GTD Question: Why Can’t I Just Clarify What I Feel Like?

3 min readSep 22, 2021

I usually ask FacileThings users who quit the app what was the reason that led them to do so. Sometimes it’s due to external issues, but many times the answers allow us to improve certain things, not only at a technical or user experience level, but also at an informative and educational level.

Here is one of the most common reasons for novice users. This is a real email, although somewhat summarized. I think it may be interesting for anyone who’s feeling frustrated for the same reason:

“The main reason I haven’t used my account lately is that I don’t have the time to do so. I do feel that the concept and the app are great, and it seems that the site and the app are growing in a creative way. However, I don’t enjoy the system of adding items to the inbox.
For example: If I’m in a meeting and I have 4 ideas, I can add them quickly, but I can’t process them just as quickly. Later I have some time and I want to develop one of those 4 ideas, a new project, but I don’t want to process the other elements in that window of time. I have thoughts and ideas that I need or want to get out now for that particular project.
It bothers me that I can’t go directly to that item in the inbox, process that idea, and come back to the others when I have more time. Why isn’t it possible to do this in FacileThings?”

What leads to this problem is the thought that the GTD inbox is a place where you deposit things to then choose which one you want to process. And it’s normal, that’s what most people who aren’t familiar with GTD do. It’s also something really difficult to unlearn when you start implementing this method.

David Allen’s instructions on inbox processing are as follows:

  • Process the first item first.
  • Process one item at a time.
  • Never put anything back in.
  • Empty the inbox completely.

In other words, processing/clarifying means emptying your inbox in no specific order. Says David Allen, “as soon as you break the rule and process only what you feel like processing, and in whatever order, you will invariably start leaving things unprocessed. Then you will no longer have a functional input system.” This is why we don’t allow our users to choose what they want to process.

Normally, when someone feels that they don’t have time to carry out the organizational tasks required by the method, it’s usually because they are not implementing any of the workflow steps correctly, and this always generates friction. It’s assumed that the time spent defining and organizing your work will eventually save you time, but this does not become apparent until the whole machinery is well oiled.

In the case of this user, it’s the reluctance to clarify what keeps him from realizing the final benefit.

Actually, if you think about it, this reluctance doesn’t make much sense: Processing each item can take anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes. If you have 10 items to process, you will only need to spend about 5 minutes emptying your inbox, and as a result you will have a fully updated and functional system!

If you could choose which items to process, you would always have some items well organized and the rest in the air. To be half-organized is to be poorly organized.

The only thing you need to do to make sure that Clarifying is not an obstacle is to not let too many items accumulate in the inbox, i.e., you need to clarify as often as is appropriate to your volume of activity.

In the example mentioned by this user, it doesn’t matter that the third item in the inbox belongs to the project you want to develop right now, because you will always process all the items. You process the first item (20 seconds, for example), you process the second item (another 30 seconds) and, finally, you process the third item, where you create the new project and incorporate all the ideas you have about it. Okay, first you had to process a couple of things you didn’t want to, but now everything is well organized and you won’t procrastinate on those tasks.

Originally published at