Implementing GTD using Multiple Inboxes for Gmail

This post is an exploration of using Gmails new “Multiple Inboxes” Labs app to implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done system of personal productivity.

Gmail Labs just rolled out a new gem for gmail users and I had the inspiration to use this as a supplement to the online side of my personal GTD system. I use Gmail for all my email and organize all of my business around a detailed labeling practice. Multiple Inboxes sparked an opportunity to refine my system.

Ok, this one gets a little dicey for GTD purists so bear with me.

I know the holy grail for GTD masters is the fabled ‘inbox zero’ at the end of the day and especially at the end of the week. I am personally a big fan and adherent of this principle of GTD so why on earth would I want more inboxes!!??

The first thing you have to do to use Multiple Inboxes for GTD is forget that the name is “Multiple Inboxes.”

Think of these as, Multiple folder dashboards or something. The goal is still (and always is)inbox zero for the real inbox.

I am currently practicing using Gmail tasks as my GTD action Items with mixed results. Gmail tasks are easy to use, but they exist outside my email workflow and thus require additional energy to maintain integration. I just moved off of Things for mac and iPhone, and may actually move back (though things is technically a workflow breaker as well.)

So back to Multiple Inboxes.

Since most of my “follow-up” actions are email related, I set up one additional “inbox” to show my “status=follow up” emails. I have a label S/ FollowUp that I automatically tag to anything that needs further action in the future without a definite date. It’s like an ongoing tickler file, somewhere between someday/maybe and action.

This status label is very important to my work as a freelancer, where I often get referrals or send out bids to clients and will benefit from following up with them at a future date.

So here is the tricky part I ran into, how to get the content you want into the new “inbox.” There are no real instructions for this as Multiple Inboxes is a labs feature and not yet fully supported.

I tried inputing “Label: S/ FollowUp” in the field for the additional box, the name of the desired label as it appears to me and it didn’t work. There is a little syntax thing that happens in Gmail labels that can hang you up here.

Click on the label you want in the extra box. This will bring up all the emails with that label. Notice in the search box the way the label is displayed. For me “S/ FollowUp” becomes “S–FollowUp.

Copy/paste this tag into the Multiple Inbox field and your new box will show all the content with that label. I set the Extra Panel Positioning to be “below the inbox” so it is less of a distraction when I am working. Save the changes and refresh your browser.

If you are using the same system as I do, you will see a new box below your inbox with all the messages you have tagged for follow up. On daily review you can skim these and respond to any that are timely.

This system is brand new to me so I am still reviewing it for effectiveness. Let me know If you have any suggestions or innovations using Multiple Inboxes.

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Implementing GTD using Multiple Inboxes for Gmail

4 Responses

  1. For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version is available too.

    dannielo February 19, 2009 at 12:23 am #
  2. I too started using MIs w/GTD. To be honest GTD with Gmail was not working out well for me. I needed one place that I could consolidate and view all items that require or might later require action.

    I currently am keeping the #/Next Action & #/Action (I changed the “S/” to “#/” so that it would float to the to of the tags list) tagged items in separate inboxes above the default inbox. With the exception of MI getting pretty dicey when operated in offline mode, it’s working like a charm. Anyone who is using the gmail GTD should give MIs a look.

    Kevin Reifel April 22, 2009 at 8:32 am #
  3. Oh great trick on using “#/” to keep it at the top. thanks for sharing that.


    Casey April 22, 2009 at 10:58 am #
  4. Man, it’s just good to be able to hear from the players again, I was an original Randy supporter, but I still don’t know what he was doing! We are not rebuilding, we have some very, very good players already, this guy being one of them. I am currently feeling Brother Golden, seems to understand what the heck he’s doing! Go Canes!

    Stacia Scozzafava December 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

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