4 Things Wrong With “Inbox Zero”

Have you heard of the email productivity strategy, inbox zero? Discover 4 things wrong with inbox zero and what you should be doing instead.
4 Things Wrong With “Inbox Zero”
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Issues with “Inbox Zero” Email Strategy

Inbox zero is an email management system by Merlin Mann that aims to keep your emails empty by manually filtering emails into: delete (or archive), delegate, respond, defer and do. 

The coveted strategy promises better time management, focus and mental energy. The problem? This manual sorting requires constant effort and energy all day, every day. And if you don’t achieve it, you may feel like a failure. 

In this article, we dive into 4 things wrong with inbox zero and how you can enjoy a more productive email inbox. 

1. Inbox zero is unrealistic 

For the average Joe or Jane, keeping up with work and emails is more than enough without the pressure of no unread emails. The reality is that most business professionals receive an incessant flood of emails in their inbox every day. 

Unlike a work task or project, emails aren’t something you can take care of forever. It’s a never-ending process. That’s why, inbox zero is so flawed. 

If an email productivity strategy requires hands-on effort to manage emails or encourages you to make hasty decisions (e.g. deleting, archiving, or delegating immediately), is it really saving you time? 

Repeat after us: You don’t need an inbox with zero emails to be successful. Nor is it realistic.

2. Inbox zero makes you obsess over numbers 

Spending less time on email is a solid concept, however trying to achieve and maintain inbox zero could be setting you up for failure. 

Even Mann insists that the ‘zero’ “isn’t a reference to the number of messages in your inbox”, but rather “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox”.

However, in reality, most people are focusing on having an empty inbox at all times. This can create a mindset that emails are a task you can complete permanently, not a process or practice—defeating the entire purpose of the strategy. 

For the number-obsessed folk, inbox zero can make having an overflowing inbox or an “Inbox (1)” notification feel like you’ve failed. It also frames emails as an obligation you need to respond to immediately. 

But you don’t have to reply to every email as soon as it hits your inbox. And having a blank email doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on top of your emails. 

Obsessing over a number can be counterproductive and make you spend more time managing your inbox than actually getting things done. That’s why it’s important to focus on Mann’s true wish for your inbox: to do emails less. 

3. Inbox zero still requires a ton of effort 

Inbox zero’s approach to get on top of emails includes: 

  • Delete/archive
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do. 

Considering how many unsolicited emails working professionals can get, the process of actively deleting and archiving irrelevant emails alone is painstaking. Inbox zero requires constant effort, which beats its entire purpose. 

4. Inbox Zero is counterproductive  

When you’re deep in flow mode, getting sucked into emails is a time vacuum. If you check your emails several times a day, or always have them open, this is a bad habit for email productivity.  

Having the pressure to action each email in your inbox can be detrimental to your to-do list. You don’t have to read and react to each message immediately. When you think about it, what does inbox zero actually accomplish? It sure as heck isn’t helping you do your real work. 

Make your inbox work for you

Rather than achieving inbox zero, you can embrace these tried-and-tested tools and tactics that help you spend less time on email:

  • Create set times to deal with emails. Turn off email notifications and schedule set times in the day to process emails. For example, at the start and end of your day, and briefly after lunch.  
  • Set up filters. Practical, workable filters should make your life easier, not harder. Use labels or filters to optimize your inbox as much as you can.  
  • Stop double-handling emails. Opening emails and deferring them to future-you is ineffective. Figure out what needs to be done with each email and try to only handle it once. 
  • Keep your emails succinct. Lead by example and write better emails that are short, to-the-point and easy to read. This can save unnecessary back-and-forth and demonstrate to your network what a good email looks like. 
  • Reduce distractions with our Smart Filters. To make your inbox work for you—not the other way around—InMoat’s AI-powered Smart Filters automatically organize your unwanted or unsolicited emails into folders. That means fewer distractions sans the effort.  

If you’re tired of unwanted emails clogging up your inbox, you can enjoy a more productive inbox with InMoat. Sign up for a demo or free trial today. 


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