Inbox or Invitation to Disaster?

inboxBeware the inbox.  On the face of it, an inbox makes sense. It provides a single collection place for your unsorted items.  The problem is that you gain a false sense of organization, because while there is an easy plan for entrance, there is no easy plan for exit. The best solution may be no inbox at all.

This may sound like madness, but hear me out. The problem with an inbox is that items that go into it tend to get comfortable and take up residence. At the heart of every effective organizing system is movement. Circulation prevents accumulation. If we drop something in an inbox, there is a tendency to think “OK, THAT’S done.”

Let’s face it, when we’re at our desks, we are far more compelled to look at the computer screen or pick up the telephone than disturb the comfy residents in the inbox.

Let’s say this inbox is a basket where you chuck your spouse’s mail. You’ve done your part by assigning his or her mail to the correct place and he or she is just hopeless because the basket is overflowing.

The problem with an inbox or a mail basket is that there is no plan for prioritizing. It’s all the same location, same level of comfort, same obscurity. Only the item on the top of the pile stands any chance of grabbing our attention.

My advice is to think about incoming mail and projects completely differently.  Relieve yourself of the pressure to address every item as it comes in, but just focus on sorting it by priority.   For example, move all the bills to pay to a dedicated bill paying area, move all the magazines and newsletters to a reading area, statements and policies to the file cabinet, etc. Divide now, conquer later.

For this to work, you need to keep a clear work surface and sort the incoming work or mail DAILY. This is not as hard as it sounds if you haven’t created a backlog and a build-up. Also, it’s not so hard when you relieve yourself of the pressure to ACT on everything that comes in. Just SORT items and move them to their next stage.  This is plan for movement,that will keep you organized.

An inbox is like a storage locker. Things go in, but they don’t come out. Think of your desk surface as a river. If you keep it clear you will prevent a logjam and the logs will float down the river to their appropriate sawmills. The float is the sort and the sawmills are the dedicated zones, for later action. The inbox is like an artificial logjam. You’re better off without it.