Why You’re Probably Avoiding Clearing Your Email Backlog

If you’re like the vast majority of people, you have been living with your cluttered inbox for years, if not decades. In a very real way, forever eliminating your cluttered inbox and having your emails being manageable on a daily basis involves you saying goodbye to something that has been a part of your life for so long.

Many people, myself included, have a fear of having nothing to do. For me, it is comforting to have a long to-do list: one that I know I will never fully get through. As much as I outwardly proclaim that my aim is to one day finish my to-do list, in reality I would be terrified to do so.

From speaking with other people, I’ve found that this is a very common occurrence, especially with people who are self-employed. We’ve come to equate being busy with making money, as well as the appearance of being busy with the appearance of being successful.

For other people, a full to-do list gives them a legitimate way to procrastinate from harder, more substantive business tasks. Somehow, not completing your tax return or writing your annual business forecast because you’re dreadfully busy sorting through thousands of unactioned emails just doesn’t seem like procrastinating, whereas avoiding the unpleasant task by scrolling through Facebook or playing Candy Crush undoubtedly is.

You may have a different psychological basis for this fear, but the fact remains — there is a part of you that is holding on very tightly to your cluttered inbox, and the massive “to do” that goes along with it. That’s why you will probably try to sabotage yourself in your initial quest to clear your email backlog.

Working through your email backlog is going to be a mammoth task, and the daily maintenance your inbox will require in future will pale in comparison to the task you’re getting ready to tackle right now. The temptation is to put the whole endeavour into the too hard basket and to find another simpler task that will provide a sense of immediate satisfaction.

But here’s the good news. Simply being aware of this phenomenon can be all it takes to overcome it. When you feel yourself pulling away from the project — especially during this backlog stage — simply recognise and understand that there is a part of you that is trying to thwart your attempts to free up your time in the future and to remove your cluttered inbox from your list of ongoing time-consuming tasks.

Many people equate a full inbox with being terribly busy and important. We tie up our ego in our email inbox, convinced that the more emails we receive each day, the more important we must be.

The logic of this argument is clearly flawed. Anyone can accumulate hundreds or even thousands of emails, but only an organised, professional, and efficient person who can keep their inbox under control. Instead of thinking about your 3,000 unread emails as a bragging right, change your mindset and think about it as a time management failing on your part. For bonus points, keep this mindset when listening to other people boast about how many emails they receive on a daily basis and how full their inbox currently is.

Turn the topic on its head and know that the less cluttered your inbox is, the more busy and important you must be. You are busy because it takes time to achieve to achieve an empty inbox every day, and by doing so you know you are spending your valuable time wisely by staying on top of your commitments and replying in a timely manner to your important correspondence.

After all, no one can be that important if it doesn’t matter if emails remain unanswered for months, or are ignored altogether.

The advice here is just to be aware that you may try to sabotage yourself during the process of working through your email backlog, because part of your ego is tied up in your overstuffed inbox. Simply recognise this resistance for what it is and push through. Once you’ve worked through the backlog and achieved zero inbox — potentially for the first time ever — you’ll notice your mindset begin to change.