An Inbox is integral to any solid task system. Whether we decide to use a piece of paper for a single session of work or a task manager to orchestrate many sessions, we need some way to set thoughts aside while focused. There are several important properties of an Inbox are that it:
- Can be called quickly,
- Will remain until dismissed, and
- Can be sent away quickly.
When we can call it quickly, ideas can be written without fuss. When it stays until dismissed, we can better settle with the sense of having addressed the interruption. When we can move it out of the away quickly, we can reduce a tendency to be distracted by whatever we’ve put in it. Together, these properties allow us to field interruptions, whether they come from our own ideas or from outside demands while we maintain a chosen focus.
Problematic Inbox Use
However, we can still use an Inbox problematically by assigning a task more characteristics than are necessary to simply setting a thought aside. For example, while I work on Project X, an idea comes to mind about checking on a file upload I had started earlier. I might then write, “Check on file upload”, assign it to its own project “Build Flying Saucer” and also assign it a context “@Laptop”. I then decide if that is enough information for me to see the task when and where it would useful to be seen. Perhaps I add a defer date, due date, or flag, too. While it may seem that I am saving future Inbox processing time, I am actually creating several avoidable problems such as:
- Focusing too much on the interrupting idea, while my chosen focus falls to the side. Since I am effectively skipping the Inbox, I will not see the task until I encounter it through the system, so focus on how and when it will appear becomes important.
- Incorrectly filing the idea, and then really need to derail myself from my current work to address it.
- Incorrectly filing the idea and not realize I had done so, thereby missing it later.
Simpler Inbox Use
A better way to handle an interruption is to simply add the idea to the Inbox without assigning it any characteristics. That way I can focus on processing it later as its own session. For example, just writing “Check on file upload for flying saucer” in the Inbox is enough. Not assigning a project is particularly important when a default context is assigned to its project, and the clean up process will whisk it away. Later, when processing the Inbox, I could just take care of a task if it takes 2 minutes or less. If it might take longer, I could now deliberately focus on how I wanted it to show up in my system. The session is dedicated to processing the Inbox.
Experimenting with Quick Entry Settings
I’ve been experimenting with a few settings of both the Quick Entry and Inbox to streamline their use and have listed them below. I should point out that I use not only OmniFocus’ Inbox, but others as well such as a sheet of paper for certain types of sessions.
The Quick Entry guides me to only enter what is necessary for now. The Quick Entry is simply presented, prompting me only for the task’s title and contact. The project, defer date, due date, flag, and note fields are conspicuously absent. If I truly need to add a flag, I can use my key combination (Shift-Command-L) or if I need to add a note, I can use (Command-’). This way, the task will not be automatically whisked off to projects that have a default context assigned. It is deliberately held in the Inbox for later processing as its own session. To set your own Quick Entry appearance:
- Open the Quick Entry panel (I use the default key combination Control-Option-Space)
- Select the Eye icon in the bottom left corner:
Which reveals the following:
My settings are noted above.
Legacy vs Default Behavior
Secondly, I prefer to use the legacy behavior of the Inbox from OmniFocus 1. In OmniFocus 2, the Inbox disappears by typing Return. However, I often have several ideas at once, and I would like the Quick Entry Inbox to remain until I am done with it. If you would like to use legacy behavior, enter the following code into Safari:
For any setting changed via URL, you can revert to the default value by omitting a value entirely, like this:
In legacy behavior mode, the following entry methods work:
- (Return) ends task editing. (Return) again creates a new task.
- (Control-Return) makes a new task immediately below the currently edited one.
- (Shift-Return) creates a new task above the current one
When done entering tasks,
- Use the clean up command (Command-k).
Inbox on OS X
When I process the Inbox, I do so as a dedicated session. I would like to have all resources available. Therefore, I use a fuller set of the preferences to show all major components by opening the inspector (Option-Command-i) as well as having more components available inline:
The settings can be accessed via (Shift-Command-v). Here are my own:
Certainly, these are not the only settings possible or potentially useful to you. But the idea remains the same. The Inbox should be:
- Easy to get to
- Easy to keep in place until dismissed
- Easy to remove from sight
- Easy to process as its own session of work
- Note that this sort of coding into Safari is not officially supported by the Omni Group, nor myself. ↩
- I use Keyboard Maestro to hold onto these sorts of codes I’ve gathered:
That way, I just toggle between the modes using the key command Shift-Control-c, and then a number key, as noted above.