The Importance of the Inbox

At any given time during any given day we’re certain to come across objects, ideas, and items to be reminded about in the future; where do these burdens go? Having a central, catch-all, universal box for all these things is immensely helpful in anyone’s life. The inbox is your loosest and most flexible list, physical box, or digital document for all your ideas — big or small — to be thrown someplace for later evaluation.

When in the middle of big important task throughout your day is when things are going to pop up and come at you for you to take action on. This is also exactly why some of us have trouble working remotely from home — because you’re constantly reminded about the laundry that has to be folded or the baby that needs changing. When life does happen and you need to be on top of something is most definitely the proper time to utilize your inbox.

Birthday Scenario

Your sibling calls and says you need to help decide on a theme for a family member’s upcoming birthday party. You quickly assess the situation and realize it’s not urgent so you whip out your inbox notebook or list-making app and merely scribble down enough so you can get back in the mindset you’re in now, later.

Get back to sibling about birthday party theme.

Later in the day when you’re in the mode to review your inbox items throughout the day is when you’ll see this and properly allocate it to the “birthday” project and set its due date to an appropriate time that leaves enough room for the party to actually be planned.

As we can see, our day was not disrupted when the sibling called to alert us about the thing that needs attention and planning and we were able to take care of it later when we were in the proper mindset to do so. Stopping whatever task we were doing during the day would’ve been careless because something would have to get dropped — you can only focus on one thing at a time.

Birthday Scenario (modified)

Sometimes, life will happen fast and urgent times will not allow you to simply toss something in your inbox for later evaluation. Do not be deceived, however — your inbox is still the most flexible area of your task management system that can save most situations.

If your sibling calls to say the party room is being booked by another family and you’re in a live bidding war with them right now you may have to attend to this near-fiasco. Simply take what you’re currently doing, scribble down the mindset you’re in for it, and include that in your inbox — the exact inverse of how we handled the non-urgent situation. The inbox is ultimately always there for you in times of leisure and in times of need.

In this case, something had to give. If the thing that has to give is the thing you’re currently working on it must find its way to the inbox quickly, safely, and comprehensively. Understanding that you’re going to have to make sense of this task later is crucial to how you record the interrupted task in your inbox. Unfortunately, time is being lost but it should be worth it since the disrupting task was so urgent.

The System

It’s important not to abuse the inbox. it’s easy to go through life thinking you have this magical system that accepts anything from grand ideas like writing a book to small objects like the loose screws you found under your chair. In a perfect, world we wouldn’t even use the inbox because we’d have enough time to properly allocate tasks and objects as they come. But when we have no choice but to drop something in for the sake of remembering to handle it later it’s the optimal solution.

Finding time at the end of the day to reach inbox zero can act as your zen you time as well as allowing yourself the opportunity to maintain your system and ultimately your life.

Sometimes, you may find yourself skimming your inbox for something to do right away. Although this can be effective if the task you choose is as quick as sending a text message, it’s important to not misuse the inbox for these purposes in the future.

Once the purpose of your inbox is understood it’s most important to stay on top of it. The last thing anyone wants to is to come to their inbox at the end of the week finding hundreds of random thoughts that aren’t comprehensive in any way. Concluding what works for you along with what has worked historically is the optimal method.


Originally published at nickcalabro.com.