Why I’m OK Without Inbox Zero

My personal Gmail has more than 5000 unread messages

Heard of inbox zero?

It’s that idea that email is consuming your life and that the only way to control it is to be at zero.

Inbox zero means you’re in control of things.

…that you know what you’re doing.

…that you make quick decisions and move on.

But there’s a school of thought that thinks of inbox zero as being a control freak.

Take this from The Atlantic:

Immediately reading and archiving incoming emails is just like checking a box on a to-do list and clearing out unread stories in an RSS feed. In other words, the appeal of these behaviors lies in the illusion of progress that they foster.

By maintaining your inbox, you have a false sense of accomplishment and control that doesn’t actually exist.

For me, most messages aren’t important. It doesn’t bother me to see my gmail number creep up higher and higher.

The current count in my Gmail inbox is 5,256. Most of those aren’t important. They are articles and promotions and deals.

They are junk and sometimes I do a mass deletion.

Too me it’s different having a dirty kitchen or seeing a huge stack of unread magazines or a lot of junk mail on the counter.

It’s not physical. It’s digital. I can choose to enter that space if I want to. But overall, having a whole load of email doesn’t really affect my physical self or my space.

It’s just digital bits.

Technological detritus in that way doesn’t affect my identity as a person.

So I’m okay with that email pile. And to be honest, there’s not a lot of pressing stuff in there.

The Value of a Full Inbox

Is there any value in a full inbox? Yeah, as a historical record. Instead it serves as a funny digital archive, interactions from people from a long time ago, abandoned projects, forgotten ideas.

In this case, I get to discover it myself if and when I search for something (unlike Facebook “Memories” feature which brings up stuff that I never asked for).

So there’s a semi-glorious treasure hunt going back through old emails.

And it doesn’t hurt me to keep them around.


I’m Josh Spilker, a writer and author. I blog about the writing process at Create, Make, Write and write creative essays at Vaguely Feel. My new novel is called Taco Jehovah.

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