Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do You Believe in Inbox Zero?

Why is it that there seems to be two distinct email personalities? And how much does the way a person deals with the email inbox translate to the rest of her life?

I myself am always striving for (but falling short of) Inbox Zero, as described in Getting Things Done. If an email is in my inbox, that means I need to do something about it. Therefore, whenever there's more than 10 emails in my inbox (a totally arbitrary number), it stresses me out. And once it gets upward of 20, the weight of the unreplied-to emails, and the related tasks they entail, hangs heavy on my shoulders. For example even though there's a million things to do to get ready for a trip, I still prioritize emptying my email inbox so I don't waste my vacation time worrying about it. I also archive my old emails very specifically. My Gmail has over 60 labels. When using Outlook, I have folders and subfolders. There's a place for everything, and everything in its place. As soon as possible!

So that's me. On the flipside, there's the inbox red giant contingent. They allow emails to accumulate in their inboxes until it expands to 250 times its normal size. Read emails, unread emails, important emails, junk .. it's all there, sitting in the inbox. They don't use folders or labels to move their emails out of their inboxes or keep track of them in any way. Or, if forced, they might have one or two folders called "2011" or "old emails" and throw everything into there.

Why do we have such disparate views on email maintenance? And can it be translated into other facets of our lives? One might assume a direct correlation between email chaos and chaos at home or at work, but I don't think that's really so clear cut. Many of the closet owners of a red giant inbox have very neat and tidy homes and offices. So why does technological clutter bother some of us, but not others? Is there partly a sense that it's not real because it's just on the screen, so it can be ignored more easily?

As you might see from the blurry image, most of what's cluttering up my inbox at the moment are blog comments that I need to reply to. Excuse me while I take care of that, before they number more than 10! The horror!


Amy said...

Am commenting so I can clog up your inbox and compound your stress, ha ha!

I am not really an Inbox Zero person, but I am very much on board with using a jillion specific Outlook folders/Gmail labels and filing things away.

At work, I have a bunch of rules set up so messages get filed as they are received.

In my personal accounts, I cheat by having a "Things to deal with" folder so I can take a message out of the inbox itself but not lose track of it entirely. (If I'm being honest, I ignore that folder for weeks on end. By the time I get back to it, the bulk of those things have been resolved, making it easier to delete or archive properly, as appropriate.)

On the flip side, my apartment is a total mess. So, there's that.

M. Lubbers said...

Aha! But I had not yet logged out, so I can reply and archive your email STAT:)

You are the side I didn't really discuss: the person whose technological life is organized, but home is not. Your massive TV spreadsheets vs. your confessed piles of laundry. Very interesting

I also have a "Things to deal with" folder that I sometimes forget about. I don't call it cheating. I consider it part of the organizational process;)