? Perhaps a single folder labeled "tickler" for physical papers, with a note on the appropriate day in Outlook to check tickler folder for xyz. Is that how folks who don't have a tickle file do it?

                  Thanks for all the input, folks! Y'all all really got me thinking about how inefficient my system is -- even if it is a total buzzkill about the inbox being unnecessary. I was so excited to go out and actually buy myself an inbox last year. Like most of you (you know it's true), I, too, get off on office supplies. But hey, whatever works, right?

                  I know... I'll promote it to outbox, and it can stay.

                  And please, don't stop here! Anyone else have any good tricks for dealing with those things that make you cringe and tremble in fear? Ways of handling tickler-type stuff without a tickle file? Living without an inbox? Or anything else that just makes all this stuff easier, quicker, more fun?



                  • #10
                    Hey raisdbywolvz! Long time no hear! Would love to hear why EN isn't working for you as well now, but maybe do that offline.

                    As for your post. I ooze sympathy. I find my biggest problem is not ignoring my GTD system, it's ignoring the NAs. I mean, they're up-to-date and all, but they're not getting done. But that's my personal bugbear.

                    As for yours, the thread is full of wonderul advice. I just want to add my two cents about ticklers.

                    I don't have a tickler. There, I've said it. I don't see the need to have 43 almost-empty folders sitting somewhere. Instead, I tickle myself electronically (ooops, that sounds naughty). Anyway, I create one-short or recurring tasks in outlook that remind me to do stuff. For example, there's a recurring task every 10 days to check my chequing account online and pay any bills that are in the inbox. (Here, my home inbox is more of a inbox/pending file. It's empty every week or so, but not all of the time. I hate to just pay one bill when it comes in, so I save them for every 10 days.)

                    What else is in my tickle list? Let me quickly check:
                    - every two weeks: create research mind map
                    - every two weeks (haha) clean house (yes, I'm a messy housekeeper)
                    - every six months: get ring cleaned
                    - first of every month: look at coupon collection - anything exciting?
                    - every Thursday/Sunday: burn podcasts for drive (for when I'm commuting)
                    - every April: order Flowers for mother

                    As you can tell, I don't really have that many things that need to be in a physical tickler file. Of all of those listed, exactly one has a piece of paper. It lives in the filing cabinet. When the tickle comes, I get the piece of paper out, and put it in my "pending" stack, be it the front of a file holder on my desk that holds current stuff, or in my wallet, whatever.

                    Now, I've always liked the idea of buying Birthday cards, etc. all in one go and sticking them in your tickler until you need them, but really, I'm at the store at least once every two weeks anyway, so it's no big deal to buy a card when I need it.

                    Hope this helps!


                    • #11
                      Tickler file

                      I do the same--make myself an electronic reminder (in Outlook) making sure to mark the time as "free." Pay mortgage, enter my receipts in my spending report, check my company's Web site and update information, etc.

                      Papers associated with that are in a labeled folder for the project, whatever that might be. "Bills to pay" counts as a project, for example.