My case for INBOX ZERO

Todd Schnick

My iPhone, Sunday, 232pm

Look, how you manage your INBOX is your business. Far be it from me to judge you if your inbox is cluttered and full, tight and under control, or at ZERO each day.

Doesn’t matter to me. Like snowflakes, each human is different, and each of us utilize and manage our INBOXES differently.

I happen to be one of those advocates for striving for INBOX ZERO each day. For me, it works. For me, it brings a sense of order to the chaos.

There are plenty of people in the world who mock me for taking this position. Doesn’t matter to me. They have a different operating system.

Oftentimes, their point is legitimately this: there is the question of people focusing on the URGENT, rather than focusing on the IMPORTANT. This is critical to life success. On this, there is NO debate.

Their point is that worrying about INBOX ZERO is busy work. They argue we should be focusing on our important creative work.

I agree.

But this assumes people think I focus on email rather than focus on my important work. And I will admit this did use to be me.

There was a time when I received hundreds of emails per day. Hundreds. I used to measure the size of my self-worth by how many emails I got. I used to boast on Twitter about how many emails I received on a given day, as if this made me important.

For INBOX ZERO to work for me (and probably you), you have to simply get control of your INBOX. You have to only subscribe to things that matter to you.

And if something arrives in your box that doesn’t immediately convey value to you, you should mercilessly delete it. What you should NOT do is set it aside and see if it matters to you later.

It won’t.

But this is key to this, prioritizing the content you receive in your INBOX is a constant curation. One that you have to keep on top of. And one of the reasons I have to be meticulous about achieving INBOX ZERO each day, for this allows me to delete what needs to be deleted NOW, rather than letting all that stuff pile up.

Because it is at that point that email DOES distract me from my important work.

For those of you who use your INBOX as a task list, well, that’s your choice, and if that works for you, that’s great!

Doesn’t work for me. Over many years of experimenting with dozens and dozens of task management strategies, I’ve finally landed on the one that works for me. And it isn’t through my INBOX.

But at the end of the day, INBOX ZERO is just a symbol of something: was I disciplined this day? Was I on my game? Was I focused (on the right things)?

The one thing I obsess over now more than anything? Striving to receive as FEW emails as possible. But that’s how carefully I manage my INBOX, how carefully I have to curate the content that arrives there.

And spam gets dealt with. Immediately. And like weeds, this will get out of control without constant attention.

No, my goal is that whatever email I do receive is important communication that I WANT TO DEAL WITH: It is communication from clients or prospects, or other people important to me, information I’ve specifically requested, or media that I very much want to learn from.

Funny thing is? My business operates better when I have a streak of weeks of achieving INBOX ZERO. [Yes, I actually track this on Lift.Do]

I am on top of my game better when I am regularly hitting INBOX ZERO. I close more deals. I better serve my clients. And I am truly learning from people I want to learn from.

For me, INBOX ZERO is how I drive towards success.

You can mock me for taking this position, tell me I am anal retentive. Or accuse me of focusing on the URGENT rather than the IMPORTANT.

Your problem.

INBOX ZERO works for me.


Look, I hope you will opt-in to my mailing list, where I talk about other business and life hacks. But you had better NOT sign-up if all I will be is clutter in your INBOX. Decide carefully!

  • Gareth Young

    I think this is one of your more important and challenging posts. I also strive for zero inbox, but routinely fail. I use the excuses that some items are easier to manage from my inbox – a default supplemental task list – when the real reason is my unwillingness to make a decision on what to do with it. If the email doesn’t require immediate action, I should identify what I need to do and when, and set up a task in my real task management system. I have set up a recurring Monday task to get my inbox down to zero on the basis that if I can at least accomplish this weekly, it is a really good start. But even there my indecisiveness gets in the way. Not today, though! Thanks for the challenge, Todd.

  • Todd Schnick

    you’ve identified the key problem – people can’t make a decision on how to process all the email they get, so they remain stuck, take no action, and over time, the email piles up. getting control of my inbox makes it easier for me to make quick decisions on incoming mail when there is a lot less of it…

  • Jennifer Capewell

    Most excellent! There are 2 camps, but 1 can be in both. I employ this strategy with my work email, but delete only 1/3 since I file in folders the other 2/3 (out of sight, but easy to recall.) However, my home email has way more deletes, yet no official folders (luckily, Gmail sorts into folders somewhat anyway.) You never know when you’re going to need that discount code or kids’ registration link, etc. It is a good feeling to leave work with INBOX ZERO, but probably a good thing that I go home to INBOX VIP.

  • Todd Schnick

    Don’t get me wrong Jennifer! INBOX ZERO for me represents that all emails are dealt with. In many cases, if an email is worth saving (and we should think long and hard about what to actually save), then for me that means it is archived in the proper folder, which Gmail makes easy. But at the end of the day, the main INBOX is at ZERO. Everything has been answered, deleted, or strategically archived.

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