Know your inboxes

Inbox Zero is a popular productivity topic, but there isn’t much discussion about what it actually entails. Consider this layout.

└── inboxes
    ├── downloads
    ├── github
    ├── google-keep
    ├── mail
    ├── phone-camera
    ├── phone-screenshots
    ├── pocket-app
    ├── podcasts
    ├── pc-screenshots
    ├── rss-reader
    ├── taskfolders
    └── trello

All these are inboxes I regularly keep an eye on. Some are for passive consumption like my podcast feed, which I do I review to make sure I do not miss an episode from my favorite podcasts.

Others like my mail app or downloads have a constant growth. How much value will I loose if I neglect my downloads folder? Would it help setting a regular timer to clear them out?

My phone camera folder is an interesting one. I promise myself that it is way faster to remember important discoveries taking screenshots or pictures, but never process them. Is it the friction of syncing pictures with my laptop? Not having an app to process them on the phone?

All these are important questions, but the point is not finding the answer online. The point is listing your own inboxes, write notes about their value, the consequence of ignoring them. Know which ones can be neglect and which ones not. Read less about productivity and journal more about your situation. Explore your situation and take action. At a minimum wise up and know which questions you should be asking or what has priority.

One clean inbox

You do need at least one reliable inbox, one that really gets emptied regularly. Any good system needs trust. The trust that whatever you put inside will be found later and acted upon. If you mail yourself the most important notes, but usually skip on cleaning your email, you will never relax and rely on that system.

Not having the practice of going through the pain of cleaning up at least one inbox is a recipe for never learning how annoying information greed can be. When to say: No, I do not need this “just in case” bookmark.

Gradual inboxing

Trying to skip the inbox is not always the best solution. A fleeting idea needs to be captured immediately. Coming up with the right classification is distracting and time consuming. If you are in the middle of work, you do not want to be carried away, loosing your focus. A reliable inbox is your best friend.

Never underestimate how difficult it can be finding the right target for inbox content. Sometimes the solution is just another specialized inbox, one that might casually be located in the task folder you are working on right now.

└── action
    └── now
        └── move-out
            ├── _inbox
            │   ├── city-hall.url
            │   ├── deregister-form.pdf
            │   └── terminate-rent-template.doc

There will never be an end to Downloads as an inbox folder, but there will be one for tasks you are working on. If you abandon a task, you can discard its inbox. If you decide to really work on it, you can spare the time later to focus on processing the inbox material you collected without the burden of context switching.

Inbox operations

You can specify the location of your generic inbox folders and get a combined list of the most recent inputs.

tfc inbox ls

You just downloaded a file, or saved a bookmark recently for a task you are currently working on. When clicking on save from your browser, you did not want the hassle of exploring all your folders. If you already have a terminal open with the folder you are working on: What could be easier than just pulling the most recent inbox items?

tfc inbox take