I’ve got mail… NOT! Inbox Zero rocks!

Three little words I’ve been dying to hear… Click to see the big picture.

I just did something I’ve never done before: I’ve completely cleaned out my e-mail in-box.

No kidding. Right now I don’t have a single message in my inbox. All incoming messages have been processed. Aaaaaaaahhhhhh….

This is a huge step forward for me. Due to the nature of my work, I rely heavily on e-mail for my professional and personal life. Of course, I haven’t always managed it well, and I’ve tended to let things accumulate in my in-box instead of figuring out what needs to be done, if anything, with each message.

My inbox had become an inordinate psychological, emotional, and procedural burden for me….

My hero,
Merlin Mann.

I’d look at it and feel stress for all the things I haven’t even started to deal with yet. It was a chorus of internal and external voices nagging at me: “You haven’t started this project at all yet!” “I’m depending on you for this!” “You need to make a decision.” “What’s the status?” “Gahran, you’re screwing up!” “You don’t really care about me because you don’t respond to me!” “I want to distract you for a minute.” etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum

Last night, I actually fled to my mountain cabin to get away from the accumulated stress. I was pretty frazzled, and once when I looked at my inbox I actually screamed. Good thing I work at home, and I was alone at the time.

Running away to the cabin worked — partly because I only have dialup there, and Gmail is painfully slow on dialup so I tend to not check e-mail much up there. I drank some wine, sat on the deck as night descended and watched a couple of episodes of Deadwood on my laptop. And I slept well. I definitely needed an altitude adjustment.

In the morning I went for a walk, made breakfast, read a chapter in a Zen book about habits, and then drove back down to Boulder. On the way I listened to this podcast by Merlin Mann, the productivity guru of 43Folders fame. It’s an audio recording of a presentation he recently gave to Google staffers about his Inbox Zero approach to managing e-mail. (Sounds geeky and tedious, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Merlin’s a great presenter, very ungeeky and unpretentious.)

As soon as I got home, I opened my laptop and the stress descended upon me once again. So I started implementing what Merlin suggested in the podcast and on his site, and I started feeling better. I started with about 100 messages in my inbox, and whittled them down during the course of the day. I started with the most pressing things at the top having to do with finalizing arrangements for upcoming business travel, and then I finally attacked the pile from the bottom (oldest stuff) up.

I deleted. I archived. I labeled. I designated fodder and to-dos for ongoing blogs and projects. I handled quick responses. I delegated.

And then… I was done. It’s all clear.

Ahh, I can breathe…

Here’s the video of Merlin’s presentation:

8 thoughts on I’ve got mail… NOT! Inbox Zero rocks!

  1. Last night I finally managed to run out of space on gmail. So, by searching and deleting just list emails and old work email – I managed to go from an inbox of 15,000 messages to 5,000. This post has inspired me to go all the way.

    Thanks Amy

  2. You get a little red bar saying you are at 99 percent and offering to let you buy more space….

    I did my massive junk mail removal campaign before I got to 100 percent…..

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  4. I watched/listened to Merlin’s presentation. It was informative and entertaining. It also inspired me to deal with my own (work) e-mail inbox.
    When I started it had close to 1300 e-mails and, after a little over an hour, is down to 0!

    (Disclaimer: I am Amy’s sister)

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