Getting Things Done - GTD

GTD Question: Why Can’t I Just Clarify What I Feel Like?

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez Tags Practical GTD Clarify Work-flow
“Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now.” ~ David Allen

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Clarify what i feel like

I usually ask FacileThings users who quit the app what was the reason that led them to do so. Sometimes it’s due to external issues, but many times the answers allow us to improve certain things, not only at a technical or user experience level, but also at an informative and educational level.

Here is one of the most common reasons for novice users. This is a real email, although somewhat summarized. I think it may be interesting for anyone who’s feeling frustrated for the same reason:

“The main reason I haven’t used my account lately is that I don’t have the time to do so. I do feel that the concept and the app are great, and it seems that the site and the app are growing in a creative way. However, I don’t enjoy the system of adding items to the inbox.
For example: If I’m in a meeting and I have 4 ideas, I can add them quickly, but I can’t process them just as quickly. Later I have some time and I want to develop one of those 4 ideas, a new project, but I don’t want to process the other elements in that window of time. I have thoughts and ideas that I need or want to get out now for that particular project.
It bothers me that I can’t go directly to that item in the inbox, process that idea, and come back to the others when I have more time. Why isn’t it possible to do this in FacileThings?”

What leads to this problem is the thought that the GTD inbox is a place where you deposit things to then choose which one you want to process. And it’s normal, that’s what most people who aren’t familiar with GTD do. It’s also something really difficult to unlearn when you start implementing this method.

David Allen’s instructions on inbox processing are as follows:

  • Process the first item first.
  • Process one item at a time.
  • Never put anything back in.
  • Empty the inbox completely.

In other words, processing/clarifying means emptying your inbox in no specific order. Says David Allen, “as soon as you break the rule and process only what you feel like processing, and in whatever order, you will invariably start leaving things unprocessed. Then you will no longer have a functional input system.” This is why we don’t allow our users to choose what they want to process.

Normally, when someone feels that they don’t have time to carry out the organizational tasks required by the method, it’s usually because they are not implementing any of the workflow steps correctly, and this always generates friction. It’s assumed that the time spent defining and organizing your work will eventually save you time, but this does not become apparent until the whole machinery is well oiled.

In the case of this user, it’s the reluctance to clarify what keeps him from realizing the final benefit.

Actually, if you think about it, this reluctance doesn’t make much sense: Processing each item can take anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes. If you have 10 items to process, you will only need to spend about 5 minutes emptying your inbox, and as a result you will have a fully updated and functional system!

If you could choose which items to process, you would always have some items well organized and the rest in the air. To be half-organized is to be poorly organized.

The only thing you need to do to make sure that Clarifying is not an obstacle is to not let too many items accumulate in the inbox, i.e., you need to clarify as often as is appropriate to your volume of activity.

In the example mentioned by this user, it doesn’t matter that the third item in the inbox belongs to the project you want to develop right now, because you will always process all the items. You process the first item (20 seconds, for example), you process the second item (another 30 seconds) and, finally, you process the third item, where you create the new project and incorporate all the ideas you have about it. Okay, first you had to process a couple of things you didn’t want to, but now everything is well organized and you won’t procrastinate on those tasks.

Beard avatar
Francisco Sáez
@franciscojsaez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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7 comments

1af2c1e26e823f724cbfc58ae0cb6145
Commented 2 months ago Almut

Hi dear facileThings-team,
yes, I also belong to those people, who did not continue FT although I did like this piece of software. There are two reasons: The first one is disussed in today's newletter: the use of the inbox. I can follow your argumentation about what David Allen says about how to use the inbox. At the same time there is one aspect, that sounds absolute ineffecient to me. When I am working on something / project, etc. I often want to ad an aspect or idea BECAUSE i am WORKING on this issue. Because of that , I want to be able to add items / aspects directly to the project. And NOT to the inbox. It is like doing the preparations for the taxes: When I find a receipt I want to be able to put it directly into the folder, where it belongs to. It sounds stupid to put in into an inbox together with other stuff and having to process it for a second time when I have time to process the inbox. While holding a receipt in my hands I want to be able to put it directly into the folder where it belongs to. David Allen refers to this als the two-minute-rule. Yes, actually your view about using the inbox sounds far too strict to me and doesn't give enough space. This strictness creates a bottle-neck which seems to be not neccessarly. There should be space enough to sort in things directly to the place where they belong to. I will have to deal and process them anyway in a depth while I am doing my review.

The second aspect for me refers to the decision of using the cloud: I am working without any internet connection for longer periods of time. I can't make sure of having a permanent internet connection and access to the cloud. With this circumstance I suddenly have a system I cannot trust. And as David Allen said: I don't use a system I cannot trust / rely on deep from my heart.

It's a true pity, because I deeply like and very much appreciate your approach of integrating the idea of "goals". This is what all the other pieces of software definitely lack.
Best wishes
Almut

1af2c1e26e823f724cbfc58ae0cb6145 Almut

Hi dear facileThings-team,
yes, I also belong to those people, who did not continue FT although I did like this piece of software. There are two reasons: The first one is disussed in today's newletter: the use of the inbox. I can follow your argumentation about what David Allen says about how to use the inbox. At the same time there is one aspect, that sounds absolute ineffecient to me. When I am working on something / project, etc. I often want to ad an aspect or idea BECAUSE i am WORKING on this issue. Because of that , I want to be able to add items / aspects directly to the project. And NOT to the inbox. It is like doing the preparations for the taxes: When I find a receipt I want to be able to put it directly into the folder, where it belongs to. It sounds stupid to put in into an inbox together with other stuff and having to process it for a second time when I have time to process the inbox. While holding a receipt in my hands I want to be able to put it directly into the folder where it belongs to. David Allen refers to this als the two-minute-rule. Yes, actually your view about using the inbox sounds far too strict to me and doesn't give enough space. This strictness creates a bottle-neck which seems to be not neccessarly. There should be space enough to sort in things directly to the place where they belong to. I will have to deal and process them anyway in a depth while I am doing my review.

The second aspect for me refers to the decision of using the cloud: I am working without any internet connection for longer periods of time. I can't make sure of having a permanent internet connection and access to the cloud. With this circumstance I suddenly have a system I cannot trust. And as David Allen said: I don't use a system I cannot trust / rely on deep from my heart.

It's a true pity, because I deeply like and very much appreciate your approach of integrating the idea of "goals". This is what all the other pieces of software definitely lack.
Best wishes
Almut

A8749a1365e4bb10e1919fa38498a874
Commented 2 months ago Leonid Broude

Hello.
I solved (for myself) exactly this problem by adding a new item (which I would handle without processing all the other items) - to my calendar instead of the inbox.. Then I process it as a new calendar item...

A8749a1365e4bb10e1919fa38498a874 Leonid Broude

Hello.
I solved (for myself) exactly this problem by adding a new item (which I would handle without processing all the other items) - to my calendar instead of the inbox.. Then I process it as a new calendar item...

4c8a9bec5a27b66b28d3c5cddeb70e93
Commented 2 months ago J

I am confused about the first comment on this post - why couldn't you open the Project directly, and add in all the steps (brain dump) that you can think of for that Project using the Add Action button?

To expand and tie-in to this blog post, if you have 3 things to clarify, you clarify all 3, and in the process, create the new Project as needed for one of the Next Actions. Then go to the Project, brain dump out any steps using the Add Action, and re-order the steps as needed. And, if in the future you come up with more steps, you can either add them in the "normal way" of Capture/Clarify, or just open the Project again and use the Add Action button directly.

4c8a9bec5a27b66b28d3c5cddeb70e93 J

I am confused about the first comment on this post - why couldn't you open the Project directly, and add in all the steps (brain dump) that you can think of for that Project using the Add Action button?

To expand and tie-in to this blog post, if you have 3 things to clarify, you clarify all 3, and in the process, create the new Project as needed for one of the Next Actions. Then go to the Project, brain dump out any steps using the Add Action, and re-order the steps as needed. And, if in the future you come up with more steps, you can either add them in the "normal way" of Capture/Clarify, or just open the Project again and use the Add Action button directly.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented 2 months ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Almut,

All of my discussion in this article is only about the common bad practice of processing only the things you feel like doing, without emptying the inbox. The case you mention is completely different.

If you are working on a project, you are not clarifying. You are doing. And part of your work in a project consists of identifying new actions, adding relevant information, and reorganizing the materials to achieve the result in the best possible way. Therefore it is perfectly valid to capture things in the project and organize them altogether; you don't need to stop working on the project to capture stuff in the inbox that you'll need to clarify later (in fact, FacileThings lets you add tasks to a project and organize them when you're working on the project).

As for the issue of having everything in the cloud, you are absolutely right. If you are someone who does a lot of your work without an Internet connection, an application like FacileThings is currently not the best choice. We plan to add an offline-work system in the future, but it will still take a while. I am very sorry for the inconvenience.

Thank you so much for sharing your point of view!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Almut,

All of my discussion in this article is only about the common bad practice of processing only the things you feel like doing, without emptying the inbox. The case you mention is completely different.

If you are working on a project, you are not clarifying. You are doing. And part of your work in a project consists of identifying new actions, adding relevant information, and reorganizing the materials to achieve the result in the best possible way. Therefore it is perfectly valid to capture things in the project and organize them altogether; you don't need to stop working on the project to capture stuff in the inbox that you'll need to clarify later (in fact, FacileThings lets you add tasks to a project and organize them when you're working on the project).

As for the issue of having everything in the cloud, you are absolutely right. If you are someone who does a lot of your work without an Internet connection, an application like FacileThings is currently not the best choice. We plan to add an offline-work system in the future, but it will still take a while. I am very sorry for the inconvenience.

Thank you so much for sharing your point of view!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented 2 months ago Francisco Sáez

Hello J,

Of course, when you are working on a project, you can add all the actions you need.

As I was saying to Almut, the stage of "clarifying" should not be confused with that of "doing." If you are clarifying, you must process everything you have in the inbox until it's empty, regardless of the project to which each of the items belongs. But if you are working on a specific project, there is no problem.

You must not mix the two stages.

If you are clarifying and feel the urge to reorganize a project, you simply have to capture that need and process it. You can work on it immediately after clarifying or at any other time.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hello J,

Of course, when you are working on a project, you can add all the actions you need.

As I was saying to Almut, the stage of "clarifying" should not be confused with that of "doing." If you are clarifying, you must process everything you have in the inbox until it's empty, regardless of the project to which each of the items belongs. But if you are working on a specific project, there is no problem.

You must not mix the two stages.

If you are clarifying and feel the urge to reorganize a project, you simply have to capture that need and process it. You can work on it immediately after clarifying or at any other time.

Da68fa77bdfcfd7ab8bd8e9f2d6c9bed
Commented 2 months ago Julian

I have to admit that when I started using FacileThings, I also wanted the ability to clarify the actions that I wanted to deal with immediately and leave others for later. In hindsight, this would have resulted in me leaving actions in the waiting-to-clarify pile and I'd have probably built up a backlog that would never get processed.

I also like the fact that the Engage page flags a notification if you leave items in the inbox for too long.

So the enforced workflow of FacileThings has actually been a good thing for me, once I got used to the idea and I think it's actually the right way to do it.

Da68fa77bdfcfd7ab8bd8e9f2d6c9bed Julian

I have to admit that when I started using FacileThings, I also wanted the ability to clarify the actions that I wanted to deal with immediately and leave others for later. In hindsight, this would have resulted in me leaving actions in the waiting-to-clarify pile and I'd have probably built up a backlog that would never get processed.

I also like the fact that the Engage page flags a notification if you leave items in the inbox for too long.

So the enforced workflow of FacileThings has actually been a good thing for me, once I got used to the idea and I think it's actually the right way to do it.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented 2 months ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Julian,

Yes, me too. I think we all have had a hard time accepting this concept because our brain prefers to do what it likes and it is difficult to impose discipline so as not to skip the "less important" things.

Thanks for sharing!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Julian,

Yes, me too. I think we all have had a hard time accepting this concept because our brain prefers to do what it likes and it is difficult to impose discipline so as not to skip the "less important" things.

Thanks for sharing!

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