Organising Your Life [Part 4] Processing Your Inbox

This is part 4 of a series of posts I am doing on getting yourself organised and being able to take control of your life. You can read the first three parts here:
Part 1 - Organising Your Life
Part 2 - Choosing the best tool
Part 3 - Collecting everything

In this part I want to go through how you can process your inbox so that you know when you should be doing the tasks that you have collected. 

Last week I set you some homework. You had to start getting used to capturing all the tasks, ideas and commitments into a trusted place. That could be a notebook or a digital tool such as Todoist. I hope you were able to practice this habit. So now you are well on your way to becoming more organised. 


When it comes to processing an inbox, the best method is to again follow the GTD concept. David Allen talks about asking yourself a series of questions about each task or commitment. These questions are:

  • What is it?

  • Can I do it now? (will it take less than 2 minutes?)

  • Is it a project? (requires 2 or more actions) 

  • What is the very next step I can do to move this forward?

  • What does "done" and "completed" mean?

Over time you will get very fast at asking these questions, but in the early stages you may need to keep a handy reference card around to help you ask the right questions. 

In Todoist it is very easy to convert these tasks into projects, or add tasks to existing projects. Let's take a look at the inbox items I have above.

The first item in the inbox is "Phone Steven about meetings module". Let's go through the questions with this task.

What is it? - It's a phone call 
Can I do It now? - Probably. that depends on how long I anticipate the call to last and whether I have enough time right now. 
Is it a project? - On it's own, no. But it is part of a project so I can add it to that project by adding the project name, or just by simply dragging the task to the correct project - in this case under N1 Communications and "Meetings Module" 

At this point I do not have to go any further. This task is a phone call and it belongs to a project already. All I need to do is either make the call now if I have time, or schedule time later to make the call. 

Item 2 - Send Jamie's Contact details to Mike. This one's very easy to do. All I need to do is send a contact address, and phone number. This would take less than 2 minutes so I would do that immediately and check it off. 

Item 3 in my inbox is "take a look at this bag". Now this could be because I am thinking of buying a new work bag. This is a new project, so I would create a new project by clicking on the "Add Project" icon and create a new project called "Purchase New Work Bag". Then as I do not have time to take a look at the bag right now I would drag and drop the task to the new project.  At this stage I would add a date of Saturday, as this is when I usually do my internet research. 

As you can see, it is quite easy to process an inbox. All you need to do is keep in mind the questions above and go through your inbox from the top down until it is clear. It is important to try and make sure you do this every day so that your inbox is cleared at least every twenty-four hours. If you leave it longer than twenty-four hours you will soon have an inbox that is overwhelming and you will end up missing important tasks and commitments and stop trusting your system. I often process my inbox when I am waiting for a bus or waiting for a client meeting to start. I have trained myself to be able to process my inbox very quickly and over time you will also find yourself being able to process it very quickly. 

So, your homework this week is to get into the habit of processing your inbox every day and going through each task asking the questions: What is it? Can I do it now? Is it a project? This could be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It really doesn't matter when you do it, but you need to do it. 

So until next time - Stay productive!