Setting Up Your GTD Inboxes

When I first started using my Evernote GTD system, I had to make sure I captured everything I had scattered out on my various TODO lists. I had TODOs on my desk, outlook tasks, google tasks, personal emails, work emails, paper mail, browser tabs, white board lists.

Since I was tracking all of my TODOs on different lists, I had no central place to look for everything I needed to do, which makes it hard to prioritize what you should do next.

Clearing Your Inboxes

So, one by one, I went through the random lists I had and filed each item as a note into Evernote.

  • If it was something I wanted to read later (browser tab), I saved the link in a note, tagged it To-Read, and filed it in the 2. Next notebook
  • If it was a blog post idea (Gmail Inbox, Google Tasks), I tagged it #Blog, Post, and Idea (possibly more specific tags) and filed it under 4. Reference Materials.
  • I’ve found that my memory is lacking, so I’ve started writing down fond memories. I tagĀ  these #Memory and a more specific tag (Julie, Family).
  • My physical notebook at work had random facts about projects. I tagged these #Work Project and <Client Name>, titled them appropriately, and filed under 4. Reference Materials.

As you build your system, know that it’ll be morphing as you go. Don’t worry about making it perfect at first. For instance, I started with nested tags, but realized that they wouldn’t work with the system I was building.

The Evernote desktop application allows you to easily rename tags, and tag and move notes in batches, so allow your system change organically.

You might come upon something that doesn’t have a fitting tag. Just create a new tag that works, and move on. You might see notes emerging with similar characteristics, at which point you can rename their tags or create a new one that fits them all. That’s how my #App Idea tag was created.

Ideally, you shouldn’t stop until all of your inboxes are cleared. I’ll admit that my house has many uncleared inboxes (in the form of clutter), but I do now have an empty gmail inbox (both read and unread).

Reducing Your Inboxes

Once you have your various inboxes clear, you can eliminate the ones you don’t need. I got rid of my Google Tasks, Outlook tasks, and physical whiteboard tasks. Instead of storing things there, I now just create a note and file it.

I’m now left with the following inboxes:

  • Physical Work Notebook
  • Gmail Inbox
  • Outlook Inbox
  • Paper Mail

There are other unofficial inboxes like IMs, phone calls, meetings, my head; anything where you receive information, really. For those, I either write them down and carry around the paper until I’m in front of Evernote, or I send myself a note with Android’s “note to self” voice command.

Feeding Your System

Anytime I come out of a work meeting, I enter the notes I took on my physical notebook into Evernote as an action, reference item, or possibly a new project. As I read through my work or personal emails, I do the same.

Constantly capturing items as they emerge is vital. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for stress. Your mind can’t be sure that everything is accounted for, so it’ll start recalling things that need done instead of constructively thinking about how things should be done. That’s how your mind works, even if you don’t want it to. Be sure you have a way to capture things so you can feed your system.

Likewise, clearing your inboxes regularly is important. If you don’t, you won’t have a single list of action items, which scatters your mind between lists. Things are constantly entering your inboxes, so it’s not feasible to have 100% of them cleared all the time. You can also clear them too much, using the opportunity to procrastinate on your actual tasks. Find the right balance. Be sure that you have some sort of schedule in place to regularly clear your inboxes.

When I’m in front of my computer, I file the notes with the correct tags and notebook right away. To help with efficiency, I use shortcuts to tag and file my notes. The ones I use the most are F2 (rename note title), F3 (tag the note), and Alt+N->V (move to notebook). Using these shortcuts makes it a breeze to file notes away, which makes me actually do it.