Merlin Mann’s Back to Work podcast recently did a five-part series on GTD (starting with episode 95); good to have an excuse to think about that again, to have my eyes opened to ways in which I can improve my GTD practice.

One thing which particularly struck me while listening to the series was the discussion of inboxes, starting about 40 minutes into episode 98. That’s something that I think I’m okay at on a personal level, but I have more trouble with at a team level. And actually, at work, I have more trouble with it at a personal level, too—bug trackers are as likely to hinder inbox clarity as help it, and work involves multiple people with different roles and different positions in the hierarchy. That makes GTD in general more delicate than my personal GTD system, and inboxes are one place where those sorts of tensions get particularly exposed.

Which maybe makes GTD ideal for work environments! Because honestly identifying and focusing on your commitments is even more important in situations involving multiple people than situations involving single people, and it’s way too easy to sweep that sort of thing under the rug. So probably GTD’s tools are particularly important: just being clear about what your inboxes are and what an inbox means (in particular, that an item being in an inbox absolutely does not equal making a commitment to it), for one, but also weekly reviews.

Thinking about a team situation, too, there is the question: what are our team inboxes versus our work inboxes, who is putting stuff into them, who is processing them? One of my pet peeves about our Jira usage is that we’re doing it in a way that encourages individual inboxes; Jira encourages individual inboxes but does not require them, so I’m trying to experiment with a team inbox there. We’ll see how that goes; the experiment has just started, so who knows how it will turn out.

I’m optimistic that we’ll come up with a good framework for thinking about these sorts of issues at work. (On which note: I’m glad I just read Clear Leadership, in particular the concept of “interpersonal mush” that it identifies seems like a useful one to have available.) And it’s not like we have to invent solutions from scratch: aside from GTD, various agile methodologies all address the issue of inboxes and commitments in their own way, and kanban in particular puts it front and center.

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