Many of you will know that I am a big fan of the ‘Inbox Zero’ way of working. A good friend recently challenged this idea and suggested that having an empty inbox was not necessarily an indicator of productivity.
I totally agree.
You can spend your whole day clearing emails and regularly get to zero. But that does not mean you have worked productively. For me, the point of operating with an empty (or near empty) inbox, is to free up more time and energy to work on the things that really matter.
It is true that some people who get to zero regularly are more obsessed about clearing emails than focusing on what’s really important. But the most effective Inbox Zero practitioners spend much less time in their inbox than their colleagues.
They do this by becoming ruthless in their email management. Firstly, they reduce the email noise that comes at them every day. They get off lists, they proactively deal with junk, and they manage CC’s and Reply All conversations very carefully. They also become ruthless in making decisions about what needs to happen with every email. They don’t just leave stuff for later – they make decisions and put things in the most appropriate place, depending on whether it needs action, needs storage or needs throwing out.
Finally, they ruthlessly carve out time every day to keep on top of the deluge. They know if they don’t, they become a bottleneck for others, and personally overwhelmed. But they don’t spend hours everyday doing this. They carve out an appropriate amount of time for email, and then get on with the real priorities.
For many people money is an indicator of success. I don’t subscribe to this viewpoint, but I do believe money makes things easier. It gives you freedom to choose, which is its real power. Likewise, Inbox Zero is not an indicator of productivity. But it does give you clarity, focus and the freedom to spend more time on the things that count.
Are you prepared to change your email habits to achieve this?