Yes, You Need an In Box

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What’s the quickest way to clear off your desk? Stuff everything into your in box. That’s where it should have gone first anyway.

Don’t fool yourself that having everything out where you can see it is helping you get things done faster. Stop setting things down on the counter, or the edge of the desk, or on top of the printer until you can get to them. Use one spot, your in box, to collect everything and then go through it every day, or more often if need be.

The beloved Wikipedia has an entry on David Allen that succinctly describes how to use an in box. I don’t think it’s verboten to put things back into the in box, however, if you aren’t ready to decide on them. Such a rule is likely to encourage you to make a separate pile and that would mess up the system. The point is that everything you need to do something about is in that box until you do something about it.

Here are some more in box benefits:

  • You know where things are. If there’s an important piece of paper you haven’t dealt with yet, it’s in there.
  • You desk will be free of clutter. If you routinely have non-paper items in transit on your desk, get a big enough in box to hold them (computer peripherals, books, stray socks, whatever)
  • You’ll be able to find things that often get hidden under the piles, such as your planner, address book and calculator.

Try it for a few weeks. You can start out with a cardboard paper box. Practice putting everything that’s on the desk and in your hands when you come in the door into the in box. When you sit at the desk, go through the box as described in the Allen article. Even if you don’t do this religiously, you’ll still gain the three benefits mentioned above.

Your in box need not be cheesy black plastic. The Container Store has a nice looking wooden box. This rattan basket is from Ikea. An in box need not come from an office supply store, but it needs to come from somewhere, so go get one!

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