Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Inbox Thousands - The Antithesis to Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is a set of tips by 43Folders to help you handle the barrage of constantly incoming emails and to help you keep the number of emails in your inbox at zero. It is quite a popular methodology and I think it’s great. Well, except for one thing. The name.

As of today, there are 4280 emails in my inbox. This may cause you to think that I am an incredibly disorganized person, and that it is pretty hypocritical for someone such as myself to work on an organizational tool such as Tagaabo. So yes, I do admit that I have a tendency to be pretty disorganized. It is precisely because I have struggled with this that I have taken such an interest in the organizational field. However, even with 4280 emails in my inbox, I am not at all worried about missing any important information, nor am I worried about forgetting to reply to important emails. I actually came to this state of Inbox Thousands after a long search for the best method of handling the deluge of emails that we deal with today. Let me explain.

Several years ago, once in a while I would spend a huge chunk of time cleaning up my email inbox. I remember one time, I spent an entire day! When I finished, I felt a sense of accomplishment, yet at the same time I had an uneasy feeling that something was very wrong.

When I learned about GTD, I tried to apply it to how I organized my emails, creating a “someday” folder, or a “next” folder etc. It helped to some extent, but eventually I found myself in the same state where my inbox count was far from zero. GTD really helped me organize most aspects of my life, but taming my massive email inbox was one area that I couldn’t seem to master.

Then I started working on Tagaabo. As it became functional enough to serve my everyday information management needs, I put it at the center of my information management. Without thinking about it that much, I started copying and pasting the important parts of emails into Tagaabo. I soon realized that this was a terrific solution for my flooding email problem. It was the first time since I started using email that I finally felt I was on top of my incoming emails.

As emails come in, I go over them. If I find any information I need to keep, I just copy and paste it into Tagaabo. If I see I need to reply to it, again I just copy and paste it into Tagaabo with a “todo” tag, and manage it just like any other To Do item. (Of course, if I can reply to it in 2 minutes or so, I just do it right away.) Once the important information is extracted this way, my inbox is no longer something important that I have to keep my mind on. So I just leave it as it is and don’t even try to organize it at all. That’s why I have thousands of emails in the inbox and am still not worried.

Also, I almost never delete the emails I receive. Once in a while there are times when just looking at email excerpts in Tagaabo aren’t enough and I need to take a look at the originals. And with the searching capability of today’s email client softwares, it is easy to spot the original email, especially when you have a piece of it in Tagaabo. (I use “spotlight” in the Mail.app on Mac OSX for email searching.)

So don’t manage email–it includes too much irrelevant stuff. Just manage bare information and actions. Keeping your inbox at count zero may be symbolic of an organized life, but it may also give you the illusion that it is the ultimate goal. It’s not. Your real purpose should be to stay on top of your incoming information flow.

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