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  • Digital Organization Challenge Day 1: The Power Of the Dropzone

Today is Day 1 of our 5-Day Digital Organization Challenge. Thanks for joining us!

In this Challenge, we are going to be conquering those Time Squanders — the 5-10 minute annoyances that fly under the radar but eat up a surprising amount of time during the day. They have a real impact on our productivity, and we don’t even realize it! We wonder where our Time, Energy, and Attention (aka, the “TEA Framework”) have gone, and in many cases, a lot of it has gone to messing around trying to save and locate files, notes, and photos.

We’re going to be building you a digital organization system as we go through the Challenge, so by the end, you’ll have the tools to easily manage and more importantly find, and piece of information you need.

In some ways, digital organization is not too different from paper and physical organization:

  • You have “stuff” coming in.
  • You need to put it somewhere.
  • If you don’t do that in an organized way, you’re going to have a problem eventually.

Think about when you have incoming physical items like paper: what happens when you don’t have a defined place for them to go when they come into your life?

That’s right, they end up piled and scattered all over the place. Sure, maybe occasionally you will do a purge or cleanup, but eventually, the same problem will come back.

The solution is to use a Dropzone: a defined place where you place incoming items until you are ready to deal with them.

With physical paper, the most common solution is a physical inbox, but the same concept applies to digital items: If you don’t have a defined Dropzone — a place to put them — when you receive those email attachments, download those bank statements, or take those meeting notes, they’ll be spread all over the place and will be very difficult to find when you need them.

Here’s why we love the electronic Dropzone:

  • It is organized. You have a central place where you’ve saved things and a central location to go when organizing them.
  • It is productive. When you are busy, you are much more likely to quickly save an item to your Dropzone vs. trying to figure out where it goes. We will have tips later in the Challenge to make this process easier, but still — imperfect action (saving an email attachment to your Dropzone) is better than no action (letting it sit in Outlook never to be found again).
  • It allows for more automation. This is huge. The less naming and filing you need to do, the better and the more accurate things will be. By saving items to a particular location, you will have more opportunities to use automation tools to do the work for you.

Your Dropzone Is Not For Storage

The danger of a Dropzone is the same as a physical inbox: it can become a place where things accumulate.

There are two keys to avoiding this:

  1. Only save information here that you are later going to process and save. A Dropzone is not a working or temporary junk folder. Respect the Dropzone!
  2. Set up a regular schedule where you clear your Dropzone out. It can be once a day, a few times a week, weekly, or whatever makes sense to you and your volume of information. If you find yourself constantly skipping that “Dropzone cleanup,” that’s a sign that you aren’t scheduling it at the right time. It will take some experimentation and time to get it to stick, but it will be worth it!

You Will Probably Have More Than One Dropzone

… and that’s OK!

If you use numerous systems, as many of us do, you may have no choice but to deal with multiple Dropzones:

  • A folder on your computer or mobile file system. Some people call it “Dropzone”, some people call it “Inbox” or “Action”. You can call it whatever you’d like. Ideally, this folder is synced via Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, or Google Drive so that you can save to it from all your devices. I call mine “!Inbox”, and it lives at the root of my Dropbox folder.
  • A Dropzone in your note-taking app like Evernote, OneNote, Roam, or Notion.
  • Your photo library.
  • Possibly your email inbox, though ideally a system for that exists.

It’s OK if you need to have a Dropzone in each system. It just means that during your Dropzone cleanup, you take a look at multiple systems.


Now it is time for you to take action. Every day of this challenge, we’ll have homework for you. Remember — there’ll never be meaningful change in your life without action!

Put space on your calendar to take action on this exercise and the rest of the activities for the next five days. You want to make sure you have time set aside to do the exercises. We appreciate you reading, but reading blog posts won’t get you organized!

Here are your action items:

  • Create a Dropzone folder on your computer for saved email attachments, downloaded documents, and other incoming files you want to save.
  • Schedule your first “Dropzone cleanup” for 15-30 minutes later this week.
  • Let us know in the comments where you’ve created your Dropzone, and when you’ve scheduled your first Dropzone cleanup.

Want some extra help? Register here for our FREE training on organizing your files, notes, and photos the right way. We’ll include strategies, tools, and extra examples. So make sure to register today.

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Brooks Duncan

I love taking technical topics and translating them so that they make sense to non-nerds. I'm a Chartered Professional Accountant and have been a software developer and have run software support in very small startups and extremely large public corporations. I strive to be relentlessly helpful in everything that I do. I live in Vancouver, Canada and insert extra u's in many of my words.

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  1. After reading the comments, I amended my dropzone to my Downloads folder since I never process that and want to clean that up. Rather than creating another place, I will tackle and existing one! I will process the Download Dropdown during my Friday "admin time" that I already have regularly scheduled.

  2. Practically all my downloads folders in Home Laptop, Office Laptop and Smartphone are Dropzone. I set it as it is. Only for note taking I made a separate note and named it Default which will act as dropzone.

    When I will organize dropzone: For office PC, it will be 5th day of Every Month. For Home and Smartphone, it will be 1st Sunday of Every Month.

    I will start it at the very beginning of the day inshaAllah.

  3. I have created my dropzone for my windows as download
    , dropzone for my bookmarks
    , todoist app and will check them at 7pm daily,

  4. Made a Dropzone folder each under my Work and Personal folders, Dropzone cleanup every Saturday 5-5:30.

  5. The downloads folder, both on mobile and computer(s), kinda already are my Dropzone. But I've let them get out of hand. Thinking about moving all the files to a synced Dropbox folder to take advantage of the automation across the board. Scheduled Sunday afternoon for my Dropzone cleanup!

  6. I created an Inbox folder in my iCloud and moved all loose files and stuff from my Downloads folder in it. Scheduled a half hour every Friday to process and clean up.

  7. I already had a couple of inboxes in place so I consolidated them into one in the most central place and I will schedule to go through my inbox during my weekly review Tuesday at 6:00 pm.

  8. I added my file to bond things to be safes and filed. I don’t get a lot of these so I have scheduled them in my month end duties for both my business and my job.
    However I have scheduled time this Friday to take care of what needs to be taken care of so I start fresh

  9. I created a Dropzone folder on my desktop and scheduled a Dropzone cleanup for 30 minutes every Friday afternoon. I'll decide then what folders to place the document/photo in, or whether to just read and delete. I've already saved the EOS Guide in the Dropzone.

  10. Set up a folder (DROPZONE) in DEVONthink & a daily reminder in Omnifocus for 20:00 everyday.

  11. I created a folder in iCloud Drive named "_DROPZONE", and scheduled a weekly task in OminFocus to cleanup my Dropzone folder starting this Saturday at 12 noon.

    I capitalized the folder name to make it stand out, and the initial underscore moves it to the top in alphabetical order to make it easy to find via Save to Files for iOS share sheet, as well as macOS FInder. I reviewed all the places where I current save incoming "stuff", and I was shocked how many there; it was worse than I expected, and I had forgotten many of them.

    This prompted me to review my Applications folder to consider all the different applications (over 150) that I have (and use at different times). I copied that list to a Number spreadsheet so I could categorize them, and assign other attributes as needed. This emphasize all the different apps I have installed for reading, writing, editors, notes, tools, and productivity. I created a task to review these applications, and decide what to do about it. Also I need to investigate all the default locations for files in these applications (like Drafts, Obsidian, Ulysses, Scrivener, SimpleNote, etc.).

    This exercise was much more helpful than I expected, and I feel that I am making progress already.

    1. I like the Dropzone idea a lot. I have a pretty good filing system with Dropbox but if I don't have time I just leave things on my desktop and that becomes a hot mess quickly. I will designate Sunday nights to file from Dropzone.

      However, it doesn't help me figure out how to manage photos. I don't know how to use iPhoto. It's not in the least intuitive. As a result, my photos are all over the place. Often someone sends me one and it just lives in my email. How would I create a Dropzone for photos?

    2. This is amazingly impressive. I'm not sure I am quite up for it yet, but I will definitely hold on to the idea. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Private:
    Existing folder Inbox on Onedrive renamed to 0 INBOX. Renaming moves it to the top above my 4 PARA folders.

    New folder 0 INBOX will be implemeted on Onedrive tomorrow, and it will be cleaned on a daily basis. This task will be added to the daily checklist.

  13. Thank you for the
    “.First Day Challenge” I have added this mailbox to my email and already I feel
    a load off my shoulders. Now I am am focusing on using it. Many thanks

    1. I have scheduled my first clean-up of my new email folder DropZone for Friday during my last email session late afternoon. I have been using a mail box folded titled “Park It” but “Drop Zone resonates with much more. Scheduling a time to empty it also lifts a burden off my shoulders.

  14. Dropzone created in Devonthink as it works well for multiple formats/types. Scheduled 15m for dropzone review and management as part of Friday weekly review and 5min at end of work day review.

  15. I already have a DropZone (inbox) on my desk. I created one on my computer desktop and one in Evernote. The one in Evernote will be accessible on all my devices. I have scheduled Friday right now for my DropZone cleanup but will probably move it to Monday later.

  16. Hi,
    I've decided my dropzone is my Download folder and I scheduled to process it on Friday at 4.30 p.m.. Also my paper dropzone (a po4.30uch in a binder I keep on my desk) is scheduled to be cleared Friday at 4.30 p.m. after the Download folder. I estimate 40 min for both folders.

  17. Created DropZone on my desktop. Scheduled 3PM Each day to review. I receive a good number of emails with attachments.

  18. This challenge could not have come at a better time. I'm so fed up of my unorganized way of life. Dropzone sounds like an amazing hack that will help me a bunch already. 4 more to go! Thanks AE.

    Just set up Google Drive

    Lets see if I can keep it going by maintain my end of day "Dropzone Clearing" session.

  19. Yesterday was a bank holiday in Northern Ireland so I did not see your email challenge until today (Tuesday!). Starting now.

    My Dropzone is an Action folder, which sits in my Finder sidebar. That is where I drag downloaded documents and other things for Hazel to rename and file automatically. This folder is cleared automatically by Hazel, so I do not need to watch or edit it.

    I also have an Inbox in Evernote for reference material I want to keep. And another Inbox in OmniFocus.

    I have a recurring task in OmniFocus to clear those two (EN and OF) Inboxes every three days.

  20. I have a drop zone for work in my OneNote and my windows explorer for document storage. I try to clear those out a few times a week.

  21. I have two Inboxes in Evernote: (1) Inbox for every electronic document I receiver and (2) Scan-Inbox where all my documents go that I receive physically, which I scan directly to Evernote. I sort through these two folders every friday during my Mies en Place routine. I upgraded my Evernote Account, because I prefer the search capabilities of Evernote over any folder system.

  22. I already have a dropzone for files called Downloads. This is for documents and unsorted mail attachments. I have created a dropzone in Evernote for clips that I am not sure of whether they for keeps or require categorising. I did not have a repository. My Omnifocus is for collecting anything that requires or is an action. My weakness is that I do not really schedule a regular review. I have now done. this.

  23. Thanks for this. I've created a Dropzone as a folder in Outlook and in File Explorer and I've scheduled some time on Thursday to process it

  24. I made a new one on Dropbox for transferring stuff I find at work that I want to take home instead of putting it on a USB & forgetting about it for weeks on end. I've added clearing the Dropzone to my weekly review on Friday mornings

  25. I created a Dropzone folder on my Desktop, and calendared a review of the folder on May 7th at 4:30pm PT.

  26. I am using my Downloads folder as my Dropzone and set time to sort through it all and file away on Sundays at noon (except for Sundays when I have weddings, in which case it moves to Mondays at noon).

  27. Created my DropZone on my desktop. Put the items already on my desktop inside it. My desktop already looks so much better!

    I scheduled processing on Wed at 1 pm, right after lunch.

  28. Thanks for the challenge.

    I have placed a folder inside my sync program to catch everything coming in, put the folder in my favorites, and also put a shortcut on my desktop to that folder to make sure nothing slips through. I have scheduled a time to review it daily for action items and filing on Fridays. Already feeling a difference in my stress level, knowing it is there.

  29. I have a couple of drop zones set up but need to get into scheduling time to empty the contents for long-term storage. Will put it on my calendar to process daily at 4:30.

  30. I have a dropzone defined in evernote and I do have on onedrive but I find myself fighting with downloads and things resetting.

  31. Probably not the best place, but I use my desktop as my dropzone. I clean it up Sunday evenings.

  32. K, I’ve created drop zone folders for work – one on my desktop for files and one in my outlook for emails. I will go through them Friday afternoon.

  33. Dropzone folder created on Desktop (lazy)

    Dropzone cleanup scheduled for Wednesday 12pm (British summer time)

  34. I've had Inboxes in several places, but I haven't been great about keeping up with them. "Dropzone" sounds more fun, so I created a Dropzone folder on the computer and scheduled a cleanup session for every Friday.

  35. I'm in the same boat as many others. I already had the Inbox set up as a file on my computer. But I hadn't set a time to go through it. So now I've added it to my Weekly Review on Sundays :)

  36. I have a drop zone on my desktop. Scheduling time for creating one on Box, I already clear each day.

  37. I have a folder I download from and then delete daily. But I’m going to create a folder in my Box account to upload things I want to keep and need to be filed!

  38. I've been looking for this type of idea! I've created a DropZone on my computer and one in my email app. My scheduled day for processing these folders is Thursdays, which are my designated "desk days".

  39. i already had an "inbox" in Evernote. I created one on my desktop also. Cleanup is scheduled for 5PM on Fridays.
    Typically I file email attachments as I process my messages. I am interested to see if you have a different recommendation for this.

  40. I already have inboxes in Evernote, mail, OmniFocus and my Downloads folder. I end up tackling the contents at least once every 10 days because I spend so much time trying to figure out where to put each item in those inboxes that the inboxes become unwieldy holding areas and my tendency is to avoid processing them. I will schedule more frequent reviews and am looking forward to implementing concrete ways to "divide and conquer."

  41. So I set up a Dropzone for articles/etc that I come across (e.g. links in newsletters) in Evernote.

    I set up a Dropzone Photo album in my Google Photos (LOVE THIS IDEA!)

    I already have an @@Action folder in my email that serves as my Dropzone, but I never thought to call it that or to do the same kind of thing in other spaces!

    Scheduled to take care of the Evernote and Photo Dropzones on Thursday at noon. I already take care of my @@Action folder every day during my shutdown ritual

  42. I'd love to join this challenge, I don't care about the prizes but am interested in your organization ideas, and have purchased a few of your courses. But why oh why, if you are organizational gurus, can't you send everything in one email a day vs. 5. Unless you wrote the above wrong. It's super distracting and time consuming to get 5 emails a day that are designed to improve productivity. Why can't you guys be more productive in how you release this challenge?

  43. I have an "INBOX" in my Google Drive folder for files, an "INBOX" in my Evernote for anything I'm using there, and my GMail Inbox slated for my dropzones. I've actually scheduled my regular processing to happen before my to-do list processing on Mondays … but will be doing this week's processing on Wednesday (because it's a lighter day at work).

  44. I've had a folder a while now called 1nbox (so that it appears at the top) but I really need to get better with actually cleaning it out. It's kind of become like a black hole where things that I want to hold onto are just dumped but they never get processed…so I put my first cleaning session on the calendar for Friday at 4

  45. Created a dropzone for all emails (articles in Word, admin stuff in Evernote, dates in Fantastical), but paper mail still a challenge.

  46. I have a time set aside to clear inboxes (e.g. email, task manager), but it makes perfect sense to take a few extra minutes to do the same thing for file storage. I've created a dropzone folder in my OneDrive for incoming files that clearly belong somewhere…but which I've previously let pile up.

  47. I messed up by having a drop one and just never…looking at it? 😅

    So I've created a new dropzone on my new computer because it was my downloads previously.

    I'm going to look at them every Tuesday because it's a nice break in the week and of I wait til Friday I don't trust myself to follow through

  48. My drop zones:
    1. email: inbox
    2. notes: drafts
    3. tasks: omnifocus inbox
    4. file: download

    scheduled Friday afternoon dropzone clean up time.

  49. I use Drafts for meeting notes or other ideas/resources I want to write down and I just created a folder called @Inbox in my iCloud to sync between my iPhone, Macbook, and work PC to save any downloads/files to organize later. I scheduled time this Friday at 2pm to run through both, which is when I would aim to do my weekly review (though I haven't been successful in doing that lately). I try to go through my Draft more frequently, though, as that tends to have more actionable notes that can't sit for too long.

  50. I already a flow in OneDrive that moves attachments to a folder there automatically. I just changed the name of that folder to Dropzone and scheduled 25 minutes this Thursday afternoon to clean it up.

  51. I created a folder on my Mac: ~/Documents/Dropzone. I also scheduled 5/6 this R, 11:00 to 11:30 to clean it up. The scheduled event is in my Lightening calendar in Thunderbird, with a reminder 12 hours before the event. It's also in my paper FC planner.

  52. Already have an inbox in my email/task manager/evernote at home and at work, as well as a physical inbox and a notebook where I take meeting notes (including actions). The problem is that I'm so busy DOING that I'm not making time to CLEANUP these inboxes and they start to pile up…and things get missed. I have a 'get IN to zero' action in my morning and evening ritual…but I'm not doing it religiously. Maybe it's the 'to zero' bit that's putting me off. Might try timeboxing it instead – at least that will be progress towards zero!

  53. I created an "!Inbox/Dropzone" folder on my laptop linked to my iCloud. I will check process it on Mondays and Thursdays at 7;30 AM.

  54. Due to security reasons I do not use DropBox, iCloud or any cloud service we do not control. I can set up and use an in house WebDAV server but it's easier to have separate drop zones for each device.

    I already had the following drop zones:

    1. Downloads folder for all incoming files on my desktop and laptop macs.
    2. Inbox folder in Obsidian for incoming or undefined notes
    3. Inboxes in each of my segregated DEVONThink Databases
    4. All my email accounts dump into my Inbox in Apple Mail. I only process email on one machine as I do not use IMAP mail but prefer to pull it all down via POP so that no messages are left on any server. So I only have 1 email inbox.
    5. All digital photos come into a folder on my main machine and once a quarter I process them into my LightRoom catalog.

    I do not use an inbox in my task manager. Nothing goes there. I process out of my other inboxes directly into Omnifocus if there is a task to track.

    I just finished cleaning out my Downloads folders yesterday. My email is also empty right now. The ones that are in need of attention are my Obsidian Inbox and my DEVONThink inboxes. I'll spend an hour or so on those today and try to get them to zero so that I can clean all of my inboxes at my regular time on Thursday afternoon.

    What I do have is a large backlog of ancient files that are currently in 3 separate folders, one for all my personal stuff and one each for 2 organizations where I am an officer. I've been slowly chipping away at cleaning these all out but need to schedule more time for this task so it gets finished this year. I've set a task to spend an hour cleaning up old files on Monday and Wednesday and will see if that helps get this job done.

  55. Drop zones set up for OneDrive, OneNote notebooks, !Reply mail folder for mail outside of the 2 minute rule. Adding drop zone clean-up to my checklist for my startup, midday and shutdown processing blocks. I didn't have that in my workflow. Thanks!

  56. I often used the desktop as dropzone, but I have switched to a synched folder in the cloud drive, it does not always look so cluttered…

  57. Dropzone already in place on my OneDrive account, to use between mobile device. Another in Evernote for quick capturing of info. Also use Roam, but inherently it doesn't need a dropzone as items can land on Daily Notes pages and link into topics as needed.

    Also have a physical inbox, for paper to be scanned and then trashed.

  58. Use google drive , but the drop zone is not organized. So, I'm working on the folders to follow the Triple A method you have suggested.

  59. Drop Zone is a decorative box on my desk.. Friday at 10:00 a.m. I will sort through it. For things already digital I will have a folder in Evernote or Dropbox? Not yet certain. Might just keep it on my computer for security reasons but I do like the ability of having certain documents no matter where I am.

  60. Dropzones:
    1. Downloads folder
    2. email inbox (I file attachments when I read the email)
    3. Quick Notes section of OneNote

    Cleanup will be part of Weekly Review. I'm very afraid for the first sweep!

  61. – what do you think of Trello?
    – what frequency of clearing Dropzones would you recommend? I'm currently set at monthly. Weekly feels like a lot.
    – How much time to expect for clearing Dropzones?

  62. I am going to set up a dropzone in Evernote and once I see how much accumulates in it, I will figure out how often I clean up

  63. My drop zone is my Download folder.
    Dropzone Cleanup will be wednesday, 13:30-14:30 (I prefer to schedule 1 hour for the first cleanup!)

  64. I have dropzones as suborder in my Inbox. As I usually work on multiple projects I have different drop zone for each and a dedicated day when I clean them up. Eg if the project I work on is big and complex involving too much of my time I make sure I review tge drop zone 2 days a week. If it a smaller project I usually allocate one day. Friday is for projects that have been bigger than originally estimated and for a complete clean up for the week ahead

  65. I've been using File Juggler to automatically move downloads into what I will now call a Drop Zone. I will set a reminder to clean that area up when I do my weekly review.

  66. Done!
    1: Main DropZone and individual Inboxes by client project have been created. 2: Weekly alert on Thursdays after lunch has been created. This clears out my files for coasting on Friday and sending out client "weekend updates".

  67. I already had dropzones established in OneNote and OneDrive to capture scanned and downloaded materials. I usually process my dropzones every friday afternoon.

  68. Already had a Dropzone called Inbox, but didn't make it a habit to work through routinely. Have added that point to my Weekly Review Checklist, so it will actually get done.

  69. I created a folder on my PC, synced with Dropbox, named .Inbox so that it appears at the top of my folder list. I will use this for all my DropZone files. I scheduled time at 4:00 p.m. Friday to clean it out!

  70. On it! NOW HAVE: File on Desktop called For Filing where i can slo automatically save scanned things that I don't want to file at that time.. Email folder called Next Action (from Dave Allen's GTD). I had been working on cleaning out my photos and getting things into albums so I made a SMART ALBUM called Not in Album which will allow me to delete or add to album new photos coming in, allowing me to use this for short term issues (photo of that recipe, etc) until I get it somewhere…..

  71. I used the Downloads file for my dropzone, both my day job and for my side hustle of self-publishing fiction.

    Since I ended up with two second brains, one in OneNote and the other in Evernote (not by choice), I created an In-Box for the Dropzone for all notes.

    I have it set for formal emptying as part of my weekly review on Friday, but I try to clean it out as much as possible daily.

  72. I officially declared my Downloads folder to my Dropzone and scheduled the cleanup for Wednesday. The Downloads folder is also where Hazel rules will pick up files. In addition the Inbox in DEVONthink will be my Dropzone for everything I store there.

  73. I created a Dropzone in Google Drive and named the folder !Inbox. I scheduled my first cleanup tomorrow afternoon and weekly thereafter.

  74. Love this! Here’s what I’m doing:

    -my downloads folder. Everything in there is going to get sorted every Friday
    -my notes app is sorted about once a month. I have folders for just about everything
    -I try to sort my photos as I go, but I check in as needed. I’ll up that to weekly
    -emails get dealt with immediately (either flagged for a later reply, handled then and there, filed, or deleted)

  75. For email, I'm using the "Snoozed" feature in Mailbird. For browser things, I have a folder on the bookmarks bar that I named "Browser Inbox." On my desktop, I use a Fence (from Stardock Fences), that I named "Follow Up."

  76. I created a Dropzone on my computer. However, I already put anything into "Creations" or "Others" folders and organize these furthe when I have time. SO I wonder if this will really help me or just create an unnecessary folder. I will check it on Friday.

  77. Thanks for putting this together!

    I've created a folder on my Desktop (which is cloud-synced) called "_Inbox". I found a folder where I had randomly dropped some files over the last few months and I've moved those contents into the Dropzone. I imagine I have many more folders like this that I'll uncover during this exercise. I've also created a notebook called "_Inbox" within Notability which I'll use for notes (though I'm still waffling on which notes app I want to use). I've blocked off an hour on Friday at 1500. Looking forward to tomorrow's activity!

  78. Day one Dropzone folder completed, on my I-Cloud email system. Will clean it up on Wed, then again on Friday. Good idea!

  79. I have several drop zones:
    – one on my desktop
    – one in Things 3 ( where I transfer also emails via the spark-things integration)
    – one is good link for webpages
    – one is an inbox in Obsidian

    I have a task in things appearing every Saturday with a deadline on the Sunday that is named Weekly reset where I list all the tasks to be done weekly for cleaning and organizing the drop zones.

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