How many to-do lists do you have? I bet you’ve got many more than one! And this is a good thing! If you read my post about jotting down everything, then you know that I'm all for writing down your ideas, tasks, and other things. But at the end of the day, all of those things should be visible in one common to-do list.
There are many sources of information and tasks
I cannot overstate the importance of having one single inbox. There are so many sources of information and tasks: your email inbox (maybe even more than one), text messages, phone calls, notes from meetings, something that someone told you in the corridor, something that you thought of yourself (such as a shopping list), etc. All of these generate tasks. One inbox is a must for managing all of these tasks and creating order out of them.
Why do you want to have one inbox?
Having one inbox is one of the most important parts of my productivity system. Why? Here are the four main reasons:
- Overview. When you have all your tasks in one inbox, you have an overview of all of your tasks. You know how much is on your plate. It’s hard to know that when you have multiple inboxes.
- Prioritization. It’s much easier to prioritize your tasks when you have all of them in one place as a single list with very clear priorities. And it’s much simpler to find what you should be working on next when all of your tasks are on a common list.
- Optimization. With all of your tasks on one list, you have the possibility to compare them and find those that are similar or contradictory. Doing so allows you to either group some tasks together or remove those that are not needed.
- Time management. When you have all of your tasks on one list, you can group them by context. Contexts can be very different. I use a few contexts like "home," "work," "communication," "waiting in line," etc. Then when I'm in one of those contexts, it’s easy to find tasks that I can work on. This would be much harder to do if I had all my tasks spread out in different places.
What tool should you use to manage your inbox?
There are many different tools that you can use, starting with a notepad and pen. You may use Outlook or Google Inbox tasks, your phone’s notes app, or one of hundreds of apps available on the Internet. I use an app called Todoist. I really like it and highly recommend it. There is also an app called Nozbe which I’ve used in the past. You can choose anything that works for you—as long as it will serve you as the one master inbox where all of your tasks are stored.
The first step to having one single inbox is to list all of the places you currently store your tasks. Do this exercise by writing on a sheet of paper all of the channels from which you receive tasks and how you store those tasks. I think you will be surprised at how many of them you find! The second step is to choose a tool to manage your single inbox. But first, find out where your tasks are!