Advertising
Advertising

Back to Basics: Processing

Back to Basics: Processing

Your Inbox

    In my first installment of “Back to Basics”, I discussed the importance of your inbox – a single place for collecting all of your inputs for processing. In this installment, we’ll discuss the processing itself – how to turn inputs into action.

    In principle, processing is simple. All it means is making a decision about what to do with every piece of information that enters your life. In practice, it’s actually very hard, mostly because with a few exceptions, we aren’t usually ready to make those decisions – or to make the commitment to act that decision-making implies.

    Advertising

    There are really only a handful of decisions you can make about an input:

    • you can delete it. It’s unimportant – junk mail, information you already have, reminders of tasks already completed, etc.
    • You can redirect it. If there is another person the task or information would be better suited for, forward it to them.
    • You can archive it. Anything you don’t need now but will likely need in the future – a business card or address, a vendor’s brochure, an article from a magazine – can be filed away for future reference.
    • You can record it. Information you might need again but don’t need in it’s original form can be extracted and entered into a note-taking program, your contact manager, a notebook, etc. and the original deleted/thrown away.
    • You can do it. Some inputs require immediate action and can be done at once.
    • You can schedule it. Some inputs require action but not immediately – block out a suitable length of time in your calendar to do them.
    • You can defer it. When an input requires action but you are unable to take that action, you have to defer it to later.

    Given the limited number of possible choices, it should be a relatively easy thing to power through your inbox, extract the information you need, file things away, add a few items to your todo list or your calendar, drop a few things into your outbox, and get on with things.

    But it’s not. We get hung up on things, mostly because of those pesky “defer” inputs – things we know we should do something about but can’t, for several reasons:

    Advertising

    • Lack of information: You don’t know enough to figure out what to do with something.
    • Lack of resources: You know what you should do, but you don’t have everything you need to do it – money, time, equipment, manpower, etc.
    • Lack of urgency: You know what to do and could do it, but it’s not important to do it right now so you put it off.
    • Lack of authority: You are ready, willing, and able to make a decision, but don’t feel empowered to act on that decision.

    The typical pattern where any of these barriers apply is to pick something up out of your inbox, look at it, recognize that you lack something important – information, resources, urgency, or authority – to act on it, and then: you drop it back into our inbox!

    Don’t do that.

    If you’re ever going to keep on top of everything and keep your inputs from overwhelming you, it’s important to break that habit. Which means you need to change the way you think about processing and about the decisions and actions processing entails.

    Advertising

    When an item hits your inbox that you’re not able to deal with immediately, it becomes a project – an outcome that will take several steps to accomplish. And the first step in that project is to solve the problem, to fill the lack that’s preventing you from completing the task.

    In order to avoid putting things back into your inbox, you need a place to keep pending projects. This could be an accordion file on your desk, or a filing cabinet drawer for live files. You also need a way to keep track of things – a project list with pointers to the pending file.

    And you need to add whatever action you need to take to make it possible to act to your todo list. “Get list of potential team members from HR for Build Team”; “Look up how to find a reliable drywall installer for Fix Hole in Kitchen Wall”; “Set appointment with VP of Marketing to discuss possible action on partnership offer for Movie Tie-In Offer”; “Read Lifehack’s Back to Basics series for Figure Out How to Process my Inbox”.

    Advertising

    This isn’t all that hard – I label a file with the project name, and I tag actions in my todo list with “for [Project Name]”. And I keep a list of active projects in my notebook. Give yourself permission to reuse the heck out of your folders – you don’t need any excuse to think of something as “too small” to be considered a project. If it’s not something you could sit down and do right now, it’s a project.

    Processing isn’t hard, but it takes some discipline and some clear-thinking time. Discipline because it’s easy to get distracted and easy to put off making a decision for things that you can’t do right now. Clear-thinking time because you ultimately do need to make a decision, and you can’t do that with a thousand other things on your mind.

    So I recommend scheduling a few 15-minute (or longer) blocks of time for processing your inbox throughout the day. Close the door (if you have a door) and get into the “processing zone”. Have your file folders, label-maker (if you use one – it seems silly, but it’s quite a help in getting into the right mindset), your todo list, and a pen handy. Do the same thing at home – set aside a few minutes every day or so to process everything.

    How many times you do this a day depends on your particular situation – keep an eye on your inbox for a few days and see how often it fills up and how urgent the items that come into your inbox are likely to be. For most people, once in the morning and once about an hour before you leave work is enough, and possibly once around lunchtime. If your inbox gets full particularly fast, you may need more than 15 minutes. The trick is to find a frequency and amount of time that leaves you as free as possible to do your actual work the rest of the time.

    And do keep yourself free the rest of the time. Don’t respond to each item as it hits your inbox.  You may as well not have an inbox at all if you’re going to give the world permission to interrupt whatever you’re doing at any time and place whatever they think is important in front of your face. That way madness doth lie!

    More by this author

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain)

    Trending in Featured

    1 35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 2 The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life 3 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time 4 How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 5 20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    35 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

    There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

    Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

    It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 35 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

    For Getting Things Done

    1. OmniFocus

    This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

    Download it here.

      2. Forest

      Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

      Download it here.

        3. Things

        Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

        Download it here.

           

           

          4. Any.Do

          A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

          Download it here.

            5. PocketLife Calendar

            This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

            Download it here.

              6. Asana

              We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

              , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

              Download it here.

              Advertising

                7. ToDoist

                This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                Download it here.

                   

                   

                  8. Calendars 5

                  This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track, and complete your to-dos.

                  Download it here.

                    9. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                    A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                    Download it here.

                      10. Due

                      A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                      Download it here.

                        11. Checkmark 2

                        I use this app

                        for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                        Download it here.

                          12. TeuxDeux

                          Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — TeuxDeux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then TeuxDeux will be right up your alley.

                          Download it here.

                             

                             

                            Advertising

                            13. Nirvana

                            For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                            Download it here.

                              14. Priorities

                              An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                              Download it here.

                                For Building Habits

                                15. Productive

                                With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day, and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                Download it here.

                                  16. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                  You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                  Download it here.

                                    17. Streaks

                                    This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                    Download it here.

                                      18. Remember The Milk

                                      Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                      Download it here.

                                        19. Day One Journal

                                        When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                        Download it here.

                                          For Files Organization

                                          20. Evernote

                                          Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote is an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                          Download it here.

                                          Advertising

                                            21. Pocket

                                            You can save an article, video, or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                            Download it here.

                                              22. Sync.Me

                                              This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

                                              Download it here.

                                                23. Droplr

                                                One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                Download it here.

                                                  24. Dropbox

                                                  Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive on your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                  Download it here.

                                                     

                                                    For Working Smarter

                                                    25. Captio

                                                    A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      26. Drafts

                                                      A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things, and more.

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        27. NoteShelf 2

                                                        This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          28. Doodle

                                                          This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

                                                          Advertising

                                                          Download it here.

                                                            29. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                            I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              30. Launch Center Pro

                                                              A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                31. GoodReader

                                                                This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  32. LogMeIn

                                                                  Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                    For Improving Security

                                                                    33. 1Password

                                                                    There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      34. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                      You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                      All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass auto-fills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        35. Truecaller

                                                                        Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers, and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                          Featured photo credit: William Hook via unsplash.com

                                                                          Reference

                                                                          Read Next