How I learned to let go of Inbox Zero

I discovered Inbox Zero a few years ago, and have been a devote believer ever since. The rule is simple: just make sure your inbox is empty. Handle, delegate, or postpone incoming messages (using Followupthen, Sanebox, Boomerang, or whatever works for you).
The goal is to go to sleep every day with ZERO emails in your inbox. Succeeding in doing this is very relaxing, and the “I win!” feeling you get when you reach that empty inbox is very satisfying. The relaxation comes from knowing there is nothing you missed … you successfully handled all your tasks/emails for the day.

Then, Bitoin happened.

My inbox started getting more and more full in the recent years (I receive more than 100 daily emails). Add a conference abroad to the mix, or a few days of complete vacation from my inbox … and suddenly there are hundreds of emails in my inbox waiting reply.

For a while, I was really upset. Here I was, a practitioner of Inbox Zero, unable to follow through on my religion. There are even occasional entire weeks where I’m so occupied with something, be it work related or personal, that I didn’t want to open my inbox at all (God fobbid!). Sometimes, there were so many emails in my inbox, that the very thought of even opening my inbox seemed daunting. I mean … I would never be able to clean up all that mess, right?! Why even both trying…

Well, I learned to let go. I realized that sometimes, you don’t have to really get to a completely empty inbox to be productive. I still follow the basic principles of Inbox Zero – don’t keep unread emails in your inbox but rather process, delegate or postopne them. But I’m also letting people know that I am simply much less available via emails these days, and sometimes I’ll only get to process an email days or weeks after I receive it (especially if it gets into my @SaneLater inbox). There are other ways to contact me for more urgent matters (skype/SMS/phone call to list a few). And sometimes, the best solution is just not to reach me at all, but manage on your own or find someone else in the organization to help you. This doesn’t mean that Inbox Zero is wrong – it has successfully worked for me for several years. But as for me personally – just like I learned to accept the fact I won’t be able to read over 99.999% of the books or Wikipedia articles out there, I accept that the state of “clean inbox” has become a rare phenomenon for me, and not being there doesn’t mean I’m not being productive or need to stress over it.

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