3 Reasons I Don't Do 'Inbox Zero'

"Inbox Zero" is a theory of email management that aims to leave your inbox empty at all times. Actually, that's not really what it's all about, but that's what people believe it is, and that's certainly what the name suggests.

I've never been a fan of "inbox zero," even though I agree with some of its basic principles. My email goal, which I call the One Page Rule, is to have no more than one page of message in my inbox at any given time. If I have to scroll to see messages or jump to a new page, that's too many.

Here are three reasons I prefer the One Page Rule to Inbox Zero.

1. Seeing nothing feels worse than seeing something
When I look at my inbox, I want to be reminded of what's happening, the projects I'm creating, the people I'm meeting, the conversations I'm having with friends. Seeing something feels better than seeing nothing.

2. 'Zero' is too specific for an ongoing goal.
Reaching zero email messages in the inbox only feels like an accomplishment for as long as it lasts. The next email that rolls in ruins it. And you have no control over when the next email will arrive and whether you have time at that moment to process it. In short, "zero" is too specific for this ongoing goal. Imagine if you tried to keep your weight at exactly 135.5 pounds. It doesn't work. You need a range for an ongoing goal of that nature. "One page" is a more attainable goal at all times, whereas "zero" is ever fleeting.

3. Even Merlin Mann Calls It 'Monkeyballs.'
I wrote to Merlin Mann and asked him whether he created a monster that got out of hand with "inbox zero." He wrote back:
"In my view, the titular 'zero' in Inbox Zero is absolutely not about the number of messages that are sitting in your inbox at a given time. And, contrary to popular opinion, it’s absolutely not about spending hours of your precious day trying to achieve that empty inbox at any cost. That’s just monkeyballs."
Even his Inbox Zero information page says:
"That 'zero?' It’s not how many messages are in your inbox–it's how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don't want it to be. That's it."
I couldn't agree more.