I was so excited to find that something I’ve always tried to achieve has a name. I’m referring to inbox zero. The term may be new but the goal is as old as, well, email. I’ve always operated under the assumption my inbox should be as clean as possible. It doesn’t have to be empty but does need to be manageable.
What is wrong with striving for inbox zero? I used to use my inbox as my to-do list leaving emails in my inbox that required action on my part. If I didn’t keep my inbox clean, my to-do’s would get buried causing me to miss some important action item. What is wrong with a to-do list? So I switched over to using the task feature in the popular email program that will not be named. The reminder would pop up and I would say “OK I will get to that” then minimize the window, get interrupted and off track. So then I started missing meetings because the reminder would be minimized and not pop up. I guess I was a disorganized fool.
So what is wrong with inbox zero? The same thing that is wrong with a to-do list. In the short term both are manageable. In the short term you can nearly achieve success. However, that short term quickly fades and hundreds of more emails or to-do’s start to pile up. This leaves you with a nagging feeling of incomplete tasks. This soon leads to demotivation, the feeling of being overwhelmed and a lack of accomplishment. For some people they will all but shut down.
When I am sitting with peers I often see their inbox has over 300 emails. I always wonder to myself “how do you get anything done”, “no wonder you don’t get anything done”, “how do you sleep at night with that many emails sitting there waiting” or “so that is why you never replied to that email I sent you”. I also think “I wish I could let go of my need for inbox zero”.
I don’t know what the right answer is. I do know that when I don’t focus on being at inbox zero I don’t go home feeling as if I failed. I also tend to not get a frustrated when I receive thank you emails or am copied on emails where my input is not needed. Don’t strive for inbox zero, strive to accomplish tasks that will really help you meet your goals and an empty inbox isn’t one of them.
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