Why I’m giving up on Inbox Zero

I’m giving up on Inbox Zero.

To be fair, I think I’ve tried them all.  Every system.  They all work perfectly, I can get my Inbox Zero badge easily, the system gets implemented and my Inbox reaches Zero.

But. It’s a game that never ends, and the rules are wrong. 

Inbox Zero doesn’t mean I have achieved the things that are critical for me today, it means I played the game.  Incoming requests get moved to my calendar or added to my task list, and I won.  A badge.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that the velocity of infinity is such that I will never reach the end of this game, so I’m going to settle for keeping things ‘under control’.

Now, I have built myself a few rules:

  • I arbitrarily set myself a mental limit,  based on how busy things are at present.  If my inbox has 50 items, all good. If it’s 200, then it’s busy and that’s all good. It’ll come back.
  • I use my inbox as a to-do list, and use my calendar to book time to deep work on items.
  • I’ve switched off all the notifications and removed access to my work email from personal devices.  Bye, bye dopamine hits.
  • I’ve stopped fighting urgency with urgency, asking people to message or call me if something really needs my immediate attention.

So far, so good.  I spend less time in my inbox, achieving zero, and more time actually working on the things that matter to me and contributing to the priorities of the role I have.

If I couple this mindset with the only rule I use on prioritisation, I think I have the right balance:

One thing at a time.
Most important thing first.
Start now.

So, I’m giving up on Inbox Zero. Think on.

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