The joy of an empty inbox

by Giles Turnbull

I have achieved nirvana:


Yes, after I've-lost-count-how-many years of using email and two or three years of vague leanings in the direction of Getting Things Done, this week I finally managed to do something I wish (now, with hindsight) I'd done a long time ago: I emptied my inbox.

I used to treat it as not just as an inbox, but also as a things-that-are-waiting-for-something box, and as a result messages would disappear from view, and therefore from memory. Weeks would go by and I'd suddenly remember something important, and end up scrolling through my inbox hunting down the email that would tell me about it.

So this week I declared an end to this unhelpful practice. I created a new "Pending" mailbox, into which I could throw things-waiting-for-something, then spent about an hour (that's all it took) going through the contents of my inbox and dealing with it; deleted, replying, and archiving as necessary.

And this is what I'm left with. An empty inbox, waiting to be filled. I have a new rule for my working day: this box always gets emptied, no matter what.

It's only been a day, but already I can see the benefits.


2006-05-09 15:34:52
Interesting looking inbox. What email client do you use?
2006-05-09 15:53:30
That'll be Eudora.
Erica Sadun
2006-05-09 16:24:03
Your mailbox is empty--more--An invisible choir sings, and you are bathed in radiance...--More--The voice of Davidallen booms out: "Congratulations mortal!"--more--"In return for they achievement, I grant the the gift of Getting Things Done!"--more--You ascend to the status of Demigod...--more--Would you like to see your attributes?--more--

You were Efficient.
You got Things Done.
You emptied the Mailbox.
You were overworked resistant.
You had good luck.
Good luck did not time out for you.
A Mail Demon appears
It hands you a new scroll of mail.
Congratulations, Mortal. The challenge continues...

Small Paul
2006-05-09 16:39:25
I gotta get around to that :)
M. David Peterson
2006-05-09 17:03:58
Isn't that the most wonderful feeling!

It's funny how something as simple as an inbox with nothing in it can be one of the most exhilerating experiences on any given day, but I'm totally with you on this one :D

2006-05-09 17:06:37
The next trick for you to master will be keeping your "Pending" mailbox under control.

Good luck with that!

Nico Mommaerts
2006-05-10 01:51:06
Making a pending mailbox...hmmm. So simple yet so effective. Why didn't I think of that earlier?! Empty inbox, here I come!
Jon Kokke
2006-05-10 01:58:06
Great idea, I have something similar which is a smart mailbox called top (as in top of the pile), this holds messages that are unread, flagged (meaning action to be taken) or within the last 2 days. my inbox is use a storage area now.
2006-05-10 02:12:33
@ qka: Yes, it's occurred to me that the pending box might be a problem, but so far I've been pretty strict about keeping an eye on it. I keep it open all the time, so the contents are always visible when I'm doing anything email-related. I've been forcing myself to go through it often, and delete/archive anything that's no longer pending.

OK so this is a new system for me and I might get lazy over time (it's happened before...) but I'm enjoying the change so far.

William D. Neumann
2006-05-10 07:58:21
Wow! Congratulations. You've effectively renamed your inbox to "pending".
But hey, if it makes you feel more organized and efficient...

2006-05-10 08:37:50
It's not just renaming your inbox to "pending." It's forcing yourself to make a decision about every piece of email, instead of just putting them all off.

I do the empty inbox thing (well, not always, but I'm getting better), and stuff that's "needed soon" has it's own inbox (travel plans, status reports due, etc.). EVERYTHING else gets moved to another mailbox for long-term reference storage, or printed out, or junked, or deleted. I respond to it if necessary, and do something with it.

Juey Ong
2006-05-10 13:13:35
I think creating a "Pending" mailbox doesn't mean a lot. Your new and unread mail is already marked by a blue blob. If you've read it and it's still in your inbox, that means it's pending further action.
2006-05-15 01:04:59
This weekend I got down to five remaining items in my Inbox, with three of them things I can "Get Done" pretty easily. It's a nice feeling, probably nicer than the congratulations we're all offering here. Also nice to see a fellow Eudora user!
2006-05-15 03:26:26
I think it's more than just creating a 'pending' folder. It's a visual thing. I've just cleaned my inbox , something I meant to do it for so long (it was always 'pending'). There's stuff there going way back, and it's just an eyesore that either makes you feel overwhelmed or makes you feel important and busy when in fact you're probably not.

'Tis a good feeling to 'purge'.