Inbox Zero

“It’s not about email.”

While eating an apple galette and announcing his forthcoming book, Merlin lets the cat out of the bag regarding Inbox Zero: it’s not about email. It’s about managing your inbox and using it as a tool to help you make good decisions, build good relationships, and produce good work.

Lately it has clicked for me that my compulsive tendency to constantly check my email does not help me do my job any better. And what’s worse, that compulsion has bled over into some other, non-email inboxes.

For a long time Inbox Zero was my system for processing email so I wasn’t constantly swimming in messages all day. And if I did the system well I won the Inbox Zero badge. Shawn: 1 Inbox: 0

Now I love an empty inbox as much as anyone. But Inbox Zero is more about how I approach my inbox than how I process what’s in it. And it’s not just the email anymore. There’s the Twitter, Ping, my blog stats, my RSS subscriptions, my Flickr contacts, my Instapaper queue, and who knows what else. These are all inboxes and they all need Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero means I care more about the outbox than the inbox. It means I choose to focus my time, energy, and attention on creating something worthwhile instead of feeding some unhealthy addiction to constantly check my inboxes. Pressing the Get New Mail button or refreshing my Twitter stream is like pulling the crank on a slot machine. Did I win? No. Did I win? No.

Inbox Zero means I care more about this moment than I do about my narcissistic tendencies of knowing who’s talking to me on Twitter. It means I care more about doing my best creative work than about keeping up with the real-time web and being instantly accessible via email.

To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson: Inboxes are good enough in their own right, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for work.

Inbox Zero is all about the outbox.

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