How many inboxes do you have? Here are mine

One of the main concepts of "Getting Things Done" is the notion to have an "Inbox" - meaning a place where all the stuff goes and ideally a place that will be cleared out (i.e. "processed") by you every single day... or at least on any other regular basis. Usually it looks like this:
On top of that in these busy times we have more than one Inbox...

I'm not an exception here - I have more than one inbox in my life... and I'm working hard on streamlining this to as few inboxes as possible, but I have still plenty of these. Let me show you my inboxes and I'm curious to find out how many you have and how you clean them up:

Physical Inbox in my home office

In my home office I have a physical inbox for papers, documents, receipts, snail mail and such... I put all of these there and process them later. Usually by the end of every other day this inbox is clear. I either scan the documents, file some of them, trash the unnecessary ones... the clue is that everyone in my family knows that if they want me to deal with a document, they need to put it there.

Physical inbox when I travel

I'm in Dublin now traveling and my physical inbox is a pocket of my travel bag. I put all the receipts and business cards I collect there. When I arrive at my home I put all of these into my physical home office Inbox and process them.

Email Inbox

I use three places in my Gmail account: Inbox, Reply-Later, All Mail (Archive) - I clear my email inbox to zero every single day and try to reply to all incoming emails as soon as I can (if my reply takes less than 2 minutes) and put some of the emails I need to reply later to a separate folder and archive the rest. This inbox has to stay at zero every day in order to keep me sane.

"Downloads" folder on my Mac

All of the stuff I download from the Internet, all the attachments from emails that need my attention later go to my "Downloads" folder. Again, need to clear it up at least once a week. This folder is my "digital Inbox" on my Mac. It grows pretty quickly and when it does, I know I need to process it to zero.

Inbox in Nozbe

Tasks that pop into my head on random basis are being placed in my Nozbe Inbox. Again, need to clear them up once a week during my weekly review. This Inbox is a typical "action inbox" and all my tasks are going there. When processing my previous inboxes I see a task, I put it there... and when the "weekly review" comes this inbox needs to be cleared out.

"_Inbox" Notebook in my Evernote

When I browser the Internet, read blog articles, jot some notes, I put them all in my default "_Inbox" notebook in Evernote (I use Safari/Chrome extension to clip web articles and Reeder on my iOS devices to clip directly to Evernote) - I process this inbox at least once a week, usually more often as it's very easy to move the notes to their appropriate folders.

Read-it-later queue

If I come across a video I'd like to watch later, I add it to my "Read-it-later" queue. Very often when reading news and blogs I don't have the time to watch a video but when I'm later at my mac, having a break, eating breakfast, I launch my queue and start watching these videos that piled up. It's a great way to make sure I have something interesting to watch when having a break. I don't need to clear this inbox so much, It's just a repository of videos I want to watch later.

To sum up, I have several inboxes and all of them have their flows:

1. Travel inbox items go to my physical inbox and this entire inbox is being processed as often as possible (usually every 1-3 days)
2. Email inbox is being cleared to zero every day
3. Downloads folder is being cleared every 3-5 days, some of the files become my tasks in my Nozbe Inbox.
4. Nozbe Inbox items are being cleared every week during my weekly review
5. Evernote Inbox is being cleared quickly, usually daily, Read-it-later queue is being cleared as it goes... no strict rules there.

And how many Inboxes do you have? How often do you clear it to zero? What's your flow?

I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2012 (productivity)

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Mar 8, 2012 11:52
Michael, great post. I have one physical inbox, one work mail box, Gmail inbox and my Nozbe inbox. I try to get to "zero" once a week, usually on the mornings when I'm working from home. The key, I've found, is to have placeholders for stuff and stick to them.
Michael Sliwinski
Mar 8, 2012 12:23
The key is to know how many inboxes you have and learn to always put stuff to either of them. This way you never have to think where you put your stuff, so you're exactly right, Mike, the key is to find them and stick to them. Thanks for your comment!