Friday, December 2, 2011

How To Master Processing ALL Of Your Inboxes To Zero

When you are first starting out with GTD, it's easy to be a little excited that one day, you'll have an empty inbox. I remember the first time that I found the book Getting Things Done, I really didn't have any expectations. I found it in the bookstore and thought it seemed interesting. As I started to read it, it made a lot of sense to me, and I started to apply what I learned.

My implementation of GTD took a course of a few years. I can't believe that was in 2006. Now that my system is in place, it's almost hard to remember the exact steps that I took to get my inboxes all to zero. But as I remember it, I started working with my email. It seemed like a logical place to start. At the time, I had thousands of emails. I'd let emails stack up in my inbox. I'd always be searching for that email from someone who needed me to do something.

After a few weeks, I deleted and filed and acted on a ton of email. One day, the inbox was empty. I really couldn't believe it. It was an awesome feeling. Getting that email under control was really the success I needed to continue working on my system.

With that feather in my cap, I started tackling all of the paper in my life and over the next few months got it to empty as well.

When you reach this point in your gtd development and you see that it is indeed possible to get an inbox to zero and then another one, you realize that the system works.

Starting out though, it's easy to wonder how to get to that point. So if you are a beginniner, I'd recommend that you follow the steps below:

  1. Make a list of all of your inboxes so you can see where everything is coming into your system.

  2. Rank the inboxes in order from what you feel would be the easiest inbox to empty to the hardest.

  3. Start with the first inbox on the list and get it to empty.

  4. Make sure you do at least that everyday for awhile.

  5. Then start working on the next inbox on your list.

  6. I recommend putting your physical inbox last on the list.

  7. If something gets stuck in an inbox towards the top, push it down somehow to the physical inbox. For example, print out an email you can't decide what to do with to get your email empty.

  8. Have the GTD workflow diagram next to you while your process and take everything through the steps.

  9. Make sure that you have your whole system setup otherwise "stuff" won't have a place to go.

  10. Create two physical inboxes. One as a primary one for urgent and new stuff and one as a secondary one to keep the backlog in to work on in your spare time.

  11. At first, use your weekly review to process. Don't worry so much about reviewing when you first start. Get the front part of your system in good shape first.


For me, I put my text message inbox at the top of my list of inboxes. There is usually not a lot of actionable stuff in there. Then I move on to my voice mail which is easier than email and then onto email. Then I work on paper.

Get as far into your processing each day as you can. As usual I suggest a checklist to start the basis of your daily review. Once you reach a certain level, use progressive resistance to get a little farther each time.

Your mental strength will improve and you'll eventually get to the point where you will master all of your inboxes. Good luck and get started taking action today!
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