47 people reaching out. 47 collections of words waiting on my response. 47 miniature jobs to do.
Some of the 47 are new. Some are old. Some have been there so long that surely they’re no longer relevant.
I know a Zero Inbox is easy. The most common strategy is tripartite: respond immediately, throw away, or star-for-later-follow-up. But star-for-later-follow-up feels “easy,” the way cleaning the house is “easy” if you just shove all the junk in the closet. On the rare occasions I do clean, I like to clean, know what I’m sayin’?
My Inbox strategy is also tripartite: respond immediately, throw away, or leave-unread-until-processed. For fun, I also throw in email-myself-reminder-notes. (I save Stars for items that don’t need follow-up but may need quick referencing: flight itineraries and the like.)
This strategy is effective, to a degree. And yet, while by and large I process incoming missives quickly, the remaining messages show me just how good I am at procrastinating certain tasks. I tend to use my phone for a first skim; anything that requires more than a minute or two to answer I mark unread for later. Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that, sometimes, “later” ends up being “much, much later.”
You know the feeling. You were meant to do something: renew the health insurance, file your taxes, some big and not-fun thing that you would avoid if you could. You’ll do it tonight. On the weekend. Next Monday. Surely by Tuesday at the latest. And all of a sudden, weeks have passed and the deadline is looming or behind you, and the email is still sitting there, marked unread.
But, oh, when you do deal with those tasks -- what heaven! What tsunami sense of productivity, of being that Responsible Person who Gets Things Done, of knowing you are organized and capable and on top of the world!
Why do I resist it so? Why wait even one more minute to achieve that feeling of accomplishment? If I dealt with items more promptly, would the rewards be as great?
Never mind. My Christmas gift to myself is clear. Forget Santa and the elves. Forget Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. This gift need not be wrapped and it need not be delivered by anyone but myself, but I share it with you now to enforce public accountability:
I will, on the 25th of December of the year two thousand and fifteen, have a Zero Inbox.
With this gift, I release myself from the nagging sense of obligation imposed by these constant reminders of action needing to be taken. I acknowledge that the marked-as-unread email letting me know I have a free beer waiting for me at the local pub as a reward for my contribution to a crowd-funding campaign has been sitting there since August and probably doesn’t need to occupy any further bandwidth in my frontal lobe. I accept that I should deal with the things that have to be dealt with and let go of those that need never be dealt with.
I give myself the gift of freedom. And that, my friends, is priceless.
I wish you the happiest of holidays. See you next year!