GTD and Inbox Zero

GTD and Inbox Zero – 5 years in: Getting Things Done and taming the flow of email

The combination of GTD and Inbox Zero is productivity on steroids. I have been doing this in just over five years. Here is what I have learned.


What is GTD?

Getting Things Done (2015)

First, let’s start with the basics. GTD is short for Getting Things Done. GTD is a system that helps you to get organized and stay productive.

The basic concept is that you have one or more places to capture all of your to-do items, ideas, and commitments and that all the things you capture should be gathered, organized and frequently reviewed.

The methodology was first introduced in the book Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity*, by David Allen in 2003. A revised version of this book was published in 2015.

To learn more about GTD, read the below blog posts.



Getting Things Done book

Getting Things Done (GTD) – What is it?

Getting Things Done is a productivity methodology described in the book Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, ...
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5 steps of GTD

The 5 steps of GTD and the tools I use in each step

Here I'll cover the 5 steps of GTD and the tools I use in each step. These five steps are ...
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What is Inbox Zero?

Inbox Zero is a methodology for keeping your email inbox empty, or close to empty, at all times. The term Inbox Zero was coined by Merlin Mann in the mid-2000.

My first blog post on Inbox Zero describes the method in more detail.

Inbox Zero – what is it?

Inbox Zero is a methodology for keeping your email inbox empty, or close to empty, at all times. It is ...
Read More


Why the combination of GTD and Inbox Zero is so powerful

When you combine eagerness and determination for keeping your inbox close to empty with a method of processing and categorizing information it creates a powerful dynamic. I never check email, I process email. I process my email between four to six times during my workday. When I open Outlook I have at least 10 minutes set off to deal with the content of my inbox.

I use Inbox Zero to force myself to go through step 2 and 3 in Getting Things Done.


Step 2: Clarify:
Find out what it means. Is this actionable? If no, trash it or file it. If yes, start by asking yourself what is the next action?


Step 3: Organize:
Get your items into the right list and set appropriate reminders.

For every email, I run through step 2. If the next action takes less than two minutes, I will do it right there and then. If it takes more than two minutes, I will go to step three.

Picture: Pixabay


Here is what I have learned after five years of GTD and Inbox Zero

Zero does not always equal 0

If I’m finding myself in an email tennis match, with messages going back and forth, those emails will stay in my inbox until the issue is resolved.


Short and to the point works best

Writing (and answering) in a clear language and focusing on only one or two issues makes it easier for all parties to process the email. This leads to more rapid decision making.


Take the time to unsubscribe on emails that you don’t want

Every day, I used to get a handful of newsletters or other emails that I would just delete, never taking the time to unsubscribe. I quickly found that unsubscribing would not only reduce the number of emails but also remove the unconscious irritation I got when I dealt with these disturbances.


It’s not only about handling the contents of the inbox

Managing your inbox close to zero using GTD and Inbox Zero is not only about sitting in front of your computer or smartphone. In the two blog posts below, I write a lot about how to manage vacations or other types of extended leave.

You can take some steps to limit the flow of email in your absence by taking proactive steps such as informing others or trying to eliminate potential issues before that happen. If you use autoreply to your advantage and set off some time dedicated to handling email just after you come back, this can make getting back to work a lot easier.

How to avoid working on your vacation

How to avoid working on your vacation

Taking time off can be a challenge. However, with some preparation and clear boundaries, you can avoid working on your ...
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to work after vacation

How to prepare yourself to get back to work after vacation

Going back to work can be hard. Here is how to avoid chaos and make the return to work after ...
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Having control of your inbox is contagious

When I first started combining GTD and Inbox Zero my colleagues were amazed by the low number of email in my inbox. After a while, some people started to ask questions about how and why. I think that I also came across as a tad more relaxed than before.


[bctt tweet=”GTD + Inbox Zero = Zen” username=”dandywl”]


People are noticing the difference

After maybe six months or so, I started to get feedback from people. They were thanking me for the quick and concise reply on their emails, saying that it just made things easier. I also feel that the combination of GTD and Inbox Zero have made a few people trust me more than they used to. I’m the guy who is always on top of my email thereby staying informed and involved in the current issues.


I feel more assured and relaxed

Knowing that there is nothing critical in my inbox make me less anxious. For me, email has changed from being something fluffy and uncomfortable to be an area of control and mastery. The combination of GTD and Inbox Zero gives me total control of my life.



Disclosure: Links marked with * are affiliate links. This means that if you buy a product using this link, I may get a small commission. Book Depository has free worldwide shipping. I would never recommend a product without trying it and liking it myself.





  1. Hi Bjørn, nice article thanks!

    I understand you were previously using the combination of Todoist and Newton Mail as part of your GTD toolbox. Can you please recommend a replacement for Newton Mail now that they are closing up shop? It had great integration with Todoist – it’s sad (and annoying) to see them go.

    Thanks for your input. Best wishes,

      1. Thank you so much – I found it. I am also an IQTELL refugee and would like to minimise these productivity tool transitions. I have been reading and enjoying your blog since then. Keep up the great work!

        Kind regards,

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