Corey Haines
June 14, 2024

What inbox zero misses

Your inbox is either at 0 unreads or 1,000+ unreads.

The inbox zero fanatics will tout how much better they feel and more productive they are with a clean, organized inbox.

But they fail on two accounts:

  1. Processing crappy emails ≠ Being productive
  2. The email inbox isn’t the central hub where work gets done anymore

How many worthwhile emails are you processing every day?

Let’s do a thought experiment. Say you get 100 new emails each day. 99 are garbage or irrelevant. 1 is important. How much time do you have to spend processing the 99 garbage emails so that you can surface the 1 important email?

Spending significant time every day to process irrelevant emails might feel productive, but you have to be careful about how much time you’re actually spending on it. If you’re spending just as much or more time on garbage emails compared to the important ones, I’d say you’re wasting that time.

And how important are these emails, really? When I first struck out on my own, I remember being super diligent about my inbox and feeling anxious if I felt like there were emails I should be opening or replying to that sat idle for multiple days. Then I realized none of those emails actually mattered.

Acquaintance emailed and I didn’t respond? Not a big deal. If it’s important, they’ll probably follow up. Missed the last few investor update emails? Can’t control that outcome anyway. Missed the launch email for something I signed up for and wanted to buy? If it’s important, I’ll remember it and go straight to the site to see if it’s available. A lead emailed asking a question about the contract? You’re probably using an external sales tool to track that conversation anyway.

“But Corey, how will I remember to respond to an email if I don’t mark it as unread so I know to come back to it?” Literally write it down on your to-do list like everything else you plan to do.

Who relies on their inbox to get work done these days anyway? I use Slack to communicate with coworkers. I use Notion to communicate with clients. I use Twitter to keep up with acquaintances. Does real work still happen in email?

Sure, there are some email threads with potential clients and partners that happen over email. But a few garbage emails aren’t going to get in the way of me following up with them. Google is actually pretty good about getting real emails from real people to my primary inbox, even if I didn’t have any fallback systems in place.

Marking an email as “read” or “unread” is just one method for processing which emails are worth paying attention to. You can also star, label, or create your own homegrown system to mark which emails you want to keep or discard.

Do you also read every Slack message? Every Notion comment? Every Twitter DM? Every [fill in the blank work collaboration tool]?

If you don’t, then you just proved to yourself that inbox zero is pointless.

If you do, then you’re either (1) a psychopath or (2) an unproductive busybody.

What inbox zero misses is this: Do things that matter and forget everything else.

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