Inbox Consolidation

May 27, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~3 mins

As part of a new project that will be released in a few weeks, I recently reread Getting Things Done by David Allen. I found it interesting that David hasn’t changed his tune when it comes to information overload. Despite a dramatic increase in technology and the volume of inputs as compared to the original writing, he still advocates for the same capture mechanisms and clarification process.

This is to be expected but reading his thoughts on the subject of social media struck a chord with me. I have long considered Twitter, piles on my desk, and the bench in my woodshop as inboxes. Developing an awareness of where “open loops” collect is a process that reveals a large number of inboxes we may not realize we have. And when we consider the number of apps we use that have an “in” feature, this number can explode. Unless we do something about it we’ll spend all our time clearing our trays, and as soon as we get through them once, we’ll need to start over again. The easy and obvious solution here is to cut back on inputs and create “aggregate inboxes” or places that pull captured items from multiple sources.

Cutting back is the best alternative here, but often times we can’t do this or don’t want to. So the next option is to create consolidated inboxes. I like to think of these as smart inboxes. We may not be able to pull everything into a single inbox but the fewer places that need cleared, the better.

And to be honest, I don’t want everything in one inbox. And I don’t need to process all my inboxes at the same intervals. My voice mails need cleared out multiple times a day, but that pile on the bench in my woodshop only needs clearing when I want to make sawdust. That means my aggregate inboxes can’t be consolidated beyond my clarification frequencies.

Let’s take email for example. Like most, I have multiple email addresses. Whenever I process email (which is way too often), I prefer to take care of all my emails at once. So I pull everything into a single, master email account on Gmail. That allows me to see every new email and act on it from one place.

On my phone, I group all social media accounts into a single folder. I can check them all at once (again, too often) instead of bouncing in and out of them individually. It can become a check pit if I don’t group them.

Although I have done some of this aggregation already, I’m now trying to further the automated consolidation and looking for ways to cut back on physical inboxes. The easier of these are the physical inboxes. I need to notice and combine them to cut back on the number of collection points. The digital side is more treacherous. It’s too easy to draw the conclusion of auto-forwarding all emails or Twitter mentions into OmniFocus. If you’re a social media manager, that might be a good idea. But as a writer and developer, that would be detrimental to my daily work. I would quickly develop a habit of clearing my OmniFocus inbox every 10 minutes.

The better solution might be my existing email account. If I’m already strictly limiting my time in email, that could easily be a better place to send these inputs. And if I can craft the format of the email in a way that enables a quick decision or even an automated decision then my information overwhelm can slowly dissipate. At least, that is the hope.

So the idea here is to bring all digital inputs created by someone other than myself into my email. That sounds a bit scary at first, but if that single inbox can help me cut back on the growing number of digital places to clear, allow me to remain on top of those inputs, and limit the mental strain of multiple collection points, I have succeeded.