The Case For a Clean Inbox

Folks, I’ve seen many of your counts of unread emails, messages, and other backlogs. I’m not sure how you keep the mental space to keep track of all of this information coming at you. Maybe I’m getting too old, but I just find it to be a sign of a cluttered mind.

For me, I really strive to keep inbox zero, or in other words, no email is sitting in my inbox. For me, the problem is that the longer something sits in the inbox whether it is read or unread, the more likely you are to ultimately do nothing with it. Is this procrastination, optimism that somebody else will deal with the email, or lack of interest, frankly it doesn’t matter. In all cases it results in something that takes up mental space that you’d be better off freeing yourself from. These little things can add up to real setbacks.

To help combat this, I have taken the mindset that my inbox is a precious and limited resource, and I have come up with a loose process to keep myself honest with my emails, and in particular, my inbox.

  1. If it is junk mail, I consistently look for the unsubscribe, and if it is repeat junk mail then I make a filter to auto delete it. Either way, I don’t need any more of this noise in my life.
  2. I check to see if it is informative, and if it is, I will read it, possibly move it to a relevant folder, or otherwise archive it. Many email systems allow you to archive emails these days, so that it is still searchable, but it isn’t taking up precious inbox space.
  3. Often an email comes in and I need to take an action on it. If I do, I make every attempt to deal with it right away. Sometimes the action is a response, which I will get to as quickly as possible, and then archive the message. Other times it is a delegation task and I just need to let somebody else know that they have an action.
  4. On the other hand, there are some emails that are things I would rather put off, or I just don’t want to do. For these, I tend to take a note, a ticket for work to be done, create a document, or otherwise let people know that I am at least tracking the work somewhere else and to not use the email as a place to track the work.

If all of this sounds like a bit of work, and requires some mental fortitude I will agree. I often find I have 10-20 emails stuck in my inbox at any given time, but I also find that given enough time I usually just delete or archive half of them without doing any work in the first place. Given this insight with myself, and continuing to consider how my inbox works for me, I do strive to keep it clean.

Heck, just today I got my emails back down to zero, and I couldn’t be happier!

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