When used well, the Inbox can be one of the most powerful tools in your productivity toolset. But using it well requires recognizing its delicate nature and taking care of it regularly.

Examples of The Inbox’s Utility

First, let’s consider how the Inbox can be useful.

We can leverage the Inbox when deciding what to do next. Brainstorming, allowing whatever comes to mind, we can add ideas to the Inbox as thoughts appear. The inbox helps us store those ideas, so we don’t have to keep trying to remember what we’ve already thought of. It gives us a place to offload our concerns and interests. We don’t have to worry that we’d forget something we considered.

The Inbox is useful when first sitting down with something we’ve decided to work on. Those moments are ripe with ideas about how things could be better or other things we’d rather do. Jotting down these thoughts helps us avoid distraction. It helps to avoid organizing our way into procrastination. Instead, we offload thoughts so we can better warm up the work.

The Inbox is useful during a session of work. We can add distractions that come to mind, store multiple ideas for the current project, field incoming distractions, and more. Within reason, those ideas will patiently wait for us until we are done with the current work.

And the Inbox helps us when we’re wrapping up a session of work. We can consider what is needed to save things, how we want to return, and more.

The Need for Upkeep

But, without regular cleaning, the Inbox loses vitality. It becomes something we can no longer trust to hold our ideas until they’d be useful. Thoughts grow stale, irrelevant, or get lost when they could have been useful.

Too often, we can let the inbox go, particularly when we are first learning systems of work. We haven’t yet formed that internal sense of its power and how delicately it rides on our care of it. But when we do have this habit of clearing well practiced, we can better feel its power.

To clear an Inbox, the general recommendation is to start with the top item and move down until complete. We need to carefully consider each task we’ve put there. If something can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it. If not, place it where it needs to go so that we feel it will reappear when and where it would be useful

Because if its work, processing the Inbox is often a major point of resistance. Realize that clearing the Inbox takes time. To do it well, consider dedicating a full session of attention working through from beginning to end, until it is completely clear.

Even better, when it is clear, allow your mind to clear, adding more thoughts to the Inbox until no more come to mind. Again process the Inbox. You will be that much further along in having a solid system supporting you, so you can place your mind where you want it with focus and clarity.