Inbox Zero is BS

Inbox Zero is BS

By Sara Stewart May 20, 2016 | 4:48pm

It’s happened to me more than once lately: A friend sees the glaring red number on my iPhone’s email icon (2,052, if you must know) and their eyes do that cartoon thing where they bungee out of their sockets. “How do you live?” they’ll ask in a horrified whisper. “I could never stand to see that every day.”

Really? Because to me, that little number represents the freedom I feel from the compulsion to check and erase, check and erase, like a rat in a lab experiment, all day, every day.

Blame the recent trend toward minimalism. Decluttering every aspect of our lives has morphed into an OCD obsession with tracking down and annihilating any object, real or virtual, that doesn’t, as Marie Kondo puts it, “spark joy.” Ironically, you can now spend hours and hours reading guides about simplifying your life: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” “The Joy of Less,” or, more relevantly, “21 Days to Inbox Zero.”

This irritating buzz-phrase was coined in 2007 by a “productivity guru” named Merlin Mann.

It has since spawned a widespread and disturbing philosophy, in which the more time you devote to tending to your email, the better you’ll feel — as if we didn’t already spend too many hours each day in front of our various screens. We’ve essentially been trained to see an empty inbox as proof of a streamlined, efficient mind: In truth, it’s just the opposite.

Studies show that it takes an undue amount of time to return to whatever you were doing when you take time out to read some (usually unnecessary and unsolicited) email, delete it and redirect your mind to where it was before. One study, cited in a story about how some of us may just be more attached to our techno-identities than others, quoted a researcher who studied distraction and email. “When someone drops everything just to get an unread count back to zero, productivity might be taking a hit. ‘It takes people on average about 25 minutes to reorient back to a task when they get interrupted,’ [a researcher] says.”

Plus, if we’re talking about work email, consider this: Having an empty inbox has zero effect on your salary. You’re not getting paid to erase emails all day — unless your job title is Deleter of Emails, in which case, poor you.

I’d like to suggest an alternative: Inbox Whatever. As in, who cares? Not your boss. Not the people sending you endless pointless emails (studies show only 20 to 40 percent of all emails sent actually get read, anyway, not that ad agencies aren’t always trying to up their eyeball count). Not your family or friends, who’d be delighted to see more of you now that you’re not spending hours every day pecking away at the delete button. And lest you worry that your inbox is going to get too big and the internet’s going to run out of space — well, it isn’t. But to put your mind at ease, why not schedule a purge every now and then? It’s easy enough to find guidelines, if you need them, to deleting items in bulk and deleting all unread messages.

Because here’s a dirty little secret about unread emails: If you miss reading one that’s crucial, someone’s bound to follow up. But most of the time, we know which emails we need to read and which we don’t. If emails go unread for a week or a month, they’re like that stack of magazines piling up in the corner: You’re probably never going to get around to them, and in any case, the information in them is now out of date. You can safely kiss them goodbye.

So step away from the screen. Take a walk. Eat something delicious and bad for you. After all, as a wise man once said:

Life moves pretty fast..... If you don't stop every once in awhile and look around you could miss it...... (from Ferris Bueller's Day Off)


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