There are interesting side effects to keeping an empty inbox that I hadn’t considered before I started this.
I now see just how much junk mail I get on a daily basis. How many sites have I bought something from in the last ten years without unchecking the box that says, “Tell me about your future special offers!”? It looks like all of them. I go to bed at night with no emails in my inbox, but wake up to 30 of them, 28 of which get easily deleted. When there’s two thousand emails in your inbox, you don’t notice the latest 20 or 30 mixed in that are pure junk. I’m starting now to go back and unsubscribe to some of those email lists, so I’ll have less clicking to do. You like to believe you’ll have a use for that store’s coupon someday, but then realize you have a year’s worth of those expired coupons already cluttering up your mailbox.
Speaking of which, I love keyboard shortcuts. If I couldn’t use the j and k keys to run up and down the list, while hitting the x key to check off an email, I’d go nuts. That much clicking with a mouse would lead to RSI in no time. If you use Gmail, do yourself a favor and learn a few of the keyboard shortcuts. I discussed some of them here a while back.
I trust search. I have to. All of those emails that I used to keep around just in case I needed them are now archived. Out of sight and out of mind. Except, inevitably, I think of one I need. Then, it’s easy enough to use the search bar to find it with a couple of key words or phrases. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s quick and useful. Best of all, it keeps my inbox clear.
I’m not quite as rigorous about this as Merlin Mann, who’s espoused only reading emails you have time to answer right away. Many times, the things I can’t perform an action on are because of my location (“context” in GTD parlance). I can deal with it at home, but can’t click on a link to a popular website blocked at work. But I think blocking out that time every night to run through the emails serves the same function.
I check my email less. I’m fine with letting it pile up now, because I know I can run through it quickly. Checking it every ten minutes doesn’t matter much to me. It’s a distraction, in fact. I have better things to do.
Also, I email less stuff to myself. I’m self-filtering more, not sending myself those things I’d like to get to if maybe I happen to have more time. I don’t want the clutter in my inbox or “__Answer” folder. That being said, I’m more likely to email myself things I know I can file neatly away somewhere. That might be a link to a story to discuss in next week’s column, a random quote of the day from my daughter to put up on Facebook later, or even a link to a web store sale I want to take advantage of later.
I’ve been at Inbox Zero for about a month now. My __Answer folder currently has six emails in it older than a day. Some of those are on hold until I hear back from someone or until I have the time to do the action they’re leading me to. That might not be until the weekend. That’s fine. I wish the mailbox would be completely empty, but I’m fine with a minor bit of clutter in there, since I review it every day and keep up with what’s going on. Nothing gets lost. That’s key.
So, Inbox Zero. I like it. And I didn’t need to see “January 1″ on my calendar to start it. But if that’s what you need to spur you on to it, use it. Sometimes, the best tricks we can play are the ones we play on ourselves.