It’s Not Just an Over-Sized Paperweight: Six Ways to Make Your Physical Inbox Useful Again

December 14th, 2010 No comments

InboxThinking Outside the Inbox

Today, most of our communication is sent via email and the email inbox rules. Some in my generation seem to have completely forgotten about the value of a traditional inbox. The original inbox often remains on people’s office desks, and can be put to better use than as a catchall for papers. Inboxes usually have two levels but it seems that everything gets piled on the top and disrupts the user’s productivity. Originally, for productivity purposes, the top box was the inbox and the bottom box, the outgoing box. Traditionally, employees put internal memos and outgoing mail in the bottom box and the mail collector gathered the items with ease as he distributed the day’s mail.

How To Productively Use the Inbox

Inboxes everywhere are overflowing with incomplete work, mail, and memos. I know that for me, sorting virtual documents is much faster than sorting physical paper documents but for the physical inbox I rely on traditional sorting. Having to sort out new documents from the old in a tangible inbox is time-consuming and unproductive so I like to sort my inbox 2-3 times every day at equal time intervals, like early morning upon arrival to work, upon return from lunch and once again in the late afternoon. I sort into two different piles:

1. Items to complete now.

2. Items to file or complete later.

Managing the Piles

After the documents have been sorted into separate piles, I create a plan of action to complete the tasks at hand. If there are projects that can be completed under two minutes, I do them right away. For all the others that require more time, I write a list starting with the most important. Everything else can be put into the bottom tray of the box; finally a use for the bottom level!

Using the Bottom Tray

The bottom box of the tray is usually considered a storage area for documents to be completed in the future and tends to grow exponentially in size. The documents in the bottom tray should be reviewed once or twice a week to manage the pile. Oldest documents can be filed away and important documents should be completed or can remain in the tray. If an item has been lost among the pile for a month or longer, it should be filed or can be thrown away if not important.

Summing Up the Inbox

Each day, I keep the inbox tray to a minimum before leaving the office. Looking at a small organized pile shows me a day of accomplishment and productivity. The documents in the bottom tray will either be filed or completed the following day. Talk about productivity.

Back to that Email Inbox

Let’s face it, the email inbox is still much more important to keep organized. Digital tagging, archiving, and other techniques help me see what needs to be read, acted on, and replied to. However there’s one more area of email that needs my attention occasionally, and that’s the contact list. It’s important to remove duplicate contacts from my contact lists as this saves me time when sending out those important emails. There’s even software that will make this task easy and painless. You might head over to our product Scrubly and see if it can help you better manage your duplicate contacts.

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