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Consider the load of digital detritus that crosses your Mac’s virtual desktop every day: e-mail messages, spam, calendar items, work projects, home projects, homework, and the serendipitous discovery of some important information on the Web—to name a few. Add to that pile the day-to-day stuff that crosses your physical desktop, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Midnight Inbox 1.1.5, from Midnight Beep Softworks, is a software-based implementation of the Getting Things Done (GTD) principles developed by David Allen. It’s designed to keep you on top of the numerous demands vying for your attention.
The principles behind GTD can be simplified into five specific actions: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do. First you Collect everything that comes across your desk. Then you Process and Organize that information by deciding whether an item should be tossed in the trash, dealt with in a matter of minutes, or handled as its own larger project or to-do. Then, at regular intervals throughout the day, week, month, and year, you Review what you’ve accomplished, checking completed items off your project list, and then set out to Do those things you haven’t yet finished. Midnight Inbox helps automate these processes by regularly scanning your hard drive for new information and collecting it in an inbox, from which you then Process, Organize, Review, and Do. You can customize collecting to look for specific types of documents, in specific folders, created at specific intervals. So, for example, you can configure Inbox to look for only those files that have appeared on your Desktop within the past hour, for the last two days, or anytime during the past week. Unfortunately, Midnight Inbox is currently able to look only at a document’s creation date, not its modification date. So it may miss a document that you edited today if you originally created it a month ago.
Midnight Inbox is beautifully designed, and it’s obvious that the principles behind the program are sound. However, I found myself baffled as to how to begin using the program until I actually spoke with the developer, who guided me through the GTD process. My confusion was largely due to a dearth of documentation. While the program ships with a Help document, it doesn’t provide enough detail on the program’s features to be truly useful and what is documented contains a significant amount of GTD jargon. Furthermore, while the developer’s Web site used to offer videos of how to use specific features, at the time of this review those videos were no longer available. The developer expects to rectify these issues in the next version of the program.
Midnight Beep has resolved a major issue that made earlier versions of the program cumbersome. Previously, you had to use the Dock or some other application-switching program to move between documents you were processing and Midnight Inbox. Now, the program includes user-configurable hot keys that make it easy for you to jump from a document on your Mac back to the program—a valuable and necessary addition to the program.
I found several minor bugs in the program that, while not deal-breakers, could prove irritating to those using the program on a day-to-day basis. For example, it’s possible to delete projects or other items you’ve created and then empty the trash without receiving any warning message. Emptying the trash also occasionally crashed the program. Midnight Beep stated that they were aware of all these issues and working on fixes.
Macworld’s buying advice
Beautifully designed and built on sound organizational principals, Midnight Inbox 1.1.5 shows a great deal of promise and is an excellent tool for those who want to bring GTD to their Mac desktop. For the rest of us, the program needs more documentation and fewer assumptions about how well we already understand the GTD process.
[ Jeffery Battersby is a regular contributor to Macworld. You can read his blog at jeffbattersby.com. ]
EDITOR’S NOTE: 4/24/07—This review has been amended to reflect the fact that, at the time of publication, the software developer’s Web site no longer offers videos that demonstrate how to use the software.Midnight Inbox is a beautifully designed organizational tool that helps you collect and stay on top of all your digital—and much of your physical—data.