Inbox Zero Is Easy, You’re Using Email Wrong

Nat Eliason
Jan 31, 2014 · 2 min read

In the last few years there’s been an incredible flurry of articles about “getting to inbox zero,” or “keeping your inbox under control.” There are entire blogs dedicated to it, apps developed focused on it (Mailbox was acquired for ~$100m… seriously?) and all of this content means one thing: people actually need help with it, which is honestly pretty amazing.

I get lots of emails too. I’m part of an 8-person startup and receive 100-200 emails a day on various important and unimportant things (not counting spam). Do all of these emails need a response? No, of course not, and they don’t all get one. But I do respond thoughtfully to important ones, and I still end every work day with my inbox zeroed out.

From the amount of content/guides/tips/even books about this you’d think I have superpowers. But I don’t, inbox zero is really simple, because everyone is just using their inbox incorrectly.

Here’s the secret, your inbox is not your to-do list. That is, of course, unless it is your to-do list in which case you need a better to-do list. There are countless programs and apps that are specifically designed to provide a great experience for monitoring tasks, and email is not one of them. Despite that, we tend to leave our emails unread or “starred” as a way to remind ourselves to deal with them later.

This is problematic for two reasons: it creates a separate to-do list in our inbox and it’s really just a form of procrastination. In cases where you actually can’t respond until later then you simply have to archive it and add it as a to-do, but in cases where you’re being lazy and would just prefer to respond later you only have yourself to blame.

So to save you time reading tons of other articles/guides/books on the subject, here’s the super-easy two-step process to easily get to inbox zero every day:

  1. Stop using email as a to-do list
  2. Stop procrastinating

Nathaniel Eliason is CEO/Co-Founder of Tailored Fit, a site bringing the curation and discovery to online clothes shopping that Pandora brought to music.

    Nat Eliason

    Written by

    Founder of Growth Machine, writer on all things interesting at, and co-host of the“Made You Think” podcast.

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