1 GTD Example: Clear your inbox

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a time-management methodology.  It’s basically just common sense, but I’ve used it for some time now to keep track of jobs and projects.

I first encountered GTD through its various implementations in Emacs org-mode, it seemed like a sensible system to adopt so I gave it a try.  Note however that GTD is not a computer based system: I use Emacs because I use Emacs.  Beginners are advised to start by using a paper based system; you can use Evernote just as well.

The following is just an overview.  To find out more, read the book: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Here’s a simple introduction to the principles behind GTD.

Is your email inbox full?  If so, the reason isn’t what you might expect.  It’s not that you’re not processing and deleting them as fast as you might.  Modern email systems can hold an indefinite number of emails, there’s no reason to delete anything you don’t want to.

The real reason your inbox is full is because it’s a mixture of different sorts of emails:   emails left as a reminder you have a job to do, emails you’ve left there for reference, emails you might need in the future, emails you might read later on.  Your inbox is confused because you don’t know which email is which.
Here’s the GTD solution: create some additional folders

  • Action
  • Bacn
  • Reference
  • To Read

Go down your inbox, processing each email one at a time.  Start at the top and don’t move onto the next email until you’ve processed the current one.
Process the emails as follows

  • If you don’t need the email, delete it.
  • If it will take less than 2 minutes to deal with, deal with it.
  • If you need to keep the email for reference, put it in the email folder called Reference (or in a more suitable folder you’ve already created)
  • If it’s something you want to read at leisure. put it in the To Read folder
  • If it’s an email list you’ve subscribed to, like a pizza deal or a voucher site, put it in the Bacn folder.  Bacn is like spam, except you asked for it.  It’s nice to have, but too much is bad for you.

Work your way down the list until you have an empty inbox.  Once it’s empty, it will probably stay that way.

It might seem that all you’ve done is move your list elsewhere, but what you’ve really done is separated things out. You’ve separated reference materials from the actions, and eliminated the chaff.  That’s GTD, simple but effective.

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