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Why Inbox Zero is a Stupid Goal

April 7, 2014, 0 Comments

Over the last few months, I’ve been able to reduce the number of lingering emails in my Inbox by quite a bit. It has taken a more ruthless approach to addressing the messages I receive. On three occasions, I have reached what felt like the magical “Inbox Zero” status. For a few moments, it was glorious. But it was only for a few moments. As soon as you can say “You’ve got mail,” I received another batch of messages from coworkers. So I have come to this conclusion: Inbox Zero is a stupid goal.

Here are five reasons why.

1. Engagement is better than dismissal. In order to get my work accomplished, I have to engage people on a regular basis. Rather than trying to dismiss everyone, I see email as a bridge to engage in great work.

2. Zero is a false sense of accomplishment. I have threatened that if I ever reach Inbox Zero that I will declare victory, delete my account, and retire. Yet, I’m still working. Handling your work is a real accomplishment. Answering my email is only part of it.

3. Email is real communication with real people. Though I sometimes treat my email account like a game akin to Angry Birds, it is not. On the other side of the messages are real people with real questions and real work to be done on their end.

4. A system of handling communication is better than a system for storing communications. If you have an email Inbox, then you should have a system for processing the information, requests, and workload that comes through it. If Inbox Zero becomes the goal, you will fall into the trap of simply labeling, storing, and archiving messages to address later. By doing so, you are prioritizing a clean Inbox over the work that others are counting on you to accomplish.

5. It is a myth that never satisfies. Unless you are prepared to close up your email account, then you will not live in Inbox Zero land for long. You will only visit it for a few fleeting moments. So, I say enjoy it like a break in the workday that appears out of nowhere but don’t get used to it.

In a follow-up post, I’ll share with you some of the ways that I am managing my email accounts. I do not have a perfect system but I’ve stumbled on a few ways to bring a bit more sanity to my online communications.

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