Inbox Zero is a stack of digital productivity advice. "Achieving Inbox Zero" is the knowledge worker that corresponds to "achieving enlightenment". But Inbox Zero does not mean that you have an empty inbox. It's about reducing the tension in email.
Why Inbox Zero Matters
Let's handle The second part of the question first: Why should you take care of what the Inbox is?
If you have any interest in taming your inbox or more generally to be efficient and productive, Inbox Zero is something you need to know about. Inbox Zero is a big thing that has been around since 2006. It has been the subject of many presentations and even books.
Searching Inbox Zero returns 108 million search results in Google and it will continue to be one of the cultural touchstones for productivity for a very long time to come – even when it is floating in and out of fashion. If you have any interest in productivity at all, it is worth knowing about. And, it can help you!
RELATED: Forget Inbox Zero: Use OHIO to trim your emails instead
What is Inbox Zero?
Inbox Zero is a productive philosophy on how to handle a constant, lifelong stream of email. It was first expressed by Merlin Mann on his 43Folders website, which is currently (and hopefully temporary) inaccessible but is reflected by the Internet Archive. Inbox Zero was so popular that a separate site-InboxZero.com was created to keep Mann's Inbox Zero articles. This site is also currently unavailable but is also reflected in archive.org.
There are ten articles in the Inbox Zero series, most of which are about techniques for efficient email management. They are interesting and useful, and we encourage you to read them if you have not before.
But the heart of Inbox Zero is not these practical tips. It's not even about having zero email messages in your inbox, despite the name.
Inbox Zero is not about having an empty inbox
If you assumed "Inbox Zero" meant to have zero emails in your inbox, do not worry that you are not alone. We searched the web for "What is Inbox Zero?" And found many sites that say Inbox Zero is about having an empty inbox.
They are all wrong.
The whole point Inbox Zero is that the email message is an infinite stream. An empty inbox is only ever temporary, so you make an empty inbox. Your goal is a stupid case. You are in favor of other people who send you mail. The only safe way to have a blank inbox is to block all e-mail that is functionally the same as not having an inbox at all.
Or, to keep your inbox to zero, you may have to see it as a hawk and handle every mail when it comes in.
This is unrealistic.
Instead, Inbox Zero's philosophy assumes that your inbox is a source of stress. Inbox Zero aims to make it less stressful and to take up as little of your focus as possible. That's why all practical tips are about making it easier to manage your email and automate things.
Here's what Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero website-now unfortunately offline but still available in archived form-said about Inbox Zero:
It's about how you recover your email, your attention and your life. It "zero?" It's not how many messages are in your inbox – that's how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don't want it to be. It is.
Again, Inbox Zero is not about how many messages are in your inbox. That quote is from Merlin Mann himself, and you cannot become more authoritative than that.
How to achieve inbox null
In the end, like all good philosophies, Inbox Zero is an attitude and mood rather than a set of specific actions. There are no special steps to achieve Inbox Zero more than what is available to achieve enlightenment.
It does not mean that after the practical tips that Mann gives you to manage your mail, it will not end with you having a literal emptying inbox-far from it! For most people, the least stressful inbox is an empty inbox and more power for you if you have succeeded. But tomorrow it will get mail in it again.
Mann suggests practical measures such as setting filters, using conserved responses, and moving emails to different folders as part of a method of lowering the stress agent can cause. An empty inbox is just a potential side effect of this methodology, not the ultimate goal.
The ultimate goal is that your inbox is not a source of stress.
So if you ever hear people saying that the inbox zero is unrealistic or irrevocable, you can be sure they haven't understood it. It's not about having any emails. It's about not having stress from email.
Therefore, we recommend using OHIO (Only Handle It Once) to triage your email messages. Rather than focusing on an unpleasant goal of "Inbox Zero" – something that is often misinterpreted – only managing emails will once save time and stress. Focusing on OHIO will bring you closer to the actual philosophy of Inbox Zero.
RELATED: Forget Inbox Zero: Use OHIO to trim your email instead