Zoo Station

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Why I don’t follow the zero inbox policy

Posted by Chance on May 24, 2011

The zero inbox policy refers to essentially keeping your inbox  0 emails by the end of the day.  For a while I had followed this, but because I’m somewhat lazy in this manner and unorganized I didn’t keep it up.  But not only that, I simply didn’t know it was worth it.  There are a few reasons for this.

First of all, a caveat

I’m a programmer.  I’m not a manager, and I don’t interface much with people outside of my company.  So, email is not the primary means by which I get things done.  This is just a system that works for me.  Also, I’m a sloppy and disorganized person so the costs of organization and the way I arrange things means this system works for me.

Electronic clutter doesn’t take up space

Many people espousing a zero inbox policy usually use analogies of clutter in one’s garage or desk, but the reality is it simply isn’t the same.  Physical clutter takes up physical space.  Emails take up hard drive space.  I have an 80 GB drive, small by today’s standards but still plenty of room.

I can instantly get to what I need to

I use Thunderbird for my work email and Gmail for my personal email.  Both have a quick and efficient search feature in which I can retrieve the messages I want easily.

I sometimes need those emails

There have been several instances where I have heard a facebook friend post “I’m glad I keep all my emails” or “I’m glad I had that email”.  One instance had to do with difficulties someone was having with their ISP doing something against the original agreement.  I myself, when trying to delete multiple emails, have ended up deleting something I needed later.  I suppose someone who is good at organization can judge what emails they will need later, and again, different things may work for different people.   But for me, there have been instances where an email I thought I would never need I ended up needing based on some audits by another group.  When sorting through emails and going on a delete binge, I get lazy and err on the side of deleting too many emails.

I lose more productivity in deleting emails than I do sorting through them 

Again, with Thunderbird and Gmail I can retrieve email I want instantly.  Perhaps if I went through my inbox every day, the task would not take as long as waiting till it piles up, but I still don’t feel like getting to the emails I need takes a long time.

That being said, I still delete some.  

Some emails I obviously will not need again, such as automated messages from our software tracking system in which I can get the same data online.  I also delete my monthly airline miles notifications, timecard reminders, people simply responding “ok”, and the like.

Other – I use tagging instead of folders

Sometimes the search function isn’t enough.  For those cases I use labels/tags instead of folders.  I have found that when I use folders, I often don’t remember if I copied a message to a  folder, or what folder I copied it to (Admittedly, this would be less of an issue if recursive searches were easier in email programs).  However, tags provide the organization advantages of folders, and I can still search from the main folder.  I can also apply multiple tags to the same message without creating duplicate messages.

So, in summary, I feel that a great search function and large hard drives make a zero inbox policy unnecessary, at least for me.  For someone else, such as those who do a large amount of their work via email communication, a zero inbox policy may be needed.


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