Why Inbox 0 Is a Joke (and How to Deal)

Could you go an entire day without checking your inbox? Yeah right. Most of us have trouble going a couple hours without checking our inboxes. It’s an addiction. And it’s killing our productivity, one little ping at a time.

“It is exhausting knowing that most of the time the phone rings, most of the time there’s an email, most of the time there’s a letter, someone wants something of you.” ~Stephen Fry

Unfortunately, email is a necessary evil. We can’t boycott our inboxes no matter how appealing it sounds. We just have to learn to deal. The good news is that there are some productivity hacks we can use to make tackling our inboxes seem less like a scene from Mission Impossible.

Here are the four things you need to know about becoming the master of your inbox!

1. Don’t Send to Receive

Here’s a simple truth: We usually send email to receive email. When we fire off a new email, we expect to get a response. So, let’s say you spent 45 minutes sending 15 emails off at 9:30 a.m. Chances are, you’re expecting responses to all of them, even if it’s a simple thank you.

That’s the problem.

By noon, you’ll have at least 15 new emails waiting for you. And, well, the senders will likely be waiting for a response from you. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Instead of sending email to receive it back, break the cycle. Send email with purpose. Set rules about sending those simple “thank you” responses. Clearly define what the next steps are in your email; don’t leave any room for ambiguity.

Whenever possible, eliminate the need to contact you again about the same issue.

2. OHIO or Hate Yourself Later

Allow me to introduce you to the concept of OHIO (only handle it once). I don’t know about you, but I tend to read emails and think, “I’m way too busy for that right now.” Then I have to keep it in the back of my mind for days.

OHIO means getting something done, closing the case. It’s changed my whole outlook on productivity.

The idea is to get it off your plate as soon as you see it. You have four options! You can do it, delete it, delegate it or defer it. Choose one and move on.

Letting an email loom kills your productivity. Studies show we’re motivated by progress. Having old emails kicking around your inbox isn’t helping you. If you’re not OHIOing your inbox, it’s only a matter of time before your brain makes you regret it.

3. Schedule Your Inbox Quality Time

According to a study, we experience one interruption every eight minutes. And the average interruption takes 5-15 minutes to recover from. If you receive 50 interruptions a day and they each take 10 minutes to recover from, that’s 500 minutes a day. Hello! That’s over 8 hours.

Email certainly doesn’t help. Our inboxes create a sense of urgency and we become reactionary instead of proactive. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “right now” emergencies that are building in your inbox. But it’s at the expense of productive and proactive time.

Did you know our brains love email? When we notice that we have a new email, we get a little rush of dopamine, which triggers the reward part of our brains. Sounds weird, right? Biologically, we love the anticipation of what could be waiting for us in those emails.

Instead of letting those biology-backed interruptions run your day, turn your phone off (or temporarily disable notifications) and close the tab that shows your growing inbox. Instead, schedule quality time with your inbox throughout the day.

Don’t get distracted outside of those blocks of time!

4. We’re Not J.K. Rowling

I enjoy a great novel as much as the next person… except when it’s in my inbox. People want to read actionable, to-the-point emails – not screenplays. Taming your inbox takes a lot of time, but sometimes that’s just because you have to sift through paragraphs upon paragraphs to figure out what exactly someone is trying to say.

Three.Sentenc.es challenges us to treat email like text messaging. We need to keep it short and sweet. More than three sentences and you’re out! If you can’t say it in three sentences or less, you need to pick up the phone (gasp) or meet in person.

Simplify what you’re saying. Focus on the action items.

Start the short and sweet movement with your friends and colleagues. They should take the hint and follow suit pretty quickly!

When’s the last time you saw the bottom of your inbox? It’s easier said than done. I can’t remember the last time I reached inbox 0. The truth is that there will always be more email. Inbox 0 is a joke!

It’s a temporary win. Instead, learn how to deal with email in a way that doesn’t kill your productivity. You might not reach inbox 0 every night, but you will still be the master of your inbox.

How do you get to inbox 0?