We all have inboxes in our lives. And I'm not talking about your email inbox.
No, I'm talking about the place where everything physically seems to end up. For some, this is a nice neat pile in some sort of "in-tray" to be processed in an organized and timely fashion. For others, this is a deep and desolate mire where young men go to die. Here is mine:
This is my dilapidated graveyard of an inbox. Loose papers strewn about, hidden beneath a horde of text books, used mugs, and candles. If I lose a paper, nine times out of ten it is hiding here.
As you can probably assume, my inbox is not effective. A good inbox should be a place where materials can be temporarily stored, so that they can then be processed, organized, and dealt with. Instead, I often treat mine as a men's freshman dormitory. I need not explain the analogy.
An inbox is not a long term storage unit. (Take note, all my friends with 3,000+ unread emails). A proper inbox is a place where materials can be organized, and next action steps can be identified. According to David Allen in Getting Things Done, when I look at all of the things in my inbox, I should ask myself first a valuable question: "Is this 'thing' actionable?" If not, it is either trash, reference material, or something for the future, and should be dealt with accordingly. If it is actionable, great! If yes, then the next question to ask is: "what is the next action?" If the "stuff" requires multiple action steps to be "completed," then it is a project, and should be sorted into a project planning pile. If not, then I should ask myself: "will this take less than 2 minutes to complete?" If yes, then I ought to do it it, right then and there. If not, then I can either delegate the task, or defer it to a later date. Deferring the task is NOT procrastination, however. It is choosing a date and time to deal with the task, and agreeing to make sure it gets done then and there.
My inbox system is no where near perfect. However, I am aiming to improve my system. With that in mind, a few weeks ago, I bought a folder to corral all of my loose papers and projects so that I can deal with them more efficiently. I am no productivity expert, but I am taking baby steps towards getting things done.