March 01, 2021

Using Inboxes To Manage Your Thoughts And Ideas

Reading Time: 7 mins

Our brains are always thinking and processing. If each thought was a word, we would be able to generate enough content to produce a whole book every single day.

You might not be completely shocked to read this if you are someone that is always having your best ideas in the shower or out on a run. Essentially anywhere that’s away from where you can action those thoughts and ideas.

If you are shocked by this, consider all of the things you do in a day. All of the different activities you do, places you visit, senses that are activated, conversations you have, all in a single day. It’s no real wonder why our brain turns these interactions and experiences into thoughts and ideas.

What’s more, the act of trying to hold all of these great ideas in your head takes up valuable processing space. Over time, your mind becomes foggy and you find you can’t focus on anything else until you’ve actioned that idea.

This phenomenon is called the Zeigarnik Effect.

Using Inboxes To Manage Your Thoughts And Ideas - Pin

The Zeigarnik Effect

I fell victim to the Zeigarnik Effect numerous times before I even learned that it existed.

I would find it very hard to get to sleep if there was something I needed to remember to do the next day like book a check-up appointment with the doctor or go to the grocery store for milk.

I first heard about this concept from reading How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens.

The feeling of knowing that I wasn’t alone and that there was a reason for my brain fog was a relief.

Once I knew what the Zeigarnik Effect was, I then learned how to overcome it.

The way to overcome this effect is referenced in so many books and online articles from How To Take Smart Notes to the much famed Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology from David Allen.

In the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, a core concept addressed here is that your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.

Allen talks about achieving a “mind like water”, a zen-like state where you can fully engage with the work around you without being bombarded by distractions.

To overcome the Zeigarnik Effect, and start to achieve a mind like water, you simply need to write down your thoughts and ideas into a trusted system.

Once your mind realizes that the idea has been acknowledged and stored for use, you will be able to fully engage with whatever else you’re working on without that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something from distracting you.

This is where the concept of Inboxes has helped me to manage my thoughts and ideas.

Inboxes For Thoughts And Ideas

Ok, we’ve talked about the theory at work here, now it’s time to look practically at how I use the concept of inboxes to manage my thoughts and ideas.

As I’m writing this, I currently have 3 main inboxes that I use to store things until I can review, process, and move them to a more appropriate place:

  1. Todoist
  2. Bullet Journal
  3. Notion

I do this review at the end of each day but we’ll look at that in more detail later in the article.

I usually don’t have a preference for which inbox I use either. It’s simply whichever one is closest to me at the time.

Inbox 1: Todoist

Todoist is my task management system for day to day tasks, routines, and other reminders.

I recently revised my Todoist system to follow slightly more in line with GTD principles, but overall its structure is simple enough to allow me to see my tasks without being bombarded.

Hopefully, I’ll create a post on my setup soon to share this with you, but for right now, let’s stick with the inbox aspect.

Todoist comes with a built-in Inbox tray or folder that acts as your quick capture system.

Any time I am on my computer or near my phone and an idea comes to mind, I immediately add it to my Todoist Inbox.

I don’t worry too much about spending a lot of time detailing the entry, I just add enough detail to help my future self remember what the idea was and then they can start to process it into the right place.

Inbox 2: Bullet Journal

Another place I track my thoughts throughout the day is in my Bullet Journal.

I follow a fairly traditional Bullet Journal setup so my daily log acts as a capture system that I can review at the end of each day.

If you want to learn more about the Bullet Journal, I highly recommend you read The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carrol or you can check out my book notes: The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carrol - Book Notes, Summary, Review.

Inbox 3: Notion

My Notion Inbox usually just contains a list of bookmarks that I’ve come across throughout the day that I think I’ll find useful in the future.

These are still important things I’d like to remember to process at the end of the day so having this third inbox has really helped me to manage my digital to-dos.

It’s worth pointing out that if it’s an article I’d like to read, this get’s processed straight into my Notion Library system and bypasses the Inbox.

If you’d like to learn more about how I’ve set up this Notion Library System, you can check that out here:

Notion Library Tour: How I Capture Knowledge On What I Watch & Read

Daily Review Process

At the end of each day, part of my daily shutdown routine is to clear my inboxes.


For Todoist, I look through each item and determine if it’s still something I should work on, then move it to the appropriate list.

For example, if I’ve gotten a book recommendation, that will go into my Books list.

If that item is something I’d like to write about, it goes into my Writing Topics list.

At this point, I will tidy up the task’s description to ensure I know what the next actionable step is for that item.

That way, when I pick it from my to-do list the next action is immediately obvious.

Bullet Journal

As I look back through my daily log, anything that has a next action will likely be moved into Todoist so I can centralize my tasks into one place.

With that said, if it’s a small task or a routine task, this will likely just be brought forward into my next daily log entry rather than shuffling it about from my Bujo to Todoist back to my Bujo.


To clear out my Notion inbox I add any articles to read into my Notion Library.

If there are any other useful resources that I’ve come across, these live in my Useful Resources bookmarks folder in my browser for later use.

There typically isn’t a lot else in here so this one is the quickest to process.

A Good Capture Process

By adding thoughts and ideas to my inboxes consistently, I find that I completely remove the worry from my mind of trying to remember that thing.

It can be as mundane as remember to take out the trash for tomorrow or fix this particular issue on my website.

If you find yourself completely taken up by things you need to remember, simply capture those things into a system you trust to review as frequently as you need.

It can be pen and paper, or it can be a digital task manager, or it can even be both so long as you don’t overcomplicate things and are sure to review them frequently.

You don’t even need to fully process or do that thing, you just have to add enough detail to remind you of what that item is during your review process.

I would encourage you to try this out for yourself to see how you can benefit from a trusted idea capture system like an Inbox.


I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you did, please consider sharing it on social media as it will help others to find it. That would really help me out.