You’re wrong about what an inbox is and how to use it

Well that may not be true for you, but it is for many people. Let me explain.

The Correct Definition

The word “inbox” does not simply refer to the section of Gmail where new messages appear. It’s not even specific to email.

An inbox is a place to capture and process incoming items.

Incoming items can come in the form of email, but they can also come in the form of a text message, a phone call, a paper letter, a line in conversation, etc. These items vary from inquiries to requests and suggestions. Here are two examples:

  1. Someone emailed you asking what you had in mind for dinner at the event this Friday
  2. Your co-worker asked you over lunch if you would be able to document a process and send that over to them

The first case requires an action in the form of replying with your answer. This item is naturally captured in your inbox and easily handled with a reply as you’re processing your email inbox.

The second is an explicit request for two tasks to be done, documenting the process and sending it. This seems great, but there is a great danger of this item getting lost. This task popped up in conversation over lunch and, if you’re not proactive in taking note of this request, you may easily forget about it. Where the first example item was naturally captured in the email inbox, the second requires effort to capture it in the form of making a note.

Capturing

There are many tools to use for capturing any inbox items that don’t come in the form of email. Whether it’s a note taking app or a paper notebook, it must be easily accessible at all times. Otherwise, you risk missing an item.

I personally use Workflowy (above) to capture items that don’t come through my emails. For email, I use Inbox by Google. Inbox was actually built with this definition of “inbox” in mind. Emails are treated as action items and can be marked done or snoozed until later. Inbox also lets you add task items which can be snoozed, acting as a reminder.

The Art of Processing

  1. Clarify: Turn each item into an action item. If you can’t, it’s a note, not a task.
  2. 2 minute rule: If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now.
  3. Delegate if you can: If it makes sense for someone else to do it, either because they’re less busy or they have more domain knowledge, pass it on to them.
  4. Prioritize what’s left: This is where Dunmo comes in. Your task list in Dunmo will be automatically sorted in priority order.

Habits are key in productivity. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of capturing items in your inbox, you need to build a habit of regularly processing your inbox. Follow the steps above, and you’ll be on your way to less procrastination and eliminating the overwhelming weight of knowing you have tons to do but not having it all organized well enough to track it all and get it done efficiently.

Some people prefer to process once a day, or twice, etc. Some people prefer morning, or afternoon, or evening, or any time. It’s up to you, but you should at least process your inbox once per day. Otherwise, things pile up and it becomes unmanageable, causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Capture + Process

Your inbox is a place to capture and process incoming items. It’s the hub of your productivity.

This post is my interpretation of combining the Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero ideologies. It’s meant to get you started thinking about your productivity in a new way. There is so much more to being productive than just mastering your inbox, so expect to see more blog posts soon.

Comment below or shoot me an email (michael@dunmoapp.com) if you have questions or thoughts to share.