Back in January I blogged about the recurring Internet meme of achieving and maintaining Inbox Zero. I thought a couple of months later it would be useful to update you on my progress and what effect it's had on my productivity. Using the technique described in my blog post I archived all of the mail in my inbox older than a couple of months. I was an early adopter of Gmail and had tens of thousands of emails in my inbox; hey, you never ever had to delete them, right! I then laboriously went through the remaining emails, deleting or archiving those I could, and actioning the ones I couldn't until my inbox was empty - yes, this did take a few hours.
Using an app on my iPhone and iPad, called Mailbox, I've found it easy and enjoyable to stay at Inbox Zero. First let's look at why Mailbox helps me maintain an empty inbox. With just a simple swipe and a click and can easily defer an email if I don't want to reply to it straight away. The defer actions (seen on the right) are reasonably self explanatory. What Mailbox does is moves emails from your inbox into folders that depending on your choice ensures that the mail will reappear in your inbox at the designated time and date.
I'll use one of those irritating work emails that arrive in your inbox at 5:30pm on Friday afternoon to show what happens. The mail in question perhaps requires some thought or information obtained from work systems. I wont be able to physically deal with it until Monday anyway. So I defer the mail to "Next Week". Mailbox then removes that email from my inbox and it will appear first thing Monday morning for me to action. Mail can also be easily deleted, archived and directed to specific folders (labels in Gmail) with simple gestures.
Why then is this so helpful? Consider that friday afternoon work mail. Previously it would have been sitting in my inbox all weekend, nagging at me. Constantly reminding me it needed dealing to all weekend. Now I can totally forget about, relaxed in the certainty it will reappear next week when I can actually do something about it. This form of positive deferment is really very liberating. I action mail when I need to and defer those that I can to an appropriate time in the future: a few hours later, tomorrow, next week, in a month, a specific date, or someday (a deferment for mails that might be fun or interesting to deal with but have no priority). Maintaining inbox zero has, I think, made me more relaxed and productive.