The Getting Things Done methodology has an almost cult following, but generally trying to figure out the best way to manage our busy lives has an even larger following. Midnight Inbox is an application that helps you to get things done, very much inspired by the GTD methodology.
If you’re already a die-hard follower of this task management process, you’ll probably know immediately whether or not Midnight Inbox is for you. But what does a non-GTD’er think of this application? Read on to find out.
Midnight Inbox can be installed from the Midnight Beep website with relative ease. There is a free, full featured 14 day trial version that is available as well.
This is very welcome, as Midnight Inbox (“Inbox”) is a fairly complex piece of software. It’s certainly one of those that you’ll feel better about buying after you make sure it is for you.
Midnight Beep does something very helpful to help get you off the ground running. Inbox installs with a basic set of data – basically like you’re looking over the shoulder of someone else’s installation. There are a series of example tasks and other items that are very helpful to get an overview of how the application works.
Inbox is based heavily on the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. Coming from experience I will say that it is not essential to have a great understanding of GTD. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never even heard of it.
Inbox takes the GTD functionality and helps you work with that method in mind. You can actually set it to almost force you into that GTD process, making it a great choice for learning and practicing GTD.
Design & Interface
The GTD process for, well, getting things done, isn’t necessarily the simplest routine. Inbox has done a good job of designing an application that harnesses that methodology in a way that makes sense and works well.
The design is about as clean and organized as it could be. There’s a lot going, but once you explore the application for a few minutes it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The stock data the application comes installed with helps out considerably for getting a feel for everything.
The window is split into three main sections. First up, there is a navigation menu in the left side bar. This is the area that allows you to navigate through the software, housing the core aspects of the GTD methodology. All sections are expandable and use a nicely designed icon as well. The Collect icon will even change (the inbox will appear fuller as you add more items) depending on the number of items you have to deal with.
The main window is the area where you’ll see the items available in the current selection. For example, if you’re in the Work section you’ll a list of all of your Work projects and actionable tasks listed.
At the top of the application you’ll see something that looks like a timer. Here you’ll be able to kick off a timer while you’re working on a particular item (time frame can be defined per item). Inbox calls this the Yak Timer. You’ll get notified when the allotted time has expired and be presented with a couple of options to either tell it to leave you alone (for 20 minutes) or to give you another two minutes to complete what you’re working on.
The functionality falls right into the GTD methodology and is one aspect that can really force you into that process. The option can be turned off as well. It’s could easily be either an annoying or very helpful feature depending on how you look at it.
I’m certainly not an expert in the Getting Things Done method so please bear with me here, but I would say that Midnight Inbox does an excellent job of coaxing you through the actual process. Processing different actions and projects (which can be customized) and then allowing for regular review of your progress is at the core of what Inbox is designed to do.
I think the easiest way to demonstrate what Inbox does is to go through a basic example. A project can be set up to pull your Mail items into the application. There will be a corresponding process for that collection.
A process can then be run on that collection which will essentially work you through that collection and force you to act upon each item in some way. The end goal being to get your Inbox to zero, with every item being addressed.
When a process is activated, the processing window will appear. The processing will march you through the collection you’re processing one by one (it is also possible to process all items in all collections). You’ll be required to act upon each item in some way.
Within the processing window you’ll have the ability to view a preview of the item. If the Enable QuickLook option is checked a preview window will appear. If you’re taking action on an email you’ll see the email in the window. This is a very useful feature to make sure you’re fully aware of what you’re taking action on.
Complete In 2 Minutes
One concept of GTD is that if you can complete something in two minutes you should go ahead and take care of it right away. There is an option when processing that let’s you do this. You’ll see a two minute countdown timer with a button to mark the item as done. When clicked, processing will proceed to the next actionable item.
Create a Future Action
If an item can’t be taken care of immediately, it may need an action item created that can be worked on at a later time. This can be done right here and can also be assigned to a particular project, added to a new project or as a stand alone action item. Projects you have already created will be available in the drop down field
No Future Action Required
If the item that is being processed doesn’t require any future action, it can be disregarded and filed way in a particular area. If you’re processing your email messages you’ll no doubt run into messages that don’t require any action, so this is a helpful function to just flip through to the next item in the collection
Another core method with GTD is the need to regularly review your progress with your projects. This can be automated with Inbox, and custom reviews can be defined and assigned to projects and other items.
As with processing, I think the best way to illustrate how this works is to go through a couple of possible scenarios. You may have a large project defined that you are working your way though.
The due date could be months out, but you can set up a weekly review that will take you through all the action items associated with that project. You’ll be forced to either check an item as complete, or update the action settings. Either way you’re forced to act upon it.
Reminders can be set to let you know when it is time for a review. For example, if you have a weekly review set for a particular project, you’ll get a notification when a week has elapsed since your last review. It is also possible to run through a review of any project whenever you feel it is necessary.
Quick Note & Quick Action
In everyone’s work day, things will pop up suddenly – whether it be a thought or a new task. Sometimes we are in the middle of something else and don’t feel like completely stopping to organize that item.
Inbox has this covered with the ability to create a Quick Note or a Quick Action. Buttons for each are housed at the bottom of the application window. Clicking on a button will bring up a small dialog box that will allow you to quickly jot down a note or create an action item.
Notes will just appear as an item at the top of your Work list. Actions can be defined with a context (can also be customized), project and estimated time frame.
Inbox has a built in function to quickly clean up your Inbox. Archiving will clear out all of the completed projects out of your active Inbox.
The items can be saved in custom archives that can be referred back to if needed. It is nice to be able to clean up completed items but still have the ability to look back at them if the need arises. This function fits that bill perfectly.
Help and Documentation
Something that is often overlooked with applications is the educational aspect – making sure users actually understand how it works. Some apps obviously aren’t in the same need of such information, but more complex ones like Inbox are.
This can be a downfall for some applications, but Midnight Beep provides a series of excellent resources for you to learn how the software works.
The example data included with the first installation is a nice feature, but the help files within the application are also excellent. There is even a lengthy screencast available on the Midnight Beep website that walks through all of the application’s functionality.
I was initially worried abut the complexity of the application but that was quickly mitigated with abundant, well executed help documentation.
A single user license for Midnight Inbox is $35. This is a very well built application that comes with a lot of functionality, so this cost seems right in line to me. A free upgrade to Inbox 2, which is slated for release later this year, is currently included as well. A free 14 day trial version is also available.
Though this application is very much inspired by the Getting Things Done methodology it is by no means only for those that follow those processes. Inbox can be tuned to very closely model the specific GTD functionality, but also just has some very helpful organization and general work functionality.
Like I mentioned, I’m only somewhat familiar with the GTD methodology. With what I knowl I can say that I can get on board with some of the method, but not necessarily all of it. Some of it just doesn’t fit with my current work environment. However, I will say that Inbox’s functionality has made me seriously consider modifying some of my processes.
The idea of being able to work through all new items making sure that anything that needs to be addressed is addressed and then having a method for making sure progress is being made is just an excellent general way to attack your work. Inbox does an excellent job of helping you better understand that basic process, and provides a fantastic interface with which to do so.
Also worth noting is that there is also an iPad version of Inbox along with a soon to be released iPhone application. Syncing between all devices will be included in the next release. This is great news for those of us toting around multiple devices, always connected and trying to get things done!