E-mail Fu: The Way of the Empty In-Box

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The cupboard was bare.

The cupboard was bare.

[Warning: this is what news professionals call a “soft” item, in that it is unrelated in any way to any news breaking or otherwise. Not like all my other posts.]

I don’t mean to get all Lifehacker on y’all, but I have no e-mail in my in-box. None.

I didn’t want to say anything and jinx it, but it’s going on three weeks now, and I think I’m ready to take this public. A while back I had a big project to produce. By the time it was done I had about 5 boxes-worth of e-mail in my in-box. (By which I mean I could page down 5 times, from beginning to end.) Usually my personal limit is one box — I don’t wanna see that little scroll bar appear on the right-hand side of Entourage ever. So I started in a-winnowing.

Well, once the scroll bar was gone I didn’t stop. I just kept on winnowing and winnowing, till I was down to the really hard core, the seriously intransigent e-mail: a top layer of really urgent immediate tasks I hadn’t gotten to yet, over a lower stratum of unbelievably poisonous, ugly e-mails — e-mail from people I didn’t want to deal with, or way overdue tasks that were so far past deadline they’d become almost literally radioactive and couldn’t be touched for fear of triggering a cascading nuclear event that would in turn create a black hole that would devour the universe.

But then I manned up and just motherflippin’ dealt with them. And my in-box was empty.

At first it was weird: it looked wrong, like a bug. Then I began to feel weirdly liberated. I could finally relax. I could turn to incoming tasks with an undivided mind. It was a feeling I hadn’t had since about 1993, which not coincidentally is when I got my first e-mail account.

So that’s how I’m rolling from now on. I can’t go back. Zero tolerance: an e-mail comes in, it’s allowed to hang out in my in-box for a day, but by the time I go to bed, it’s history. Either I deal with it or file it. Which means a lot of cheating — I stick e-mails in sub-folders all the time, even though they haven’t really been dealt with. But you know what? Somehow doing that has the effect of placing the task that corresponds to that e-mail in some sane part of my mind, where I can deal with it when I’m ready to deal with it, but I don’t stress about it in the meantime.

Anybody else do this? What’s the next frontier? An empty desktop?

p.s. this is why I hate Gmail, even though I use it. It’s all one big inbox.

p.p.s. that screenshot is of Time‘s decrepit Outlook Web client, not of Entourage. Yeah, I’m working at home.