If you’re like me whose desk is always cluttered with papers, cables, rubber bands and other little objects then it’s time to invest in a physical inbox.
Most of us are familiar with one – the paper tray. As much as I prefer going paperless, I’ve found that having a physical inbox where you can temporary store papers and objects is essential for staying organized and tidy.
- A physical inbox is essential for staying organized.
- Dump anything physical in your physical inbox which can be a shoebox or a paper tray.
- At least once a week, empty your inbox in a GTD-ish way.
Here are a couple reasons why you want to get a physical inbox:
- Avoid having papers all over your office. Instead, have them organized nicely in your physical inbox.
- You have one central location for storing anything physical such as papers, cables and business cards. The less gathering points you have, the more efficient you will be.
- You can easily batch process your things when they are all centrally stored somewhere.
If you’re like me whose office can be a mess with papers, cables, coins, and tiny little objects all over the place – invest in a good physical inbox.
Physical Inbox Structure and System
In the past I used a simple shoebox as my physical inbox. As I was traveling around, carrying a paper tray was inconvenient from country to country. So I went the easy route and used a simple shoebox as my go-to physical inbox. You can justify to yourself that up-cycling is always a good thing ;-)
Now that I’m over my nomad lifestyle and I’m permanently settled, I recently purchased this Seville Classics Office Desk Organizer as my physical inbox for papers and little objects. Together with a couple colorful file folders my office has been clean and stayed clean. There are no more papers wandering around, no more iPhone and headset cables all over the desk and no more lost business cards.
As you can see, this desk organizer has several trays and I like this because it allows me to file and categorize my things in the tray. As such:
- Inbox – The top tray is my inbox. Everything that comes my way will be initially put there such as snag mail, anything I find around the house but can’t store away yet and business cards for people I have to follow up with.
- Financial – The second tray is for anything financial related, such as taxes, credit card agreements and such.
- Bills – Once a bill is paid, I store it there. Most bills can be paid electronically nowadays but for anything one-off it’s nice to have it stored in there.
- Misc – Anything miscellaneous can be stored here such as brochures.
- This tray is empty for me.
- The bottom tray is spacious and flat. I use this for anything outgoing such as snag mail I have to take to the post office or checks I might have to deposit.
The top tray is literally my dumping place. Anytime I get snag mail, I put it in there. Anytime I come back from a conference with business cards, I dump it in there. Anytime I find random little things around the house, I put it in there. It’s easy and simple because it doesn’t require much thought – you find something, you put it in your inbox.
Of course you have to empty your inbox once a while otherwise you’re just piling “junk”. Once a week, usually every Sunday, I empty my top tray (my physical inbox) and process everything like I would do with an email inbox or OmniFocus inbox. Every envelope gets opened, every business card will be translated into a task for follow up and so on. I decide right away what to do with it in a GTD-ish way:
- Is this still relevant? If not, throw away.
- What’s the next action for this item?
- Where do I store this?
I have found this structure and system to be really useful for me to batch process and reference stuff.
Editor’s Note: Anything from the physical inbox that needs to be stored or reference in future usually gets scanned and filed digitally, and the paper version shredded or boxed.
- If you want to get organized, get yourself a physical inbox.
- A shoebox will do or get yourself this desk organizer.
- Process your inbox at least once a week.
I would like to hear if you have a physical inbox and how you use it. Please leave a comment below.
Photo by iowa_spirit_walker.