Create an In-tray • Cat Morley

It's easy to feel out of control when things are pilling up in your in-tray and new to-do's, ideas and information are hitting you from all sides. Luckily, it's nothing a bit of organization can't fix, and with the right system in place, you can stay on top of your in-tray forever.

A big part of my job involves looking for inspiration, so I'm always picking up broachers and flyers, tearing pages from magazines, taking photos and writing notes to myself. These had a habit of piling up on counters, cluttering up my bag and eating up memory on my computer. There were literally ideas everywhere and it made me feel out of control. However, that all changed when I decided to buy a metal in-tray for my desk and it became the home for all of those physical odds and ends. Not only was it a holder for the mail in the morning, but Tom could leave me notes and I could empty my bag in to it when I got home. Having everything in one place made it easy to keep organised and guaranteed that I'd never lose ideas, while keeping our home clutter-free. Having it on my desk, made it easy to put things in and filter through, so I made it a habit to empty it at least once a day.

An in-tray is a general term I use for anything that collects information for you, from email and voicemail to a notebook or your camera. The type of information can vary hugely in importance, from urgent letters from your landlord to simple doodles of craft ideas you'd like to make every day.

1. Empty your pocket

To get you in the right mindset and give you a clearer idea of what I'm talking about, we're going to start small by emptying out the contents of your pockets (or bag if you don't have any) on to a table. Go through each item and ask yourself if there's anything you need to do with the item, does it belong in your bag and does it remind you of any other tasks you need to do? Tidy away the items that belong in your bag, deal with anything that requires attention and take note of any tasks you remember.

You can repeat this process with your office drawers, under the bed or anywhere else that tends to get a little cluttery and unless you're an organising queen, I can guarantee that at least one item is likely to be out of place, require some action or remind you of another task. Once you've dealt with that small to-do, you'll get an instant boost from feeling a little more organised and will want to take the same action with the rest of your life.

2. Make a list

You've probably got way more inboxes than you realise, so it's important to make a comprehensive list of them so that we can get organised. Grab a piece of paper and list all the ones that come to mind.

Here are some common ones you may forget about: - Mailbox - Intray (the kind that lives on your desk) - Email - Phone (voicemail, SMS) - Notebooks, diaries, sketchpads - Social media (Facebook messages, Twitter at's, blog comments etc) - Pockets / bags / suitcases - Computer (desktop, downloads folder, text files etc) - Gadgets (notes & apps) - RSS - Scraps of paper with ideas & notes scribbled on

Once you've got a complete list written down, you can feel confident that you'll remember to check these inboxes ongoing and that nothing will slip through the cracks.

3. Combine in-trays

To make your life easier, it's essential to keep the number of inboxes you have to a minimum. You want to keep it easy to take a note wherever you are at any time, but you always want to limit the number of places you need to check everyday. You'll probably want a physical, a portable and a digital inbox, so that you're able to capture information in every format. If there's an easy way to combine two inboxes in to one, do it and you'll only have half the number of places to check.

After a huge declutter, here are the ones I'm left with:

To-Do List - I use an app called OmniFocus on my computer to manage my to-do list and it's my number one place for writing notes and capturing ideas. I have the F4 key on my keyboard set to pop up a window where I can type in any to-do's quickly. OmniFocus also syncs with my iPhone, so I don't need a separate note-taking app while I'm out and about and I have Siri set up so that when I ask her to remind me about something, she pops it in to my to-do list for me.

Email - My email inbox is the number one way that other people to get in touch with me and as I'm guaranteed to check it at least once a day, I've signed up for notifications for messages received via social media to be sent there too. I like to limit this to only the important notifications like direct messages, so that my inbox doesn't get too cluttery. While we were in America, we even used GoogleVoice to transcribe our voicemails and email them to us.

Intray - This is a wire inbox, with three shelves that lives on my desk. It's useful for collecting physical items including mail that comes through the letterbox, physical items needing action, post-it notes from Tom. When I get home, after being out and about, I'll empty anything I've picked up in my bag and any pages from my notebook that I've put ideas on, so that I can process them later.

Notebook - I still love pen and paper for brainstorming and sketching out ideas, so I've made an agreement with myself to only use one notebook at a time and when I'm done with a page, I'll rip it out and stick it in my inbox or scan it using an app called TurboScan on my iPhone.

4. Process your stuff

Once you've minimised the number of inboxes you have and filled them with all of the combined information from your old ones, you'll probably have several huge piles of information to deal with, so it's time to start processing and emptying them. When processing your inbox, don't get tempted to pick and choose between items you'd like to deal with. Start at the top and work methodically to the bottom, without switching between items. There will be things that are easier to deal with, like pieces of junk mail which can just be trashed, and trickier ones like project requests that require work. As a general rule, you should deal with anything that will take less than 3 minutes immediately and note the rest down in your to-do list.

5. Add it to your routine

Now that you've emptied your inboxes, it's important to stay on top of them by checking and processing them regularly. Make it part of your daily routine to check each inbox and try your best to get them empty.