What is the primary purpose of an inbox?
People use their inboxes for a wide variety of things. Some use it to track their actionable items. Others use it to store important messages. Yet others, especially with email, don’t even bother moving items out of their inbox altogether! Unfortunately, these practices obscure the most valuable function of an inbox, which is to identity new content.
Think of the light on a telephone answering machine which turns on when a new message arrives. Failure to clear the message leaves the light on which means one will never know if another message has arrived after that one. The light ceases to have a function and becomes background illumination.
The inbox is best used as a processing station to identify new content, decide what it means, and then move it along to the appropriate part of the system. When an inbox is used to store actions or reference, then every time it is checked a part of the mind has to examine all the content and reevaluate it. This is exhausting and unproductive.
An empty inbox removes intellectual clutter by forcing the separation of actionable and reference from new content. Plus, getting to an empty inbox every day is an easy win that serves to energize the workday.
Try it out – keep you inbox for “in” and notice how that changes your world.