Inbox Zero: Myth or Fact?

The idea sounds crazy…your inbox should be at zero most of the time. That’s zero. Nothing. For most of us, email inboxes are sort of a repository for our lives. It’s the place where you keep everything because you might need it in the future. Even the little replies that don’t mean much: “Yep. Works for me.” or “How about 10:30 instead of 11?” or even the email that you and 250 other people were CC’d on. We keep our email because it’s easy to keep and the potential downside of throwing out something valuable outweighs the benefits of keeping a clean inbox.

Here’s what advocates of Inbox Zero believe: While it may appear to be risk-free to keep everything, you are much more likely to not act on something if you let it sit in your inbox and get buried. In other words, the really important stuff gets thrown under all minutia and nothing is important, nothing needs action, and nothing really gets done.

Think about it, do you save every phone call and every voicemail? No. Partially because it would be very difficult to do, but mostly because it makes no sense. With email we tend to save, revisit, file, flag, open, shut and then archive. All of that takes time.  And it all takes the same amount of time: urgent or not.

So is the answer a complex filing system that let’s you organize by category and sub categories? The Inbox Zero advocates say no. That also takes too much time. So what do you do? Throw stuff away. Read a message, act on it, and then throw it away. If you can’t bear the thought of that, create an “archive” folder and throw stuff in there. That way it’s there if you need it…but you probably won’t need it.

Actually, the whole process is outlined at  Merlin Mann, the creator of the site, is a big advocate of work simplicity and letting technology work for you…instead of letting it drive you crazy.  Below is a quote from a post where he outlines a simple way to get started:  Creating an Email DMZ.  You can read all of Mann’s posts about Inbox Zero here: Link

But here’s a question:  what methods do you use to stay organized in email.  Is this even a problem for you?  For your boss?  Let us know by commenting below under the quote.  Maybe the next big idea in email is yours!


Like a lot of the best fresh starts, this one’s a total psych-out; also, like most of the best ones, you won’t believe how well it works until you actually try it for yourself.

  • Open your email program and create a new folder called “DMZ”
  • Go to your email inbox and Select All
  • You might alternatively choose all email older than n days
  • Drag those emails from your inbox into the DMZ folder
  • Go, and sin no more.

Is this the email equivalent of covering your ears and singing loudly? Not really. You still need to deal with all the emails in your DMZ folder (personally I’d recommended “archiving” anything older than 21 days), but, most importantly, you’re drawing a line in the sand. You’re saying “Okay, starting this minute I quit letting ‘being behind’ stop me from making good decisions now and going forward.” Hence the “fresh start.” Get it? Tomorrow morning you arrive to a spanking fresh inbox and the chance to start anew. Of course, using your fresh start to develop an actual new habit is entirely optional, but it’s certainly more reachable than ever now, right? Right.Basically, this works at accomplishing the one thing you need more than anything else right now: to stop digging.

Think about it: how much stuff in your life has gotten unmanageable simply because you decided at some point that you were too behind to ever make a difference? More than anything you need a way to recover these projects from the brink – to find the handle that lets you stop making it worse and start seeing a way back toward daylight.

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Tim McPherson

By Tim McPherson

Tim McPherson, President and COO for Nesco Resource, has over 27 years of experience in all facets of the Staffing Services Industry.

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