Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Gene's empty inbox epiphany

A few weeks ago, I shared my GTD Odyssey in an effort to share some of the things I've learned whilst I've tried to tackle Getting Things Done. Based on some of the public and private responses I've received, it seems that I've struck a nerve (in a good way) with some of the things I've shared.

Today, I'd like to share a guest post from a friend of mine, Gene Kim, regarding his "epiphany" following that series, along with some live prodding/coaching from me. Gene and I work together and share an office, so we get to compare notes on GTD on the rare occasions when we are both in the office at the same time. By the way, it was Gene that first told me about Getting Things Done about 4 years ago.

Anyway, here is Gene's story:

I read Dwayne's article about having sustained a state of an empty inbox for weeks with some disbelief and awe, as well as some small bit of inspiration. Why? Having worked with Dwayne for over six years, I have some long buried memories of getting together once every couple of weeks, trying to figure out how to get David Allen's GTD to actually work for us.

A history of trying in earnest

How serious have I been trying to achieve the state that Dwayne mentioned? I actually have screenshots of the 11 times I've actually achieved the nirvana of an actually empty inbox in the past six years that I've been trying.

Incidentally, those rare dates were:

  • 2003
    • Jan 4
  • 2004
    • Jun 6
    • Oct 1, 5, 18, 20
    • Nov 14
  • 2005
    • Jan 12
    • Jun 17
  • 2006
    • Oct 31
    • Nov 1

The epiphany begins

But two weeks ago, after reading Dwayne's article, watching him work, and then getting five minutes of having him watch me work, I finally have an empty inbox. And I have one again today. Two days in a row was a first for me. And, maybe more importantly, I've been able to get my inbox to empty every day for the last two weeks. (This morning is my one exception, due to being sick. But, I know with complete confidence that I'll be there by noon today.)

What makes is remarkable is that I've tried before, but have always quickly fallen off the wagon, and it's been over 17 months since I've had an empty inbox.

Is it that I haven't gotten help before? No. I've tried David Allen seminars, many of David Allen's telecoaching sessions, countless attempts to find software programs to help track TODOs, etc.

What's different?

But, here's what's different: I'm confident that I can keep my inbox empty and stay focused on the things I need to do. I don't have any anxiety of piling things into my TODO folder, feeling like I'm just burying the tasks where I can't see them, and therefore am "cheating" to get my inbox to empty.

Instead, I've found that using the "start bugging me" dates and the clear daily tasks view helps me two things:

  • Quickly generate a small list of tasks that I can stay focused on and confidently and quickly complete
  • Easily defer and snooze tasks to the future, knowing that they will come back, but until then, stay completely invisible

I'm a little surprised at how easy and elegant these key principles of the TWC practice are. But, let me tell you, I suspect that months from now, I'll not only have an empty inbox, but I'll be able to look back to yesterday and see a clear before and after of how I did work.

It can be done, and it's far less work than I ever thought it would be. Are there some other things I'm doing differently? A couple. For me, the most difficult part of "getting to empty" is when I'm down to a handful of messages, and I can't figure out how to get them "unstuck." I've found that in most cases, it's because I need help pulling together the next step, or that I don't have all the information. The remedy is often to pull together a 15 minute meeting to make the decision, or to ask someone else to pull all the relevant information together.

And lastly, let me proudly show off my empty inbox.

Thanks for sharing, Gene. It's been a fun journey.