Update: In-box zero

Back in June I pledged to achieve in-box zero by the first day of autumn, so I owe you, dear readers, an update.

How did I do? In a word: busted.

I managed to keep up with most everything that came in during the past three months, but the backlog is a mere 10 percent smaller than it was. My 500+ message in-box has been whittled to just under 450.

Two points need to be made as I consider my failure to live up to my plan. First (and I think it was Merlin Mann who first said this), before you get good, you have to stop sucking. I did succeed in not sucking. I kept up with incoming mail. That alone is a habit worth latching onto and nurturing for all its worth.

Second, to be fair I had some dire family issues that intervened. Entrepreneurs need to be good bosses to themselves, remembering that we must sometimes cut ourselves some slack. I had some understandable reasons for missing my goal.

So, what have I learned so far?

  • In-box zero is an elusive goal. It’s really hard to get there and stay there.
  • Even in tough times, I did better than stay even. I made progress. Good for me.
  • I really want to reach this goal. I will keep working at it.

The modern work world throws more stuff at us than we can comfortably handle. Those of us who experiment with new ideas in organization and distill others’ productivity prescriptions down for your easy digestion, we’ll continue to seek new ways for all of us to keep up with what really matters and let go of what isn’t important.

Have you tried to achieve an empty email in-box? Tell me about it. And if you’ve found a brilliant way to make it happen, definitely tell me about it. There are thousands of us who are dying to know!

3 Responses to Update: In-box zero

  1. Keeping on top of the new mail is huge! So pat yourself on the back for that, particularly with the family crises and travel you’ve had this summer.

    I strive for inbox zero and rarely achieve it. Perhaps twice a year. But I have a more realistic daily goal, inbox 15, that I accomplish most days. And often I’m down below 10. So for me, it’s about the goal I set. If I’d set a daily goal of inbox zero, I’m pretty sure I’d fail daily. But allowing me to declare success when I’m down 15 emails at the end of the day has worked really well for me.

  2. Hey Margaret,

    I must be doing something wrong. I typically keep my in-box fairly clear during the day and empty it at the end of each day. In the beginning, when I chose to empty it, I did it all in one sitting. I think this is better than trying to work it down over time. Since I focus entirely on keeping the in-box clear (that is my goal), I do have a limited number of temporary storage folders that I drag messages into. For example, I have a “Purchases” folder for things I have ordered that have not arrived, a “This Week” folder for things I am not ready to delete because they are happening within the next seven days and I often set up temporary folders to hold things while I am working on them (for example, I set up and “Estate Planning” file and used it while I was working with my attorney to update my will since we exchanged several e-mails during the process. When we finished, I deleted the folder and the contents). My main issue it to keep clutter out of my in-box so I can easily tell if any new incoming item is important. I view this as most people would view their regular postal mailbox. I suspect my postal-woman would not be happy if I left mail in the box for days. My habit is to remove the contents each day and process it in some way. Otherwise, I would expect a knock at the door after a few days and a question from my mail-woman about, “What’s going on?” After the initial clearing, I find this relatively easy to maintain. For what it is worth, I devoted an entire chapter to his topic in my new book. Maybe I am just not dealing with the volume you are processing. It all seems easy to me.

  3. Inbox Zero is a tough nut to crack. I used to be able to get to IZ when I worked in the corporate world. Now that I’m an entrepreneur, not so much. Kudos to you for “not sucking!” =)

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