One of the greatest stressors for professionals is the need to get things done. Doing the work typically doesn't cause stress, but getting things done can cause immense stress. One obstacle to getting things done is the mismanagement of the email inbox.
Just about everyone sees the benefits of being more organized, having a better task management process, and retaining information and knowledge in a democratized, searchable way. Unfortunately, some people push back a hardline approach of ending every day with a zero email inbox.
Recently, I chatted with Joe Woodard about why zero inbox is so important, and here are the four reasons why he provided.
1. The nature of the email inbox
When asking accountants and bookkeepers who hold hundreds and thousands of emails in their inbox why they don't delete them, the answers usually fall into one of two areas. First, the email is a reminder that they need to do something. Second, the email contains important information.
Unfortunately, those answers mean that the email inbox is being used for one of two things that it was NEVER designed to be - a task management system or a knowledge management system.
Solutions specifically designed to manage tasks, like Microsoft To Do, provide features that email systems never will. For example, task management systems inherently allow for task start dates, due dates, reminders, one-time or recurring task creation, breaking tasks into steps, adding notes to the task, grouping tasks, and more. Task management systems are simply far more effective and efficient than trying to convert an email solution into something it isn't.
Solutions specifically designed to manage knowledge, like Microsoft OneNote, allow all information and knowledge to be compiled in one simple searchable location. Splitting information and knowledge into more than one system means searching more than one system to find a needed fact. "Now, where did I store that piece of information?"
One thing that email systems have improved is the ability to push emails into other programs. Emails that are reminders to complete a task should be pushed into a task management system and deleted from your inbox. Emails that hold information that you may need later should be pushed into a knowledge management system and deleted from your inbox.
2. Email inboxes typically do not allow for collaboration
Email inboxes can be black boxes. In most environments, the email owner is the only one who can see what is happening. For any company that has more than just an owner, this black box can cripple operations.
If an inbox holds tasks and knowledge, then teams are prevented from or limited in doing their jobs. Pushing emails from the company owner's inbox into task and knowledge management systems enables the team to do their work. The team is actually empowered with the ability to find information later without needing to interrupt the owner.
What about sole practitioners? If there is ever a chance that a team member may be added even as a part-time worker, then task and knowledge management systems should still be the final resting place of emails so they can be searched by the future team.
3. Improperly managed emails prevent focus
A few years ago, Microsoft introduced the "Focused" and "Other" segments of Outlook email. Why? Microsoft recognized that people chronically use their email for purposes other than back-and-forth communication. These types of tabs, filters and categorizations are all tools created to impose organization when individuals don't use the system as designed.
Some of the tools within an email system are very beneficial. Rules and spam filters help limit what actually lands in your inbox. However, the right tools should be used in the right ways to clear the clutter and allow laser focus on what needs to be done.
4. Zero inbox provides mental clarity
There is a psychological connection between an email inbox and the tasks that need to be done. There is a part of the brain that always runs in the background to help you manage tasks. When tasks needing to be done are stored in an email inbox, the brain continues churning in the background waiting for the task to actually be done.
By clearing the inbox and moving those tasks to an actual task management system that gives start dates, due dates, and even provides reminders, that portion of the brain no longer needs to "manage" those tasks. Your brain is released to move on to the other things it needs to do.
The result? Dramatically increased mental clarity.
Joe's challenge to you.
Don't just take Joe's word for it. Try it.
Here are two articles to guide you as you achieve and maintain a zero inbox.