You will probably see several posts by me this year about organization. It’s a big goal of mine. Maybe a bit lofty, but I think it’s important. What I’m finding is that the more productive I become, the more organized I become. I did mention this in a previous post, but it’s extremely interesting to me how one seems to equate the other. I am in the process of moving into a new place and I need to be organized. While this post is not about home organization, I want to go on record with this theme! What I do want to talk about, in a general sense, is the idea of “inbox zero”. I have mixed feelings about the concept, but at the same time I find myself moving towards the “zero” aspect.
Chaos vs. Order
My current lifestyle does not scream order. This makes me get anxious. I’m not an “everything in its place” type of gal either, but I do prefer order to chaos. In general, my life has been chaotic lately, so I’m definitely craving order. Being able to create order in one aspect of my life brings me immense joy. Some would argue that the reason for this is because I feel out of control, but I don’t think that’s it. At least not for me. I crave order because I feel lost without it. Disorganized might be a good way to describe it from an inbox perspective. If I can’t put my finger on an email or document or calendar event immediately, I panic a bit. So being able to have order in my life in anyway is comforting.
So what is the “inbox zero” theory? Not new by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s still relevant as we are constantly trying to manage our lives in a more efficient manner. The theory is that you can eliminate most of what is in your inbox throughout the day by following a few techniques, or answering questions about the emails coming in. In today’s fast moving world, is zeroing out your inbox realistic? The big question I have to ask is – how much time are we spending trying to get to zero? And – is zero a practical number? For me, I think the answer is no. Like I said, I crave order, but only when it’s practical.
Inbox zero requires you to look at each email and decide the following: delete, delegate, respond, defer or do. But again, is that realistic? As a person who operates fairly independently in terms of household management and even at work, how much can I even delegate? I don’t supervise anyone at work, so I don’t have anyone to delegate to. Deleting is easy, but only for those “subscribed” emails. You know the one’s I’m talking about. I get at least 50 a day telling me of all the “deals”. I could just unsubscribe, but I think I would find myself in a FOMO situation. What if I need to buy those jeans? I need to know when they go on sale. Or do I? Is time more valuable than money? So many questions, so few answers!
That just leaves me with the last three: respond, defer or do. My first actions are usually respond or do. The issue with that is that there’s bound to be another email. And another. And another… So responding doesn’t mean that you get your inbox to zero. In some cases it can create more work, or require you to set up a meeting just to talk about the issue. I don’t particularly like to work this way, but I’m not sure what other choice I have. The “doing” action is usually the best for me. Just get it done with already. But that leads me to my next point:
So you have a list of 10 things that you need to accomplish. Maybe some of those are tasks you’ve flagged in your inbox. But which do you do first, and how do you determine your priorities? A good friend once gave me the advice: do the hardest task first. When I feel like I’m drowning in my inbox, I like this strategy. It’s not always my go-to as some tasks have tighter timelines than others. But the combination is certainly a winning one. Get the worst/biggest/hardest task off your plate to begin with. Same with email. Note – I need to take my own advice. I received an email yesterday that was quite lengthy and requires a lot of thought and research. But instead of doing said research, I am avoiding it. But it automatically moves to the top of my to-do list.
Does “inbox zero” actually make you more productive? I would argue no. I love the concept of having a “clean” inbox at the end of every day, but I don’t think it’s realistic. Take a look at how many emails you have in your inbox right now. Then look at your to do list and calculate the number of hours left in the day. Is it possible for you to “delegate, respond, defer or do” all of those things before the end of the day? Chances are, no. In my personal inbox, I have about 100 emails. Not bad. Most are read and taken care of but being kept for future reference. And I only have about 150 in my work inbox. Again, not bad, but I do spend a lot of time during my day responding to those emails and attempting to triage their importance.
So what does an order craving individual like myself suggest? Find a technique that works for you. Maybe “Inbox Zero” makes sense for you. Maybe it gets you through the day. But for me it doesn’t seem like an effective use of time. Time is something we can’t get more of, so let’s make the best use of it. I’m not trying to be philosophical, but it doesn’t make sense to waste our days trying to achieve a goal that has no real value. Especially when there will be more emails tomorrow. More requests. More tasks.
My advice and also my goal – come up with a strategy that works for you. Use folders or flags. Use the features in your email system to help you stay organized. Often times, the hardest part about being organized is trying to come up with a system. Knowing yourself and your limitations will help as well. Stay tuned for more posts on how I continue to struggle to meet my lofty goal for 2017.