The Perfect Portable “Inbox”

Posted on August 16th, by Todd D Vasquez in Written Articles. No Comments

How do you quickly capture everything that has your attention? As veteran GTDers have discovered—as much as they would like to have that perfect digital tool—nothing matches the speed, ubiquity, and battery life of paper.

But paper comes in different sizes.

There is the standard 8×11 letter sized paper used in most offices, and the most portable size: the 3×5 index card. If you’ve been around the world of Getting Things Done for awhile, you’ll no doubt have read about the hipsterPDA (hPDA), and wallets and pocket briefcases that make ubiquitous capture of your ideas easy and quick.

My problem was I needed a way to collect both form factors in one portable inbox. I purchased a collection of David Allen’s GTD folders made of very sturdy plastic. These work great for keeping 8×11 sheets of paper. But when you toss 3×5 cards in, they tend to bulk up the folder and slip out the sides.

Getting a pocket with a zipper along the top definitely solves the problem of having 3×5 cards slip out the sides, but it also makes it difficult to group cards of a similar kind together without some way to bind them together. As an academic who likes to do his research with 3×5 cards, I don’t always read through the same book—so collecting 3×5 notes across a range of books would leave me with no way of keeping them organized in my 8×11 inbox folder. So I came up with the following “hack” for the Perfect Portable Inbox which can easily store both 8×11 paper and 3×5 cards organized by category.


Here’s what you’ll need to create your own Perfect Portable Inbox:


  1. Take each of four velcro dots, pull the sticker tape off, and put them on the backside of one pocket protector.
  2. Take the matching velcro dots that correspond to those you just put on. Push them into the other dots so the velcro catches.
  3. Take the stickers off the back of those velcro dots so the sticky sides are exposed.
  4. Take the entire pocket protector and line it up on the left side of one side of your GTD Inbox file folder. (Cut off lip of pocket protector – optional)
  5. Repeat the process for each of the other pocket protectors.

Now, how to use it. When doing research on a particular book, write the title of the book in large print on one 3×5 card and slip it into one of the pocket protectors. As you collect quotes and notes from the book, you can slide these behind that title card. No more redundant writing of the title on each 3×5 card. Collect other kinds of information besides quotes & notes? Just make your own card to designate the category that slot will be used to collect. I always have one designated as a generic Inbox with that title as you see below. I’ve also used one for “non-urgent data entry”, “urgent”, and “Full Quotes” (i.e., the card has the entire quote written out and just needs scanning or data entry). The nice thing about the velcro is you can interchange them.

Do you have a portable inbox hack you’d like to share? If so, tell us about it in the comments below.