“Email is a zombie that keeps rising from the dead”: Inbox Zero’s never-ending chase | E-mail

Last week, I polled my Twitter followers on their email inboxes.

Author Mohammed Massoud Morsi compared it to a “Kalashnikov on semi-automatic… Nudge, Nudge, Nudge. Nudge. Nudge, Nudge. Human rights lawyer Diana Sayed responded that hers works like a to-do list that empties regularly. And when editor Caitlin Chang revealed her inbox was over 1,000 and numbered (she says she only reads the top ones, as they’re probably the most important), someone’s response one was: “I threw up a little in my mouth”.

It is often the great things in life – politics, money, religion – that become polarized. They elicit passionate and passionate reactions, and everyone thinks their path is right.

The subject of email inboxes can do much the same, and given their imminent and constant presence in our lives, the right way to handle them is arguably as controversial as all of the above – which is why sort of obsession with inbox zero.

If you’re not familiar, let me explain: Inbox Zero is a term that was coined in the early 2000s by “lifestyle guru” Merlin Mann, who wrote on his blog about his rigorous approach. of email management – while keeping the inbox to zero unread emails – on its 43folders.com site. It was based on his quest for productivity: it wasn’t about the number of emails in an inbox, he said, but the time our brains spent. in this inbox.

At the time, Mann had identified five possible actions for each post: delete, delegate, reply, defer, and do. His approach, which has become exceptionally popular, has been described as “revolutionary” by the New Yorker. And almost two decades later, it’s still a hot topic of conversation.

Dr David Glance, director of the Center of Software Practice at the University of Western Australia, is not surprised. He says there is a tension between the seemingly endless storage capacities of messaging systems (designed this way so that the companies behind them can harvest our data) and the “cognitive load” we encounter when we see numbers. in our inbox – something that is “made worse” by the constant access we have to email on smartphones and watches.

“Each buzz triggers hormonal changes that add to the stress level,” he explains. “An inbox with more than 20 emails becomes unmanageable. With all other communication channels, it becomes overwhelming very quickly, especially in times of high stress. “

Writer and mother of two, Natalia Figueroa Barroso became an Inbox Zero convert after losing an important essay as a college student. The loss of the email compounded her existing anxiety and became a catalyst for more in-depth management of her inbox.

“I’m meticulously organized,” she says. “Zero emails in my inbox and in my files to sort receipts, poems, news, scripts, ideas, emergencies [things] etc. I’m a bit compulsive with emails, [and] I married a man who is just the opposite. It’s painful to see her email icon on her phone.

Figueroa Barroso is currently working on 28 emails in her inbox – most of them relate to a project she is editing – but her husband has over 40,000 in his. He stopped letting her go through this in 2019, when she had a “mini panic attack” over important things lost among “special offer promotions and bitcoin spam.”

Psychologist Dr Jo Lukins says email is the digital equivalent of clutter, “a constant source of information and uncontrollable tasks [that] can have a negative impact on our physiology and increase our stress levels ”.

She says one of the biggest challenges with our email inboxes is that others dictate the delivery of messages, which makes us passive users an essential work tool.

“A full inbox is a constant reminder of what we haven’t done and can impact our sense of accomplishment,” says Lukins. “Inbox Zero is a powerful strategy that we can implement to increase our sense of control over our workflow. Every time we complete a task, we are given a dose of dopamine that strengthens us physically, and [we] feel the psychological relief of success.

Like Glance, who says Inbox Zero works because the rules are simple (“don’t have anything in your inbox”), Lukins thinks working towards Inbox Zero – something she’s been maintaining since January 2020 – is a noble one. quest.

Delete and repeat

So how do you do it?

Lukins advises starting with a calendar and working your way up from it, identifying what you would consider current. From there, she suggests either “be brave and delete everything before that date” or put them in a separate folder marked with that date, only deleting them if you still haven’t retrieved them in months over. late.

“Set aside a time to delete the inbox according to an email action strategy that works for you,” she explains. “The three options I have with an email are: action, delete, task. The “action” emails are the ones I will deal with right away. ‘Delete’ emails are the ones I get rid of immediately [while considering if it’s] a source I can unsubscribe from. “Task” emails are tasks that I cannot complete in a short period of time. These emails are then placed in my “what’s next?” List… on a notepad next to my computer.

She suggests setting a time frame to keep that goal in the inbox, asking what success will look like for you. Will you be working on your inbox daily? Weekly? At what time?

“Manageable inbox”

But psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says the pursuit of zero inbox equals success and productivity to a clean, tidy inbox, which isn’t always sustainable because our brains weren’t designed to. manage the volume of information to which emails expose us.

“Email is a zombie that keeps rising from the dead,” she says. “Its ‘serve and return’ nature means you can hardly ever get it under control, which can make you feel like you are fighting an impossible war. “

Instead, she advocates something she calls Inbox Manageable, which she says is a combination of working better with our psychology and neurology to improve the way we communicate and the systems we use to communicate.

“Few of us have ever received formal lessons in how to use email ‘correctly’, so we bounce it off for all kinds of reasons, often unnecessarily,” she explains.

She advises setting clearer expectations around her goal (“not a chat system; not a team brainstorm; not a meeting request system”) without simply moving to other platforms, which often just add other places to keep up with.

Mann now thinks that taking Inbox Zero a bit too literally is actually damaging your time, as we have more inboxes than ever before: across multiple social media platforms, email inboxes for work and use. personal, and apps like Slack, Teams, and Hangouts. Spending time going through them all would leave us very little time to actually live our lives.

The time we could use, perhaps, to discuss the other big things, like politics, religion, and money.

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