Incoming work into process (Help)


As a new user who is finding GTDNEXT very useful and helping to improve my processing of work i’d be interested in how people manage the incoming daily “stuff”

It’s a huge issue for me as I receive work via emails, calls IM etc and it’s how i feed these into the GTD process and as such GTDNEXT. By their nature they tend to be urgent but not important in the strategic sense, basically “fix it now its broke” I’m trying to avoid prioritising for the usual reasons

I’m currently forwarding to my inbox in GTD and reviewing a couple of times a day. I’m trying to complete some other existing work before i dip into the inbox which i guess is my bucket.

I’m still however constantly being dragged into do now stuff and not working through the next list in GTDNEXT. Not sure there is an answer but i’d be interested in anyone has any ideas



To do work as it shows up, without even listing it, is also part of perfect GTD, so don’t worry. You could go all day just responding to urgent messages etc.

But obviously, if all of it is not super urgent you may be able to save time overall if you list the issues and deal with them for example in batches based on context (tools, location, people etc). Or you may be able to prioritize those tasks that are most important and relevant to your overall goals etc.

As far as inboxes etc I think it is important - albeit perhaps a bit pedantic - to point out that ALL your inboxes are part of your GTD system. In other words, the email inbox, the IM inbox, the post-it stickers your wife puts on the fridge, all of this IS your GTD inbox. If you use GTDNext’s inbox as a collection device for new ideas etc then this is just yet another “compartment” of your “total inbox”. GTD does not mandate any transferring of input from one inbox compartment to another, for example from a voice memo device to a handwritten note, or from an email to a todo app inbox, or from a handwritten note to a typed note.

The key thing in GTD is the processing of the input, in other words contemplating and deciding what you will do about the input. This means I will typically have a clearly worded next action as a result (not an email subject line) and I will already have digested the body text of the email and extracted any supporting info that I need (say, a date or phone number). I simply do not (usually) want to have to read the whole email again. I tend to enter my actions “fresh” via the keyboard even if they originate from email. I find that I have very little use for email originals or other support/reference material in my todo app.

Thanks Folke, very useful feedback.

I’m in particularly wary of a long list of emails becoming a long list of unclear actions, i currently amend the subject line to indicate the action before i forward to GTDnext, sort of works but perhaps i need to break that habit and just enter actions.

Will soldier on and see what develops



Rob I do something very similar. I like to change the subject line to be the exact action I need to perform. However, if there are multiple actions in the email (for me) then I will instead change the subject line to something like “Review this email for actions” Just so that I know what exactly I need to do when I process my inbox.

This is a great point by @Folke - and reminds me that I need to start monitoring another inbox. We just got one of those Amazon Echo’s (Yes, I’m a geek who like electronic devices :smile:) and my kids are now saying things like “Alexa put bread on the shopping list” Well that shopping list in Alexa is now a new inbox I have to remember to check.

As Folke also said, this is natural part of GTD, David refers to it as the “Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily work” and basically says that at any time you can only be engaged in one of three kinds of activities.

  1. Doing predefined work
  2. Doing work as it shows up
  3. Defining your work

The hard part for me as well is always how do I do more of #1 and less of #2? I find one trick that helps me is to block off time on my calendar as “Next Action Time” It’s during those times that I really try to focus on tasks on the list that I’ve already predefined. During my other work time I’m more open to doing work as it shows up, but I’m still always trying to do #1 type work. Make sense?


All makes sense thanks, I could easily exist in the “now” just responding to incoming requests. The last point about blocking out time for next actions is what I’m working to at the moment

A variation of blocking out time for next actions, advocated by David Allen’s British “colleague”/“rival” Mark Forster in his DIT (Do It Tomorrow) methodology, is to do the exact opposite - block out time for being responsive.

In other words, Forster’s approach is to generally consider the predefined tasks on the list as quite “holy” and to generally take a “mañana” type attitude towards any new stuff that comes in (unless it is unquestionably urgent). His general advice would be, if your job requires some considerable degree of responsiveness, to block out time for that instead, e.g. tell people that you are answering your phone only between 10.00 - 12.00 etc. Anything else that arrives during the day will go in your inbox, and will be processed only at the end of the day or next morning.

I have no strong opinion of my own about which of these two approaches is better. In essence, I think they amount to pretty much the same thing, e.g. 4 hours predefined and 4 hours responsive in a day, or whatever mix suits your job. I generally do not block out time either way - perhaps I should, but it somehow does not sit well with my gut-felt desire for “freedom” and “flexibility”. I do tend to take a “mañana” type stance to new stuff, though, unless the new stuff is very urgent or very interesting ;-). And I am cautious about saying yes or promising any dates. I feel no shame about telling people that I also have other things to do.

One trick that I find invaluable is to make a note of when I put the action on my list. Although I never plan ahead for when I will do the task, time is still very important. There is a gray zone where professional promptness gradually turns into unprofessional tardiness. So it is useful to know since when the task has been sitting there. GTDNext automatically makes a note of the task’s creation date for you, which is handy. You can see it in the edit pane. If you want the date to be more visible you can type it in as part of the task name.

Very interesting idea. I might give that a try as a test at some point. I find Mark a bit hard to follow as he has so many names for all his systems. “DIT” “Auto Focus 4”, " Auto Focus 5" etc, etc, I assume this is the important part of his “DIT” or Do it Tomorrow system. So thanks for the summary. :smiley:

I agree with what you are saying. He has lots of systems that sort of cover different aspects. DIT is the one that is most complete and most similar to GTD. Auto Focus is more narrowly focused on just overcoming procrastination and getting old “next actions” off the list, which is something I feel is a somewhat dubious approach. I am quite happy to accept that if I have allowed an action to sit for a long time on my next actions list it is probably because it is less important than all the other stuff that I did do instead. But his AutoFocus approach is nevertheless clever and not without merit. It does ensure that you do not leave stuff on your “next actions” list for too long.

I think the main difference between DIT and GTD is that with DIT you do not select additional actions as you go (depending on energy, context etc). You instead compile a relatively firm list (commitment) at the outset of the day of what you will do that day and try to stick to it as closely as possible (and try to hone your ability to make such “today plans”). The today plan may contain unpredictable reactive elements like “answer phone calls”, “answer urgent emails” etc if appropriate.