Midnight Inbox: Zen and the Art of GTD

There are those, and you know who you are, who think of Getting Things Done as a religious experience. They spend the $48 per month on GTD|Connect, dutifully categorizing its teaching into its proper context. They will be caught saying the words, “What’s the next action?” on a frequent basis. Those folks will love the potential of Midnight Inbox, a Mac OS X-only application. If you’re like me and you’ve adopted a modified version of GTD that works in your daily flow but isn’t quite to the letter of the law may find Inbox’s rigid adherence to by-the-book GTD a bit daunting. I couldn’t imagine using this application if you haven’t read the book and already fully agree with every principle.

You know you’re in for a treat when you have an application with a “Two-minute Yak Timer” preference:

If you find that you have a short attention span, and would like a gentle reminder that you have things to get done, Inbox can be set to ask you if you’re doing what you should be every two-minutes.

Hey, I’m a Mom…isn’t that my job?

Inbox is 1.0.x new. The documentation is sparse and it crashed on my MacBook Pro twice. Assuming that the Midnightbeep folks will improve the stability of their code over time, I’ll move on…

The idea behind Inbox is that it considers all of your accumulated input from different sources as “Collections” waiting to be processed into GTD nirvana. A collection can be the files on your desktop, your email, calendar appointments, or any place that stuff tends to accumulate on your computer. The application prompts you to “process” those items on a set schedule (a big part of the GTD methodology), deciding if the item is actionable. If it is, you assign it to a project and context. Currently the application only looks at Apple’s Mail, iCal and Safari as well as regular text and documents. If you use any other email or calendar application, you won’t have a whole lot to process and your email will still pile up.

The interface is very Mac-like, clean and uncluttered. Soft colors and tranquil mood. There are a number of different views, depending on whether you are looking at a daily or longer term review, if you are in “Work” mode where your actions are grouped by context, or if you are in “Organize” mode where your actions are grouped by project.

Aside from the instability, I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t do obvious things like drag & drop items between projects or contexts, or right-click on an item for more choices. Processing requires you to step through each item that has been collected one at a time and make a decision on it. To me, this goes against a core tenant of GTD: touch each email only once. Inbox is not a mail-reading application. That mail message is in your inbox in Mail where you’ve presumably have already seen it. That’s where I want to deal with it…in Mail. If I have to go to Midnight Inbox to process it based solely on the subject line, I have to read it a second time to remind myself of the content so I can decide what to do with it. There is no option to get more than the subject line in Midnight Inbox. If you want to wait to make a decision on an item until you’ve processed other items, you’re out of luck. You have to process items sequentially. I would much rather have the option of clicking on the item and selecting “Process this” from a menu.

The Help document is more zen and theory than application support, and the “Online Support…” menu takes you to the main Midnightbeep website, with a link to a Google Group devoted to the app.

GTD-enthusiasts who use Apple Mail, iCal and Safari for everything will be this application’s early adopters. The rest of us may want to wait for version 2.0.


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