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Sunday, January 19, 2014

An Empty In-Box

If you visit any corporate office in the United States, you will find in-boxes on many of the desks. An in-box is simply a place to put unprocessed items until you can deal with them later.

There is no reason that only the corporate types should get to use in-boxes. In-boxes are actually a brilliant solution for anyone, anywhere.

Be warned that, although in-boxes are very convenient, if used incorrectly they can cause huge problems. For an example that we can all relate to, consider your e-mail in-box. If you've never had a few (or a few hundred) e-mails sitting around in your e-mail in-box, then why are you reading my blog? You've already won at life!

For the rest of us mere mortals, an in-box should not be a storage area. You should not have a few hundred e-mails sitting around in your in-box. If you are using your in-box to store things, it won't trigger you to take action. You will get overwhelmed or something critical will slip through the cracks.

I suggest that you look around at incoming papers and information and how those things enter your office or your home. Then, use that information to create some dedicated spaces to use as in-boxes. You don't need too many (the fewer the better, actually) but you do need them to be convenient to processing incoming information. So if there is a place where you end up dropping random papers, like the electricity bill or a wedding invitation, dedicate that place to in-box items only, instead of Pending or Processed items, which should go elsewhere.

Here's a list of my in-boxes to help you get started:

* Email In-Box - Since your e-mail comes automatically loaded with an in-box, create a subfolder called "Pending," a subfolder called "Processed," and one or more "File" subfolders. This will leave your in-box free for only the items that you haven't processed yet. Once you read an e-mail, delete it, file it, process it (by adding dealing with it to your planner task list and moving it to "Processed"), or pend it (by adding a note to your planner's task list that you are waiting on something before dealing with the e-mail and putting it in the "Pending" folder). Don't just leave a processed e-mail hanging around in your in-box.

* Home In-Box - Create a physical space in your home for papers coming in the mail, from school bags, and from your errands. Mine is the right hand side of this magazine divider. (Do the same in your office, if you work outside of the home.)


* Wallet/Purse/Tote In-Box - For me, a small space in my wallet is adequate for an in-box, particularly for receipts and such.

* Planner In-Box - Have a place in your planner to process incoming papers and thoughts. For me, this is one of my inside pockets of my planner and the blank paper on my dashboard.


Once you have assigned places for your in-boxes, respect those spaces. If something is processed and written in your planner, there is no need to ever leave it in the in-box. AN EMPTY IN-BOX IS THE GOAL. That is, you should try to have in-boxes empty whenever possible, either by processing the mail or incoming school folders the minute the kids walk in the front door with their backpacks or by actually going through and assigning each piece of paper in your in-box an action in your planner and then discarding, filing, or putting the paper elsewhere.

The visual impact of an empty in-box means that when it is not empty, you will notice that and be prompted to process whatever is in the in-box. It tricks your mind into getting stuff done that you would otherwise ignore or forget about.

It also gives you a chance to know where to start if you are feeling like you forgot something. When doubts nag you, simply check your calendar and your in-boxes. Everything should be in one of those two places.

Now, go out and create/dedicate some in-boxes. Happy planning!

Etcetera.

6 comments:

Lavender Life UK said...

I love the magazine holder idea as a in-box!! I will get one for my self. Thank you.

Giftie Etcetera said...

I like it because it holds to file stuff, too (on the other side) and it's roomy, but vertical space. I need vertical spaces because my house is tiny.

Anonymous said...

I swear my inbox, all of them, are "the black hole". I will work on this.

Jessica Emerson said...

I finally cleaned up my email inbox completely this morning thanks to this post! And it feels sooooo good! Now I just need to work on the physical inboxes...

Erin said...

The magazine inbox looks like a great idea. I am really struggling with my kids dumping school papers EVERYWHERE! How often do u go through ur magazine inbox? We have a spot for the mail (hanging on wall on way to office where bills are paid) but my boys don't seem to understand the inbox idea, YET! lol

Giftie Etcetera said...

In theory, I go through it daily, but the truth is more like weekly!