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Inbox Zero: Real or False Progress?


There are two types of people in the world: those who have 5,000 emails in their inbox and those who don't. Which camp are you in? And what drives people to be one way or the other? Is clearing out your inbox real or feigned progress? It feels productive to many, but it could just be distracting you from the actual productive thing you were doing before opening your email.

Speculations about why people tend to be one way or the other are varied, and often lead to the popular idea that creativity flourishes in clutter while cleanliness and efficiency go hand in hand. Are people who obsess over achieving Inbox Zero craving a sense of control while email hoarders are more easily able to go with the flow? Are people who prefer clean inboxes the same people who don't go anywhere without a to-do list? Or here's an interesting thought: are inbox clearers more concerned with technology as a part of their identity leading them to engage with their emails more thoughtfully and often? Are they the same people who've admittedly been part of the candy crush saga, clearing row after row of candies in an attempt to clear the level? Is Inbox Zero a type of professional candy crush?

What is "Inbox Zero?"

It's important to acknowledge that Merlin Mann, a productivity expert who keyed the term "Inbox Zero," wasn't just talking about simply clearing out your inbox often. He said, "It's not about how many messages are in your inbox–it's how much of your brain is in that inbox." Mann fans suggest designating two times a day to checking email in order to avoid letting it morph into another form of distraction.

If you're the type of person whose happiness directly correlates to the emptiness of your inbox, here are a few tips.

Stand in Line With a Purpose

Waiting in a long grocery store line can be the best time to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. You're probably aimlessly scrolling through Facebook anyway, why not stare at your phone in a more meaningful way? Unsubscribing from a few frequent-dispatchers a week will go a long way, and you don't have to waste any valuable time doing it.

Get Smart With Folders

Creating folders can be a misleading organizational tool. Here's the common trap: you begin to create separate folders to save information you know you'll need in the future. But you're too specific and instead of having a folder called "Travel," you end up with seven folders titled after various cities' names. You went too far.

Experts suggest using folders with functions that allow you to store emails of various topics that require similar actions. For example: "Reply " or "Research." You can always search for specifics within a folder later.

A BBC article analyzing the psychology of a to-do list realizes our attention is limited and having a trusty filing system frees up valuable mind space: "Breaking each task down into its individual actions allows you to convert your work into things you can either physically do, or forget about, happy in the knowledge that it is in the system."

By the way, if you're newly inspired to set up your own inbox filing system and use Outlook, We'd suggest this post.

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