Habit of the month July: Inbox zero

By johannatime On July 1, 2015 Under The Habit of the Month

So many people dream of it: an empty e-mail inbox. Even if it was only once! Agreed, having none in ‘in’ feels amazing. Imagine granting this awesome gift to yourself on a daily basis: you’d finally get some work done, be tremendously productive and not get paralysed by overwhelm, or even slightly distracted. This ultimate state of joyful control is within arm’s reach, so please continue reading.

Defining inbox zero

In fact, it is easier to have your inbox empty every day than it is to empty it occasionally. This alone makes it most suitable for a sane working habit to introduce. Let me explain first what I mean by inbox zero:

  • Your e-mail and other inboxes are being processed on a daily basis.
  • Processing involves making decisions to follow up on and writing down your actions, projects, and ideas in a trusted system. Or discart the messages, of course.
  • It does not mean you have done all the actions that are involved with the e-mails or notes (or whatever is in your ‘in’; mine holds objects occasionally, too).
  • Your inbox does not contain any messages, scribbled on post-its or bills to pay after processing indeed. Zero means none.

Having an empty inbox every day is like making your bed every day. Wrapping up the (in)activity and starting with a clean sheet. Your inbox will fill up and your bed will get messy again, but you enjoyed the moment of having it all sorted. Every day.

How to get from 1000 messages to inbox zero?

Of course, you can roll up your sleeves now, and get through every single message hiding in your personal e-mail system and beyond, the way I teach my clients to do it. I described it in short in this post about inbox zero. If you’re quite organised anyway, that is surely the way to go.

However, people who need inbox zero most of all, are generally the ones who have above 1000 e-mails in it, and stacks of paper on their desks and floors. Getting started to get that done requires an aweful lot of commitment, discipline and time, and facing that task is demoralising in itself. If you can relate to this category of professionals, please join me in this imaginary experiment:

Imagine there was a digital disaster at your office. All e-mails were deleted. Gone. Retrieving them is pointless. You have to move on without. You have to start from scratch. Are you with me to see this is an extraordinary opportunity to keep up with the flow and stay in control from now on?

I’m not saying you should permanently delete all your e-mail and start over. But you could wrap them up nicely in a ‘my-previous-life’s-e-mails-before-I-got-control-over-it-all-folder’ and start over. The e-mails are there in case you need any of them, but at least they are not in your way discouraging you to make a change for the better.

No change is easy, but at least for this habit you’ll soon know the benefits. Instead of snacking on bits and pieces of e-mail throughout your day, I encourage you to completely empty your inbox once or twice daily. Use my instruction on how to have an empty inbox as a guideline. You may find my posts about discipline and commitment useful for getting through the first week or so of this life changing new habit.

Steps you should take for having an empty inbox every day:

1) Have an infrastructure in place. Follow my instructions in this presentation about setting up a Getting Things Done (GTD) system or in this blog post about organising your inbox.

2) Allocate time for e-mail processing in your daily schedule. Start today.

3) And just do it for your sanity’s sake. You will not regret.

Why it is so good to aim for inbox zero daily

I must have mentioned it countless times in previous blog posts; the benefits of having an empty inbox every day:

  • You’ll enjoy a calm mind that knows nothing is forgotten, and that is never bothered by ‘to-do-reminders’.
  • You’ll have a sense of full control over your work and your life. It magically boosts your self confidence.
  • You trust that nothing will fall between the cracks. No deadline will surprise you and no commitment will be overwhelming.
  • People can trust you to follow up on their requests. Often, you’ll have to say ‘no’, but better undercommit and overdeliver than vice versa.

Please share your inbox zero joy and challenges with me and other readers by commenting below:

Johanna Jansen


1 Trackback

  1. Task list nonsense | Time Mine
    November 11, 2014 9:06 AM

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