22 January 2013 by Published in: Don't understand, Lifehacking, rants 4 comments

I don’t understand Fake Inbox Zero.  It’s the idea that your inbox should always have zero messages.  As distinct from Actual Inbox Zero:

“It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

The Fake Inbox Zero and Hardcore GTDers don’t make any sense to me.  Let’s study my e-mail from a random 24-hour period:

  1. A newsletter I have no desire to read
  2. A recruiter
  3. A voicemail from my landlord making sure they took care of a leak
  4. A client telling me to expect delivery of something
  5. Another newsletter I have no desire to read
  6. 3 spams that slipped through the spam filter
  7. Small talk from a friend that requires no reply
  8. Automatic alerts that I’ve already read
  9. Errors from a system that I’m not going to read
  10. An automatic report that I’m not going to read
  11. More automated alerts that I’ve already read
  12. One e-mail that requires a reply.  I replied immediately.
  13. Notification of new tickets that probably no one will ever work on
  14. A receipt that I will never read
  15. A reminder that I took action on immediately
  16. A reminder that I already had filed a ticket for, so no further action was required
  17. Spam that slipped through the filter
  18. A mailing list inquiry that didn’t look interesting
  19. Another reminder that I had already filed a ticket for, so no further action was required
  20. An e-mail putting off scheduling a meeting, so no further action was required
  21. Automatic notifications about tickets that I don’t need to read
  22. An e-mail that didn’t require a response

If I was a Fake Inbox Zeroer or Hardcore GTDer, I’d have to take 22 actions in almost as many hours.  For them, every e-mail requires a response, a postpone (into a task system or similar) or an explicit ignore.

What I actually do is I opt-in to my e-mail.  I took two actions: I took action on #12 and on #15.  The others are just sitting in my inbox.  I’m not going to do anything with them, but I don’t have to delete them either.  They can just sit there.

I have over 5,000 messages in my inbox just sitting there.  It would be pretty easy to “Select All, Delete.”  But if you wait half an hour, I’ll have another message in the inbox.  Why spend a lot of time cleaning up a mess that anyone can make?

(While I was deciding if I needed to write any more for this article, I got another e-mail.  It required no action.)

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  1. Kazimieras
    Mon 15th Jul 2013 at 2:28 am

    You’re lying. You already took and action on your email. You looked it up.

  2. Wed 17th Jul 2013 at 11:47 pm

    I totally see where you’re coming from. Here’s what I think you’re missing (or rather not missing, since I very much envy you if you don’t have this problem!), to quote myself from http://messymatters.com/snooze

    My email is dysfunctional. I keep things in my inbox because I can’t afford for them to go out of sight, out of mind — but then that’s exactly what happens. They get buried deeper and deeper in my inbox by all the other messages I delusionally think I’m going to deal with.

  3. Jon Hendry
    Sat 20th Jul 2013 at 7:59 am

    This is pretty much how I deal with it.

    My desktop Mail.app inbox contains 10,700-some messages. I flag a few that are important in some way.

    Every couple of years I sort by sender or use smart mailboxes to do mass deletes, but it’s not a high priority.

  4. John Costello
    Sun 28th Jul 2013 at 11:02 am

    I take action on these kinds of messages (the ones I know I will never look at) the first time I see them by creating a filter: apply a label, remove from inbox, mark as read. Done.

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