Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inbox Zero, one year later

One year ago this month I began the practice of "inbox zero", and I can report that this simple technique is, for me, a complete success.

Inbox zero is a so-called "life hack", a simple and perhaps non-obvious practice that has a significantly positive effect on daily life.  For those who are unfamiliar...

How many emails do you have in your inbox right now?  A dozen?  A hundred?  A thousand?  More? 

Consider:  how often do you go to your physical mailbox (the one outside your house), take the mail out, read some of it, and then put most of it back into the mailbox?  For most of us the answer is "never", and yet this is what you do with your virtual (e)mailbox all the time.

Inbox zero is simple. I don't do that.  Ever.

When I check my email, after deleting all the obvious spam, I open each email and do one or more of these five things things with it:

1) Reply to it
2) Take the action it requests me to take
3) Forward it to someone else to take the action
4) Put it in my "follow-up" folder
5) File it away into an appropriate folder for archiving

...and then I remove it from my inbox.  My inbox is either empty, or I have yet to check it.  I never, and I do mean never, leave my inbox with even a single email in it.  I only check my "follow up" folder when I have the time to take on a task.

This sounds difficult, but it is not.  I thought, when I started, that it would be hard to start this procedure because I had so many emails in my inbox at that time that it would take forever to go through it.  So I didn't... I put it all into a folder called "old inbox", knowing I could get to it if I needed any of those old emails later. 

Interestingly, I never did.  I still have it, but I've never gone back to it.

Modern life is extremely inter-connected.  So many things can demand our attention, and we have a kind of "queue" in our brain of all the things we are doing, just did, and are about to do.  The size of this queue produces stress, stress that we often fail to even feel anymore because it is so ubiquitous.  Since adopting inbox zero, I have found many positive effects:

1) Less stress in general
2) I am much more responsive to people, without more time spent on email.  In fact, I spend less
3) I am more organized, non only about communication but about most things
4) I don't check my email as frequently as I used to
5) I don't lose information as often as I used to (this is remarkably different)

Also, I've had no problems sticking with it.  Once you do inbox zero for a couple of weeks, you find yourself wondering that you ever handled your email any other way.  I heartily recommend it.

-Scott Bain-

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