There are loftier ambitions than emptying my inbox, but I take what I can get. I hear of people who get hundreds of work emails daily and spend hours answering them. That sounds terrible. A year or two ago my inbox was a depressing weight on me. Seeing thirty five emails there, knowing each was an obligation, made me want to run and hide.
I'm not preaching any productivity and efficiency gospel here. I actually prefer inefficiency. However, depression and feeling obligated do me no good. The less of those, the better.
Rather than preach, I want to tell about reaching inbox zero and trying to work that elsewhere in my life. My story begins with a lot of email, something with which we're all far too familiar.
I averaged thirty to fifty emails a day in my home account, the one I care about. All of it felt important-ish and shouted at me. I hate being shouted at. I started clearing the inbox.
First, I ruthlessly unsubscribed from automatic and sales emails even as I worried about missing out. It took an hour and each day's mail brought new junk. For weeks, I opened those messages and clicked "unsubscribe" and that has taken me down to just over a dozen emails daily.
I have been just as ruthless with those emails. I try not to email when I can contact another way. I see friends in the neighborhood. I call Mom and my brother. I also archive messages based on subject lines. I try to deal only with stuff that matters and do so right away.
This morning, after writing, packing lunch, and writing a note to my wife I found three emails in my inbox. One asked me to review a package my daughter had received. I went to the account, changed it to her email address and archived the message. A second asked for a quick review of service. I clicked "good," wrote a one-sentence note, and archived that. The final message was from a friend. I wrote a short response and archived that too. Inbox zero achieved.
Inbox zero is no nirvana, but it is slightly life changing. I'm free of those obligations. When I check later today, there will be a message from my wife that I'll enjoy without distraction. Then I won't worry about email for hours.
I do the same with bills, paying them as they come in. It might be more financially sound to pay later, but the pressure of obligation costs me more than the money might earn. Bills don't make it past the kitchen table before I pay and recycle them. I could automate this, but I like knowing where our money is. This system, another kind of inbox zero, works for me. It clears my mind.
This morning at school, I sat to read an article. Next to those pages were my writer's notebook with a note about a story I want to write, a draft of a poem to edit, handwritten pages to transform into a blog essay, and a book I've been not reading for two weeks. There was also a draft of this essay waiting on the computer. My monkey brain kicked hard against its cage. The article I was reading was long and not very good. My mind turned to all those other things and I had to work to keep my eyes on the article. The struggle, as my students say, was real.
I looked at the book. I was on page 101 out of 489. There is no chance I'll finish it today. I looked at all those things on the desk, thought how much I wanted to do them all, and then realized that I didn't want to do them, I wanted to be done with them. I wanted inbox zero. But what then? And really, is there an inbox zero?
Life is a desk with more things on it than I can attend to at once. Since this morning, I've had five more emails. When I get home, there will be bills and other mail on the table. I accept that as well as I can and then work back to inbox zero.
I finished reading the article and dropped it in the bin. I worked the poem with a felt-tip pen and typed my revisions. I wrote enough of the story in my writer's notebook to be able to finish it later. Then students arrived. I set the unread book on top of the handwritten pages and pushed them aside. No inbox zero, but my mind felt clear enough to go forward. And so I did.