You Know What's Better Than Inbox Zero?

Inbox twenty.

Image: hyperdashery badges; Art: Silvia

Look, it’s me, printing out my old blogs and eating them. Once upon a time I was young and ambitious and had a much shorter haircut and I worked in a skyscraper and I held myself to a pretty much impossible standard. That’s right, I used to do Inbox Zero. I was very good at it, and I managed to keep it pretty much under control across two email inboxes: work and personal.

Zero Dark Inbox

Now, I have two jobs, three work emails, and a lot more than zero emails in every inbox. I’m ready to admit that a much more reasonable goal is: slightly more than zero, but not enough to require a scroll to a second screen. Ergo: twenty! For me, lately, “twenty” has been more like twenty-five, but today I got down to nineteen. Doesn’t that feel really significant, like turning a corner and breaking through an imaginary wall only I could see to becoming a better person? It does, to me.

The general principle remains the same: file away (archive, not delete) anything that doesn’t require your action. Keep in your inbox only what you need to accomplish (for me: mostly edits, some replies), and sweep the rest under the rug. There, doesn’t your workspace feel neater and more manageable? But I forgot the main principle of work, is that it’s there the next day. You work on it as much as you can, you go home, and you come back, and it’s never finished. Lord knows we will all—each and every one of us—die as we lived: with emails in our inbox. Mine will probably be from Everlane, Bank of America, and the Harvard College Fund.

Admittedly, I am very much still “addicted to the gratification that comes from tidying up,” I just have more reasonable expectations now—twenty instead of zero. Doesn’t that seem more balanced and self-forgiving? It’s charitable, it’s efficient, and it’s just imperfect enough—like a real human flaw. Is this what they call getting older? Or is this just letting go? Don’t answer that.