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3 People You Need to Train to Use the Inbox

3 People You Need to Train to Use the Inbox

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    When you get to your desk, is there a message slip on your keyboard? Maybe a Post-It note on your monitor? Perhaps a stack of important files on your chair? Each of those piles of paperwork needs your attention, but there’s not exactly any order to it. The files will get stacked somewhere else on your desk so you can sit down. The message slip will get pushed off to one side so that you can take care of something online immediately — and something similar will happen to that Post-It so that you can see the screen. All those very important pieces of paper are probably lost in the shuffle moments after you sit down. Don’t you wish that they all went to just one inbox, so that you actually can process it all in one go, when you have time?

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    It’s relatively to make sure that all your email and online notifications go to the right inbox. With email forwarding and a few filters, you may even be able to automate your email inbox. But when you’re working with paper, you can easily wind up spread across half a dozen inboxes, struggling to keep up with the paperwork. Even in supposedly ‘paperless’ offices, you still wind up with plenty of paperwork you need to process. It’s very possible to streamline your paperwork, but it can take some training to make sure everything winds up in your inbox. There are a fw people who particularly need that training.

    1. You!

    When it comes to making sure that papers make it into your inbox, you’re a key culprit. First of all, do you have a set inbox? Many people treat their entire desk as an inbox — and they’re even worse at home. Your first step should be to put out a basket or otherwise denote your inbox. From there, you need to make sure that anything that needs to be processed makes it into your inbox, rather than falling anywhere else. That stack of files on your chair and message slip on your keyboard both need to be set in your inbox as soon as you sit down.

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    It’s also worth putting anything else you need to handle in that inbox: if you routinely take notes or make lists on pieces of paper or in a notebook, those notations probably need to be checked and possibly completed as much as any memo dropped on your desk. Putting those notes in your inbox creates a habit of looking through them.

    You also have to train yourself to go through your inbox on a regular basis. Personally, I find processing paper immediately before or after I take care of my email inbox means that I can blow through all of it at once, but you’ll have to find a system for yourself. The goal of Inbox Zero is just as important for your paperwork as your email.

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    2. Your Co-Workers

    Depending on your ideal world, you might want your co-workers to email you regarding any new tasks, projects or other items they want to bring to your attention. But it’s fairly difficult to eliminate all paper exchanges: after all, if a co-worker needs to hand off a physical file to you or needs your signature on a particular page, he or she is probably going to hand off some papers to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t control just how that hand off goes, though.

    If you’re sitting at your desk, you can generally direct your co-workers to set things in your inbox. Refer to it as such and most of your co-workers will get the idea that setting papers there will get them taken care much faster. There will always be some people that won’t manage to hit the inbox — even if you put a big sign over it — but if you can get even a few people using your inbox, you can get to the point where shuffling aroud papers yourself isn’t so much of a hassle.

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    3. Higher Ups

    Training supervisors, managers and other people who effectively get to tell you what to do can be difficult. You can politely ask them to conform to your system of course, and some will make the effort to do so, but some higher ups will take the view that you really ought to conform to their system, given the state of the food chain. This may translate to more re-filing for you, without many steps you can take.

    However, training your supervisor to use your inbox is not impossible. It’s a matter of showing the effects of actually getting something into your inbox: if you can get to something in your inbox faster than something outside of it, you can prove the value of using it. I’m not suggesting that you go completely passive aggressive on your boss and ignore everything that doesn’t make it into your inbox — it’s not going to help your situation — but it’s not unreasonable to handle everything in your inbox first and then start looking for projects or tasks that may have accumulated in other places someone might expect you to check.

    Your Inbox

    An inbox on your desk may sound like a little thing for productivity. After all, if something’s on your desk, you’ll likely get to it eventually. An inbox is simply a way to speed up the process. You don’t need to worry about what to tackle next. Just grab the next item in your inbox and keep on working. Even better, if you can get in the habit of filing, shredding or otherwise putting away any paper you pick up from your inbox, there is some hope of maintaining a fairly clean desk — one you can easily work on!

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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