It is a overused term in contemporary business-efficiency writing. Inbox 0 refers to the almost unobtainable goal of having all of your emails caught up. It’s a mythical place where everything is attended to and everyone is happy. Not unlike keeping water out of your boat’s bilge, your inbox suffers from a constant drip that gradually bogs down your productivity and corrodes your psyche. You feel it like a weight and the constant drip of another email, then another, then another can literally make you feel like you are sinking. I actually hate it. To truly manage your inbox is the equivalent of keeping a boat in storage so it stays dry. It takes you away from finding new ideas and opportunities. And, like a dry boat, it can be a terrible waste of resources and opportunity.
If you have read my writing with any regularity, you have had to suffer through an occasionally preachy piece about “Go Fish” or “Don’t Forget to Fish” where I admonish the reader (and mostly myself) about making the time to actually go fishing and not just thinking, wishing and planning to go. So why am I writing about my perception of best email practices in a forum where I am generally writing about fishing, marine habitat and conservation? This column was generated after a recent email exchange with my most-frequent and beloved fishing partner. We were trading boastful photos via email of our trophies. Slobbishly obese trout? Enormous yellowfin tuna? Doormat flatfish? No. It was a sad exchange of screen captures of our empty inboxes. It wasn’t a couple of 30-inch trout or multi-spotted redfish….but empty inboxes? Although it was a joking exchange between two people who both love their jobs, work a lot, and regularly fall prey to embarrassingly leaky inboxes, it really wasn’t funny. We had both spent hours through our holiday weekends clearing our emails and were actually boastful about that.
I use this imagery to remind all of us that beyond being useless and virtually unobtainable, Inbox 0 (or any variation of it) is not what you want to be the dominant point in your eulogy. Avid outdoorsman? Tireless ocean advocate? No. I want “Pat always kept the tidiest inbox and was so prompt in his email practices.” The solution to this is a classic one of those simple-but-not-easy moments. I’ve written it before and will likely keep writing it. Just go fish.