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My GTD collection points - guided tour, with pictures

In GTD for the overworked graphic designer the author talks about having too many in-baskets, and the resulting problem of loosing important papers (meeting notes, etc.) He (or she) rightly hits on the solution of reducing the number of in-baskets, and of centralizing them. As it turns out, I had a similar problem when I was implementing GTD, mostly because I have two offices, I bike between them, and I have notes coming in from lots of sources. By popular request, what follows is a detailed tour of my collection points and how they're used.

I have four collection points, one of which is the "real" (or final) one, and the other three are for convenience of access during the day:
  • First is my "Portable In-Basket" file folder that I carry in my backpack everywhere I go. How it's used: If I'm on-campus (or away from home) I stick everything into the folder, including memos, printed emails, and snail mail from my work mailbox. To make it stand out (and thus to make easy filing in it), I use a special non-manila color for this folder, an idea shamelessly stolen from David Allen during his GTD | The RoadMap seminar. In the following picture it's one of the mauve folders in the portable file carrier open on the left:

  • Second, at home we all have our own mail slots, located in the front hall. These are used both for snail mail arriving at the house (just outside the front door), and for notes such as phone messages, "We're at the library," etc. How it's used: Anyone picking up the mail files each person's stuff in her in-basket. Ditto for messages, rent checks, etc. (NB: Having in-baskets for each person - including my five year old daughter - is a great idea, and is one that David Allen strongly encourages; I agree, but there are consequences - see the note below.) The following photo shows our wonderful stack of in-baskets:

    (And no, mine is not that overflowing one.)
  • Third, I include my wallet because I recently realized that it functions as a kind of specialized in-basket, one for financial receipts, including ATM statements, VISA receipts, and shopping receipts that were paid by check. How it's used: When I participate in any financial transaction that leaves a paper trail, I put the receipt in my wallet. (Sorry, no wallet picture; I have to draw the line somewhere.)
  • Finally, my "real" in-basket is at my home office, and is the top shelf of a set of five metal stacking shelves, which you can see in the upper right corner of the first picture. (FYI the rest of the shelves read, from top to bottom: Waiting For, Action Support, Current Projects, and Mary Receipts.) Everything from the other collection points goes here whenever I process, i.e., every day or two. How it's used: It functions as the primary collection point (see following text).
Overall, it's pretty straightforward: All my collection points funnel into the final "real" place, which is the only one I use during the GTD Process phase. (Recall Allen's five phases: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do - available in his Advanced Workflow PDF.) I try to follow Allen's advice and process the items in the in-basket every 24 to 48 hours, applying his methodology (available in his GTD Workflow PDF) and creating/moving items into their respective organization "buckets." (See the periphery of the basic workflow diagram for the organization portion of his system.) The key points that making this work are: a) being clear about the small number of collection points, b) using them appropriately (i.e., with nothing on the kitchen table, in the car, etc.), and c) dumping them all into the final in-basket. Any thoughts?

  • Having separate in-baskets for every family member is great for me (a GTD practitioner) because I can simply drop notes, "you might want to read this" printouts, etc. into the appropriate person's basket. However, people not practicing a methodology like GTD might have a problem with this because their boxes fill up, oftentimes causing frustration. I tell them: a) as long as I can get it out of my head and to them, it doesn't matter what they do with it, and b) if they would like to hear more about GTD I'll gladly talk with them about it (heh heh).
  • My wallet also functions as a specialized financial 'Action Support' folder, solely for checks to deposit. I don't know if this is S.O.P., but it works for me. However, it's important to note that the "deposit checks" Next Action is on my @errands list, i.e., I am not using the check itself as a reminder. (This can be a subtle point.)
  • I also carry my "Ubiquitous Capture Tool" (UCT) with me at all times. In my case it is an "In-Basket" section of my planner (the first tabbed section), with blank sheets for taking notes when I don't have the time or resources to process them at the moment they appear. (Interested parties can get more detail, with pictures, in my post Fare thee well Hipster PDA - I barely knew ye.)

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Reader Comments (5)

I realize this comment is on a four-year-old post, but I was directed here by your post from today. Anyway, there is an issue in our house where one of us is not a GTD practitioner (which I am reminded of by this post), and I get frustrated by the way that person's Inbox stuff piles up and clogs the system.

As a fix for my own sanity, that Inbox is regularly emptied into a large cardboard box in that person's room by me, but there must be a better way. Encouraging GTD practice has been done to death and is a source of strife if it comes up.

Got any pointers on that topic?

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrock Tice

Great question, Brock. A few thoughts... I agree that pushing a method doesn't help. The person (let's say "he") has to be motivated. Same with my clients; there must be enough gain to outweigh the pain. The main problem is that you need to be able to get his stuff out of your space and out of your mind. You need to trust a) he got it, and b) he'll handle it. The former can be handled as you suggest - a box. The latter is when it gets interesting. What is the agreement around responsibility for incoming stuff? Is it yours or his? If yours, and it's impacting the operation of the family - clogging the system, as you put it - then it's time for a conversation.


  • Why not let the person's inbox simply fill up, and try to ignore it? It'll eventually reach a limit, and he or she must deal with it. Let him or her deal with it, say by boxing it up as you do. Why should it be your problem?
  • What about using natural consequences? If the person's work is falling behind, something will result, usually unpleasant. A bill not getting paid means nasty letter, and eventually losing services. A phone call not returned means a missed medical appointment. A ticket not paid means a bigger fine, and eventually losing the car. Etc. My colleage says "Don't own the problem."

Let's keep talking.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

A few months ago, there was a thread on GTD Forums from a woman trying to use GTD to get her laundry done at home. It turned out that this wasn't a GTD problem, it was a husband problem: they'd agreed to a sensible, GTD-based system of collection buckets and processes, but he wasn't doing the work he'd agreed to do. She perpetuated the dysfunction of the system by enabling his non-participation: in her exasperation, she kept doing his laundry for him. GTD wasn't going to save this situation (some commentors were particularly brutal in pointing this out).

It might pay for you to use GTD to more efficiently deal with the consequences of non-participation by your ... family member. As the system breaks down, it generates work; at least get that work done as efficiently as possible. But you might look outside work flow solutions to get at the underlying problems.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan Owen

For now, filling the inbox seems to be working, and the only natural consequence is that piles of stuff keep collecting. Issues with more dire consequences are somehow plucked from that inbox with a methodology that I don't want to contemplate.

I think that part of the issue is that I am at home all day, so my work environment, and my entire environment for the most part, is here. However, other members of the family go about their business elsewhere, so stuff piling up here doesn't impact them there. Like you said, there must be enough gain to outweigh the pain.

I've tried to reach into my past when I was a little better with the whole Zen/letting go thing and just let go of the stuff that isn't directly impacting me, and perhaps that combined with the inbox is the best solution. However, as your post, and Dan's above highlight, I'm certainly not the only person with this problem. Furthermore, we're talking about home issues now, but this is of course also applicable to the workplace.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrock Tice

As Matt so aptly pointed out, the pain of converting to an accountable system like GTD must be offset by the gain of using it. I think the underlying issue is the fact that for this person the gain is too little and the pain is too great.

If only I had the time to purge all of the piled-up stuff myself. One day, perhaps.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrock Tice

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