Idiomdrottning’s homepage

What was Inbox Zero?

Inbox Zero was the philosophy that there should be super clear edges between “email you’ve never even seen before”, “email you still need to reply to but you don’t need to do anything else first”, “email that’s waiting for you or someone else to do something external”, and “email you’re done with but might wanna look up things in later”, and using folders to do that.

I’m not sure if people are still using folders and stuff to organize email, but yeah, in general, fishing out “I need to do something” things from your notes or emails or RSS or socials or phone calls or meetings, and then making yourself aware of what are the practical and concrete actions I need to take and what context I need to be in, practicing that is pretty clutch.

If your email app has a tangle of stuff you’ve already replied to mixed in with something you’re holding off on until you’ve slept on it mixed in with things where you need to go buy flour and chickpeas mixed in with things you have everything ready and you could be replying to it mixed with things that just popped in and you haven’t even seen it, and you’re constantly manually reading and re-reading your list of emails, that’s the sort of pain the Inbox Zero philosophy set out to liberate you from.

Whether you’re using “read/unread” markers, folders, labels, stars, flags, archive etc, you need three steps:

  1. Haven’t seen before,
  2. Wanna do something about (or waiting for someone else to do something), and
  3. Done & gone!

Of course, most of the time you can go from first-look to done immediately, by either replying right away or just ignoring/blocking the email, and that’s great, that’s healthy, but that only makes it more tricky when you do need that intermediate step for some emails.

Most people who are in trouble have figured out how to let their email app have two steps, but are missing a way to have three steps.

Perhaps they’ve figured out that unread email looks bold but then they re-boldify things that they’re not ready to reply to right away, blending the first two categories together. That’s a common cause of stress and repeated work. Having to re-encounter and re-decide about the emails over and over again is pretty exhausting.

My own preference is to use an external todo list app (or on paper) to keep track of emails I still need to do something about, but that only suits me because out of all the things I have to do, only a small portion of them come via email.

Another way to do it is to have a folder, label, flag or star that means “todo”.