The act of processing one's inbox can be very tedious at times. My inbox can get so full, at times, that it can literally take hours to get through it all. It's not that it's that hard to do, it's that the actions required to do it are sometimes so different that time is actually lost switching gears. At one time I'm writing a next action in my @context lists and storing the support material in my action files. The next slip of paper has me heading for my reference files. The next slip has me getting up to deliver it to another person. The next paper has me, again, heading for my reference files. Each of these were done because each took only two minutes. However, in doing each two-minute task, several more minutes were wasted in transition time, going from files, to desk, to another person's office, and back to my desk.
Taking a cue from the @context lists, and remembering a technique from Stephanie Winston in her book, The Organized Executive, I began chunking my inbox. Just like one gathers items for the @context lists by location (e.g., @home, @office, @computer), chunking one's inbox by needed action made my inbox processing time go much faster.
I found that all papers in my inbox could be processed by one of four actions: filing, doing, delegating, or trashing. So now, my inbox process goes like this:
- Stack my entire inbox in front of me.
- Look at each piece of paper from the top of the stack to the bottom.
- Ask David Allen's questions: What is it? What does it mean? What is the next action?
- I place the paper in one of four stacks that I make on my desk: To File, To Do (Act), To Delegate (Refer), or To Trash.
When finished, I grab the "To Trash" stack and I trash it -- all at once -- without thinking twice about it. I then take the "To Refer" stack and I immediately distribute it to the people who will ultimately be responsible for getting those items done. The quicker I do that, the sooner they can get to work on it. One quick trip handles that task. I then take the "To File" and walk to my Reference Files and file all the papers away. Finally, I process my actionable items by either doing them (if it takes two minutes or less) or by working them into one of my context lists and by placing any support items in my Action File or my Tickler File.
To help me remember the four stacks, I use one of four acronyms for File, Refer, Act, or Trash:
- TRAF (a la Stephanie Winston)
- RAFT (for most folks)
- FART (for the immature of us)
- FRAT (for the college aged)
In any case, this modification, depending on the size of the inbox and the diversity of actions on the items within, I've been able to save a minute to half the normal processing time.