Inbox Zero

A few minutes ago, for the first time in around a decade, I emptied my email inbox. I’ve been steadily whittling it down (or at least holding the line) for the last few months: catching up on mailing lists, responding to outstanding emails, admitting there’s some things that are so old I’m not going to respond to them, and moving work items onto a proper to-do list. So I have an impressively boring screenshot:

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Watching Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero video and reading the preceeding articles was the impetus for the final push to zero. It’s not that there’s anything I didn’t know in there. But there was the sense that it was not only possible but achievable.

So I immediately did what Mann suggested not to do and spent, oh, a full day changing email clients from mutt to sup. It sounds like an awesome amount of time-wasting, but I read the sup philosophical statement a while ago and it resonated:

The problem with traditional clients like Mutt is that they deal with individual pieces of email. This places a high mental cost on the user for each incoming email, by forcing them to ask: Should I keep this email, or delete it? If I keep it, where should I file it? I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life laboriously hand-filing every email message I received and feeling a mild sense of panic every time an email was both “from Mom” and “about school”.

The flip side of this is that once if you’ve set up automatic filters you have to remember to go check those folders, which is a habit I’ve never been able to form. And once I’ve ignored a folder for two weeks, hell, I’ll leave it another day or two, why hurry to find out if I missed out on something interesting or if I let someone down? Or three days. Or...

And so I’ve poured all of my email into sup’s index and started mercilessly hacking away at that last couple hundred messages I hadn’t yet dealt with. Read and delete, or archive, or note on my to-do list, or suck it up and start another email with “I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you...” And now it’s cleaned out, to my pleasant amazement.

There is, of course, the terrible chance I’ve missed something important, but I couldn’t let that risk of something getting lost in the upheavel continue to paralyze me. Perfect is the enemy of good. If you’ve been waiting on a reply from me about anything and didn’t get it in the last few minutes, I’m sorry, please let me know. And if you’ve thought about contacting me but haven’t because I did so poorly with the last few emails, I’m sorry, I’m going to keep trying to do better.