“Inbox Zero” Is Not That Hard

How are people actually talking about this?

Jase Ess via unsplash

What the hell is the deal with “inbox zero?”

Am I missing something?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with “inbox zero,” it is, on the surface:

“A rigorous — ” (lolol) “ — approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times.”

Which… okaaay?

And beyond that, there’s a whole bunch of… shall we say, “aspiration” tied up into it. And by that I mean… “weird ass emotion.”

Like, people celebrate this. They tweet about it. They write about it. They talk about it. They think about it. They get smug about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they jerked off over it — in a more-than-metaphorical way.

If you Google “inbox zero,” you get articles that aren’t definitions, but TUTORIALS.

At least Inc was sane enough to point out how stupid it is.

Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann.

“According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox” (sure, sure — except that’s totally what people still make it into) “It is ‘the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.’ Mann’s point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a ‘to do’ list, productivity suffers.”

Which… duh?? Like blah blah blah…

What I’m hearing is that this is really a problem for:

People Who Can’t Prioritize Shit And Let Everything That Hits Their Desk Yank Them Around Because They Can’t Inbox Good and Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff (Like, I Dunno, Fucking Life) Good Too?

Got it.


Guys, before you get your high-performance moisture-wicking boxer-briefs in a wad, lemme just clarify:


Because it is just that un-difficult to accomplish!

So, whenever I see people touching themselves over “inbox zero,” I’m like, “wat? Like it’s hard?”

I’m not bragging — I am flabbergasted.

I don’t know why this is even a discussion. It’s like celebrating Clean Counters (wait, is that a thing as well? Because I do that, too — can I get some gummy bears, or what’s the deal here?) or Keeping All Of Your Clothes Either In The Dresser, On A Hanger, In The Hamper, Or In The Wash (which… ditto?)

Inbox zero is not an accomplishment.

So if it’s something that a.) excites and/or b.) fascinates you, then:


*And before you whip out your legal pad or spreadsheet or whatever the hell: if you think this involves another list, you’re only adding fuel to your own fire. Stop loading yourself up and complicating tasks that inherently aren’t complicated!

Here are my tips:

  1. Create folders and auto filters for email types you receive frequently — for my Medium account, this is things like “mentions,” “stats,” “private notes” and “blog contact.” (At work, it’s “Jira,” “HR,” etc.) And don’t just create and filter, but set these emails to auto “read.” Because DO YOU NEED TO TOUCH ALL THESE? (Hint: NO YOU DO NOT.)
  2. Only check your email a few times a day, you rabid mongoose.
  3. When emails hit your main inbox, make decisions right away. “Will this ever need my response?” No? Archive. If you can respond right away, do. If you don’t actually need to respond (i.e., you’re not the only one on it, or the one responsible for the answer, etc.) then you probably don’t need to answer. Stop making everything that hits your desk your priority, because it’s not — and it doesn’t make you look “productive;” it makes you look dweeby. (Senior leaders don’t make every email their problem — and they didn’t get there by doing so, and then suddenly change. People who regularly get “dumped on” do this. Take a hint. Get some self respect, see below.)
  4. Archive is your friend, pal! (You do know there’s a search function, yes??)

Make decisions faster

How? Easy

Develop some self respect

Everything that is tossed at you is not your obligation.

Do you also accept every “porn” brochure offered to you on the Vegas strip? (Wait. Seriously… are you that person??)

Are you eating every Costco sample?

Are you hoarding every gift ever received?

Do you also struggle with your real-life mail, throwing up your hands because you “somehow” just “can’t” figure out what to do with this stack of junk?

If so: stop. You don’t have to field everything that’s thrown at your face. You don’t have to hold on to it. Make a decision. Damn.

Hate my tips?

Fine. Fine.

Here are some of Mann’s tips (but, spoiler: they’re pretty much the same!)

  • Don’t leave the email client open.
  • Process email periodically throughout the day, perhaps at the top of each hour.
  • First delete or archive as many new messages as possible.
  • Then forward what can be best answered by someone else.
  • Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.
  • Move new messages that require more than two minutes to answer — and messages that can be answered later — to a separate “requires response” folder.
  • Set aside time each day to respond to email in the “requires response” folder or chip away at mail in this folder throughout the day.
  • Develop some self respect (wait, waat? lol… but srsly.)