“Inbox Zero”? Not!

Ever hear about the “Inbox Zero” email philosophy, where by the end of the day you have zero emails in your inbox?

Yeah, that’s not me.

I was up to over 1,500 emails in my work inbox. (Don’t get me started about what’s in my personal inbox.)

The oldest email was from 2010. Yes, I still had emails in my inbox from ten years ago that I told myself I was going to work on.

One of the consistent themes I hear from my coaching clients is how overwhelmed they feel. I can relate: I felt barraged by the daily emails adding to this voluminous pile. So, I would focus on just the top 40 or so and hope that I wasn’t missing anything important. But of course, I did miss stuff all the time.

About 6 months ago, I finally acknowledged that the sheer weight of these incomplete tasks was seriously impacting my productivity, and I resolved to reduce them. Like losing the first 5 lbs. on a diet, I was able to easily eliminate 500.

The next 500 presented more of a challenge. I forced myself to acknowledge whether I actually was going to ever read the articles, follow up with that person, etc. Sometimes the decision was made for me because the links were long gone. And I knew that someone who invited me to a networking event 3 years ago surely didn’t remember me.

The last 500 have proven to be the toughest of all. I noticed my justifications for keeping them: “I do want to work on that, but not yet.” There are also items that I have some guilt about – promises I made to get back to people that I never honored, missed opportunities, or stuff I “should” do but really don’t want to.

Here are my key takeaways from enduring this process:

  1. Email is a terrible “to-do list” system. They come in randomly, aren’t organized in any specific way, and linger forever.
  2. Email is also a terrible information storage system. It’s silly to save something “I might need someday” if I can’t even find it when that day arrives.
  3. Incomplete tasks wear me down, even more than the volume of tasks I have to do.
  4. It’s time to stop kidding myself that I’m ever going to read/watch/answer/ follow up on items that are over a year old. And that’s OK!
  5. Avoiding something doesn’t make it less painful to deal with later.
  6. A reminder that scarcity = holding on, while abundance = letting go

I’m now down to the last 137 emails, and though I’ll likely never get to zero, the restraints of those incomplete tasks have been released, freeing me to be happily productive.

Keeping up with endless emails is only one challenge we face daily as entrepreneurs. Join me on Wednesdays at 1:00 PM EST for my weekly Mindset Reset Community Call, a free group coaching call for #entrepreneurs, where you can ask your burning questions and get support from like-minded professionals. You can join the call here.