September 4, 2012

Why Inbox Zero is Not a Goal

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Inbox Zero isn't the Real Goal
We’ve all become too accessible and now we have goals like inbox zero.

Let’s explore the reasons why you would have inbox zero as a goal:

1.  You’re overwhelmed by emails and you’re reminded of it each day a few times a day.

2.  Achieving inbox zero gives you a sense of accomplishment. You feel like you can focus on a more important task with a clear mind.  You have a similar feeling of creativity when you clean off your desk.

3.  You don’t want other people to think you don’t care about them.


That’s about it.

You feel better and you have a better sense of focus when you get to zero.  But having this as a goal is not actually helping you.

In fact, it’s hurting your productivity, watering down your network, and setting an expectation with people that’s sporadic and not scalable.  It also gives you a sense of being productive when you’re actually not.  Productivity is when you are efficiently completing what you need to get done for your business.  Your inbox has very little to do with that.  None of your tasks include, “Hope I get 100 emails today so I can respond to them”.

When you speed through your inbox, you’re going for speed instead of quality. Your network is valuable in proportion to the quality of contacts and not the quantity. When you shoot for inbox zero you are missing opportunities to develop better relationships at the optimal time : when you have the most context and are engaged in a conversation.  Taking time to ask questions and knowing someone better is when you’ll see benefits from networking, not when you’re chasing quantity.

So what can you do

1.  Relax.  Take a deep breath.  Seriously take a deep breath and let yourself be free of this never-ending and relentless pressure.  Tell yourself that number may never be zero again and that’s a good thing.  When you focus on inbox zero, you’re robbing yourself of proactive thinking and creativity. You become a slave to your inbox and you’re just reacting, you’re not creating.

If you thought that you got a great feeling from getting to inbox zero,  you should try the feeling that happens when you don’t look at email for two days and focus on what you need to get done and not what other people need you to do. If you respond quickly, you’ve set the expectation with each person that you’re always going to respond quickly. That’s just not scalable so when things get crazy busy, you start to worry that people will think you don’t care about them because you didn’t answer within 24 hours.  Try going two days without email and just focus on what you need to get done.

2.  Take time with each contact and research them. You will have developed more contacts in the end because you’ll have meaningful relationships with each one.  If you have never done this, at least try it for a couple of days.  It’s more rewarding to know someone better and finding a way to connect with them at a level that no one else takes the time to.

3.  Take your team to a different communication platform.  You should never be collaborating through email or be in a position where your teams’ emails – which are time sensitive and critical to your business – are in the same place as mailers from people that assume you want to be on their mailing list because you responded to an email once.  There’s just too much stimuli to not get distracted when you’re working from your inbox.

4.  An actual “emergency” and the word “email” should not be in the same sentence.  Set the expectation with those that might have something critical you need to know about that they can call you or text you.  It will give you the peace of mind you’re looking for that an “emergency” will get caught.

5.  Make me be the bad guy.  Feel free to email this post to your boss or put this tweet out to your network and I’m happy to be your “fall guy” in hopes of increasing global productivity.

@pdejoe challenged me to turn off my inbox for 2 days to increase productivity. Please pardon a delayed response. Thank you and blame him.

5 Comments on “Why Inbox Zero is Not a Goal

September 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm

An interesting question: how would that translate to companies using a corporate social network instead of email? I always feel uneasy when I hear claims like “Chatter reduced our email volume by 30%”: OK but it increased your volume of instant messages (ie instant disruptions) by how much?

Paul DeJoe
September 4, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Hey Thomas – this is definitely a good discussion point. I don’t claim to know how it translates to a company using social networks as an inbox yet, nor do I know if email vs. social will ever be comparable as only two people see the email exchange. The clock starts ticking and everyone is watching response times and how you handle service recovery when it’s on social. With email being one to one, it’s easier to contain and address in time. With social networks, there’s a bigger incentive to respond quickly and therefore a bigger opportunity to be recognized for service recovery or lack there of. Concerns and responses on social networks are out in the open to view by many. So in regards to your example, whether it’s using social means internally or by using social as customer support, I would expect to see email significantly reduced if there’s a quicker response times on other networks. That doesn’t mean the workload is reduced.

Salespeople Never Change | Ecquire
October 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm

[…] I also have a daily morning ritual too: no email. […]


[…] Zero is not a goal. Use your extra time, creativity, and focus to produce real […]

Paul Lewakowski - Google+
April 17, 2015 at 1:47 am

Between your wit and your videos, I used to be virtually moved
to start my own blog (well, nearly…HaHa!) Great job.


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