A common pain point in productivity is the Inbox. While I can say, “clear it regularly”, and I do, it can be difficult to do so for several reasons.

One may be a worry that you’d never see the task again. If it is in the Inbox, you may rationalize, at least it will stay where it can be seen. Unfortunately, this is a problematic workflow that creates clutter. The Inbox grows large and unwieldy. Important matters get lost. Eventually, you must still rely on memory to think of what’s important. The Inbox, as a vital tool that could help you defer decision, decays and becomes useless.

But still, the worry of losing the task remains. It is a legitimate concern. What will happen to your tasks if you don’t see them?

With OmniFocus, tasks are whisked out of the Inbox by the settings you provide. Here you can see in the Organization tab of the preferences (Command-,), my own settings as the strictest available:

Organization Preferences - OmniFocus Inbox Settings

Organization Preferences – OmniFocus Inbox Settings

I want both the project and context assigned before OmniFocus takes it from the Inbox.

While these are important, you may still wonder if you would see the task again. Either the project or the context may be ones that are themselves overflowing, used more as storage tanks than working lists, or they are rarely looked at. Also, OmniFocus places these cleaned up tasks at the end of any project, after the set of tasks already there. This may not make sense in the context of the project.

Ok great, so does that mean we now have to go to the project and work through every bit and detail there? Doing so would derail us from clearing the Inbox. A useful principle when clearing the Inbox is to do things that take 2 minutes or less and only address items that take longer than 2 minutes. Starting to go through a project could quite easily take longer than 2 minutes, if not tens of minutes depending on the complexity of the project.

Well, isn’t this getting more complicated? You might shrug and return to the original, let’s-just-leave-things-in-the-Inbox method. But there is a reasonable way to handle this:

Actively adjust and use the Review date and frequency.

While clearing a task in the Inbox:

  • Assign a reasonable project and context.
  • Before clearing it, consider, “Do I trust that I will see this when and where I need to?”
  • If not, open the project to which it is being assigned (Command-o).

The task will now be waiting for you at the bottom of that project.

  • Select the project title.
  • Enter the inspector (Option-Command-i).
  • Set the review date and frequency:

You could, for example, set the review date for today. It may seem that you are only passing the buck of reviewing the project to your future self. That is because you are. The point is to set the work of reviewing the project aside while you complete the work of processing the Inbox.

When you are done processing the Inbox, you can then decide what to do next.

There is, of course, a major matter that remains: actively doing your reviews. You can see how the habits of clearing the Inbox and the projects awaiting review interrelate. It is difficult to rely on one habit without doing the other. But when you are able to do both, you can find a much smoother process to either.

Review is all about trusting that you will see something when and where you want to see it. That is one of the prime reasons why review is the heart of a solid system.

On the iOS versions of OmniFocus, you can even see the number of items waiting in the Inbox and up for Review.

iOS OmniFocus Homescreen - from OmniFocs 3 beta

iOS OmniFocus Homescreen – from OmniFocs 3 beta

If you can bring these down to zero daily, you will be much more able to set things aside reliably, focus, and get to the play and work you want to.