The definition/purpose of the inbox is intended to be what David Allen describes in “Getting Things Done”:  a quick place to collect ideas, thoughts, tasks, etc so that we can get them out of our head and immediately into a “trusted system” for you to process later.   

Once something gets dumped into the inbox, at some point, the inbox must be reviewed so that you can fully process each item.  The “thing” that you put into your inbox may not be a fully formed thought or even a single task - it’s just a thought that you had to get out of your head.  Ultimately, there are a few high-level categories that this “thing” might fall into:

  • It might be a single task that will take 2 minutes or less to complete…in which case, David Allen says to just do it right now and get it off your plate.  No more processing or categorization is necessary.
  • It might be a single one-off task that is not connected to a project, but it will take more than two minutes to complete.  For those types of tasks, many people use a single “Miscellaneous” project that is set to be a “single-action” project…the tasks in there are one-off tasks that are not related to each other at all.  If you previously were leaving tasks in the inbox and merely assigning a context to them - they probably fall into this category.
  • The thing you put into your inbox might actually be a full project…meaning it will take several steps to complete.  In those cases, you can use the PI feature to convert that item to a project and then start filling that project up with the individual tasks it will take to complete that project
  • The thing you put into your inbox might belong to an existing project or the first task in a new project that you need to now create.

The goal of the inbox is simply a place to collect thoughts, but then you ultimately need to get things out of the inbox so that you have a clear sense of what is a processed thought and what isn’t.  Contexts are a useful way to group together tasks that need to be done in the same time/place, but it doesn’t indicate that we’ve completely processed the task (we still don’t know if the task is a project, part of a project, a one-off task, etc).   

During the development of Pocket Informant for iOS (around version 3), we amended the behavior of the inbox to no longer show tasks that had contexts assigned to them - this allowed you to use the inbox as a de-facto single-action task project.  Internally, we still always considered the task to be "in" the inbox (as evidenced by the fact that the “project” line on the task itself still said inbox), we simply stopped showing it when you selected the inbox in the Tasks tab so that you could delineate between tasks you "sort of" processed and ones that you hadn't.  We ultimately felt like this really muddied the waters, however, and we are now returning to our original inbox behavior to more closely adhere to GTD principles.  This behavior will also be reflected on the mobile version of PI when the next update is released.

If you’ve been relying on the past behavior of a task disappearing from the inbox when you asking a context, then there are a couple ways to manage that:

  1. Create a smart filter to find tasks that are in the inbox but that have no context.  This can be your new "inbox" that you operate out of.
  2. Create a single-action “miscellaneous” project and move your one-off tasks into that project to get them out of the standard inbox.