I think that I must be handling things differently, because I'm having trouble figuring out why it would be hard to regularly get to an empty physical Inbox. I suspect that the difference is that I don't have high standards for "processing" at that level - to me, all I'm doing is processing the task from a physical object to a line in the GTD system. I'm just adding a tiny bit of structure; all the real thinking is yet to come.
- If my Inbox contains a brochure for a conference that I may or may not want to go to, I wouldn't think about that decision when processing. Instead, I'd enter an action in my single-action list of "Think about whether to go to Conference X" or, if I already anticipate that that decision will involve asking some people and doing some research, I'd enter an action of "Create a project for deciding whether to go to Conference X", with a Due Date that's a reasonable amount of time before the conference, and I'd drop the brochure in the "to be filed' stack, and that item would be processed in fifteen seconds or so - longer if I have a paper system, but not that much longer. If I have fourteen brochures for conferences, I'd enter a similar action, "Crate a project for going through conference possibilities," stuff the brochures into a folder, and dump that folder in 'to be filed'. If I'm afraid that I'll file it somewhere unfindable when I get around to filing, I may add to the action "filed under Conferences", and slap a Postit on the brochure or folder, "File: Conferences."
- If I find a Postit saying, "Meet with Fred about X", I'll just transcribe that into the single-action list: "Schedule meeting with Fred about X." I won't actually do the scheduling, or think about whether the meeting should have other attendees, or do any other thinking.
- If there's a recipe for chocolate fudge cake in the Inbox because I've been looking for a particular recipe that I remember from the past and I think this might be it, I'll (1) write the date on it, (2) slap a "File: Recipes" Postit on it, (3) drop it in "to be filed" and (4) write a single-action line, "Create a project to test fudge cake recipe, dated 3/19/12, filed in Recipes."
- If there's a recipe for Snickerdoodles in the Inbox and I simply can't remember why, I'll do the same thing but the action will be, "Figure out why I care about Snickerdoodle recipe, dated 3/19/12, filed in Recipes."
- If there's a credit card bill, I'll toss it in the Bill Stack and enter an item "Pay Visa" with an appropriate Due Date.
- If there's a seed catalog, I'll file it in "Seed Catalogs" and enter an item, "Look over 2012 Johnny's catalog."
So, again, no thought, no work, all I'm doing is transforming the physical object into a line in the system. I realize that this means that most of those items will need work when I get to them, but I find it much easier to work with a bunch of lines that are all in the same system, rather than trying to do actual thinking about a bunch of mismatched papers. And if I slap on a Due Date when appropriate as I enter the item in the system, then there's less nervousness about what I might be missing.
One could also argue that I'm wasting a lot of time filing and unfiling items when I could have made a decision immediately. I counter with the idea that a lot of these items are going to expire un-done - for example, I may never get to that Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog. If I don't, then it would have been more efficient to have it tucked away in the Catalogs folder than to shuffle past it over and over if I left it in the Inbox. And it may be eighteen months before I get to that Fudge Cake recipe; if it's filed, then the action will sit harmlessly in Someday/Maybe for that eighteen months, rather than the slip of paper itself annoying me all that time in the Inbox.