Should Inbox Zero Be Your Goal? Probably Not.

Most of the blogs I read about being more productive with email focus on reaching inbox zero. No doubt, it’s a worthy cause, but is it the correct objective for you? Probably not.

Most people struggle with keeping their head above water, never mind capturing the holy grail of inbox management; and what does inbox zero really mean anyway? No emails in your inbox at all? Then what do you do with those mails that you simply can’t answer because you are waiting on someone else for a response? I think most of the zero pushers would say, Convert them into tasks or calendar items. What they mean by that is to go through an amazing amount of arduously administrative dragging, dropping and labeling acrobatics in order for you to proclaim, YES! INBOX ZERO! Honestly, I find that display of compulsivity to be beyond that of my Dutch aunt who used to clean her kitchen cupboards every single week. (Yes, she took out every pasta box, can, plate, spice, whatever, and wiped out all her cabinets each week.) Sorry, but I actually have work to do – and a life, so you won’t catch me on my couch wasting time dragging and dropping emails during some Netflix episode.

Now I’m not saying that reaching inbox zero isn’t a noble quest, and to be honest, I do get to zero almost every day. But I have tools for Outlook that you probably don’t have. Tools that allow me to get to zero for the day, which, for me, makes a lot more sense. I don’t mind having a backlog of stuff I need to do but perish the thought of being late or forgetting an email from a colleague or customer. That is what I want to avoid – not some perfectionist’s idea of anal compulsive heaven.

What I have noticed, is that the people who don’t use the tools I have are either complacent or unaware that such tools exist; and here’s what else I think: I think most people would be happy with just some measure of control. That could be in the form of a better archiving system (an alternative to all those blasted folders or keeping everything in the inbox), a better way of prioritizing (marking mails unread is SO BOOMER), or even a better way of being prompted than a third reminder email by a customer.

Couldn’t we start with a small leap of faith instead of trying to scale the Grand Canyon by going all the way to zero inbox? The answer is a resounding yes, but you’ll need the right technology.

Those not complacent will find it (Hint: you just passed by it twice).

Michael Hoffman

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