Emptying is the activity that logically follows Capturing.
Emptying involves removing items one at a time from the points of capture and placing them within one of the other components of the time management system. This action frees up the point of capture to receive new items.
Whereas Capturing involves a split-second activity and is truly a habit that can be practiced until it becomes automatic, Emptying is an action that takes careful consideration as it acts as the primary gateway into the rest of the time management system. Emptying is a transfer step, the connection between the items in the points of capture (e.g. an in-box of paper items, a voice-mail system, a paper notepad, etc.) and subsequent components in a time management system (e.g. Tossing, Scheduling, Acting Now, etc.).
It sounds simple enough, but making a decision as to what to do with each and every captured item is enough to cause many professionals to throw away the idea of ever managing their time effectively.
Given the fact that capture points are meant to be temporary storage areas, Emptying should be a continuous activity, preventing items from accumulating at any given capture point.
For example, a kitchen sink is a kind of capture point. When items are allowed to accumulate in a sink, it becomes harder to confront the job of washing the dishes. In like manner, when capture points are allowed to grow too large and cluttered with time demands, the act of emptying them becomes harder and harder to confront.
Emptying should therefore occur as frequently as possible.
Here are the different levels of time management users based on how they perform the component of Emptying:
- Novices or White Belts are users that try to use their memory as their primary capture point, so Emptying is triggered only when they happen to remember that they committed to undertake some time demand. Some things are remembered, some are forgotten, and there is a haphazard, unreliable quality to their time management system.
- Some Yellow Belts walk around with lots of pieces of paper, or page after page of stuff that they will never, ever get to. Others adorn their computer screens with Post-It notes, or stuff wallets and handbags with bills, receipts and notes that they need to use at some later time. Their email in-boxes are filled with thousands of overdue emails, and their offices have piles of paper, books, magazines etc. Their voice-mail remains unattended for days at a time, and their text messages are never deleted. From time to time, a crisis or a rush of energy is accompanied by frantic activity to clean up one area, but without changed practices the piles and lists and emails magically reappear.
- An Orange Belt is able to manage multiple capture points and works on them when they start to become too long or large. They have some idea in their mind of when they should empty the capture point, and they empty it at that point. An example might be an email in-box that is never allowed to have more than the number of items that can fit on a single screen.
- A Green Belt empties their capture points religiously, never allowing them to become overwhelming in number, depth or height. In fact, to the observer, they are able to maintain almost empty capture points. They have practices such as setting their email in-box to receive new messages upon demand, rather than continuously. They are always searching for ways to easily increase the number of times that they Empty from capture points each day.