Zero Inbox Strategy Is a Myth

Sep 9, 2020 | Productivity

No messages in your inbox: this phenomenon is known as Zero Inbox or Inbox Zero email Strategy, and while it sounds like a goal all of us strive to reach, it’s a myth. 

“It is impossible to keep on top of even the simplest of email inboxes without driving yourself completely insane,” notes Natasha Bernal in Wired magazine earlier this year. Inbox Zero “is completely and utterly wrong.”

Merlin Mann, of the productivity site 43 Folders, coined the term Inbox Zero in 2007. (Tellingly, his blog hasn’t been updated in almost 9 years.) Mann claims he has been misunderstood and says that the concept was never supposed to be about reaching zero unread emails. Instead, his strategy referred to a system for prioritizing the urgency of emails so that people could spend fewer hours in their inboxes. 

However, according to Bernal of Wired, people took his idea far too literally. They advocated treating work emails like a never-ending task to be completed: once an email has been acknowledged, it should be immediately archived, never to clutter the inbox again.

This, of course, can never occur 100 percent of the time. Here’s why.

Email Organization is not so easy

Tags, labels, folders, rules, automation, and not-so-smart filters —how many employees know how to use these inbox features to better organize their email?

Perhaps several do, and employing just a few of these can greatly reduce the number of incoming messages; those less-important ones can immediately go to folders for review at a later time.

However, the process of learning how to organize email requires either taking time out of the workday to learn these tricks or leaning on the IT department to show employees how to streamline their inboxes. This reduces productivity.

The process never ends. There will always be new clients, team members, projects, and subscriptions, all requiring the creation of new labels and rules.

Emails being scanned by InMoat Smart Filters
InMoat’s Smart Filters scan intelligently scan emails for you, no longer requiring you to chase 0 unread emails with Inbox Zero.

You wouldn’t want to delete everything

Some emails are certainly worth deleting: old news alerts, expired coupons, confirmations for participation in webinars held months (or even years) ago.

However, email still serves as the record for some very important accounts and transactions. The Welcome email for a new account with a SaaS provider, for example, should never be deleted. It may have a password blocked out, but the email contains important customer care information that may not be readily available on the company’s main website.

Deciding which emails stay and which ones go, in efforts to reach Inbox Zero, could provide to be an anxiety-ridden exercise, and it needn’t be.

Killing Email and Work Productivity

With so many emails entering our inbox, we are already challenging our productivity for the day. Focusing on an Inbox Zero email strategy can be counterproductive to our to making for a more efficient inbox and workday. 

Emails come into our inboxes at all times of the day. In the early morning, during our lunch hour, throughout meetings, and even late at night. To have 0 unread emails at all times, we are constantly being pulled away from what we are currently doing to triage any incoming emails. We’re becoming machines to constantly check-in if incoming emails should be reacted to, replied to, forwarded, or ignored almost immediately as they come in. 

As we chase Inbox Zero we have to constantly, and manually, take minutes away from our focus to scan, consider, and react to all incoming emails. It then takes minutes to get back into our depth of focus to continue with whatever we were focused on in the first place!

Opponents of email weigh in on Zero Inbox

Naturally, enterprise collaboration providers like Slack have been demonizing email for several years.  

Survey participants in Slack’s State of Work report said that email was the least effective way to share companywide announcements and strategy updates. Collaboration tools—like Slack!—were considered the most effective: 81% of respondents whose company uses collaboration tools to share updates told us they understood their company’s strategy.

Coming from a collaboration provider, this isn’t a surprise.

While there is some truth to these findings, it’s important to note that what is required to create a Slack account is a Name and…an email address. When we are looking for our account information or login details for a collab platform, what do we do? We search our Inbox and voila! It’s there.

As such, email will never truly go away, and our inboxes will never truly be at zero.

What will email be like moving forward?

It’s time email considered getting back to its roots. 

It’s not going away anytime soon. It’s still a personalized, one-to-one communication method that people feel ownership of and connected to. 

Email just needs a way to become more effective and efficient. It needs to be more intuitive with Smart Filters that grow with a user, so users can find and read the most important messages quickly. Users simply want more control, convenience, and inbox management. 

InMoat helps them achieve this.

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