inbox off

June 10, 2009 | 6 Comments

I will not look at my email inbox until after I have finished writing this.

What’s troubling to me is how much effort that will take! Can you relate?

A few recent experiences have left me thinking about my email habits:

  • This spring, I was at a conference where there was no wifi. I became aware of this compulsive need to pull out my iPhone and see if I had any email. It’s not that I was expecting anything important. How much, I wondered to myself, do I need to receive email as some kind of affirmation that I’m important?
  • Recently, I was hard at work on a project and needed to send a quick, related email. I made my way to space four, where my resides, and sent the email. And then proceeded to lose an hour reading, responding and fiddling with the other emails that had collected in my inbox.

Now I have long been an advocate of inbox zero — keeping my inbox empty — and I’m pretty good at it. But isn’t it something one can be too good at? The need to read and deal with what sits in your inbox can be more of a disruption than ten, or fifty, unread emails.

In the midst of the events described above have come a few timely conversations. One came from my friend Todd. Another came from David Sparks via the Mac Power Users podcast, and then in our Creative Practices interview last week. Both of these respectable gentleman have taken up the practice of only looking at their email two or three times a day.

And so, I’ve been trying a new thing. I still practice Inbox Zero, but it is now superseded by Inbox Off. I’m limiting when I open my inbox and read email. When I do, I still use my standard practices to reduce my inbox to zero by replying, filing, or making a task out of each. Or by deleting, of course!

I’ve been trying this for a few weeks. I’ve had some great results…and some miserable failures. (The second story mentioned above only happened yesterday!) I’ve not yet been so rigid as to schedule when I read email, but I might need to try that.

How about you? What practices do you have to be the master of your email?

  • While I love the concept Inbox Zero, I personally work best with email on – 100%. The kicker comes with this though, anything worth more than 2 minutes of reply, immediately goes into a starred folder and comes for later.

    The only problem with this is if you are inundated with a LOT of < 2 minute emails. However, if you periodically check your email, the chances are less.

  • Pat

    I’ve taken a similar idea from Creative Zen’s article on Email Zen.

    The reality of my day-to-day work means that I have to have frequent email conversations (the major corporation I consult to has a serious addiction to email, to the point that you email the coworker you share an office with).

    However, I try to start up my mail client after I’m settled in for the morning, respond to morning mail, then close the client, and only check it once an hour MAX after that.

  • Rob

    The only way to work is Inbox Off! I check my mail at designated times: when I come in, with lunch and at the end of the day. When I expect an important email, I check also at coffeebreaks and snackbreaks. Works like a charm for me!

  • Charlie

    Would you guys say that these inbox techniques only work when you write email often? I personally just read most of mine, and it’s pretty fast.

    Still, I’ve thought about shutting down, and just opening it at certain times of the day.

  • Mac Dummy Here: “How do you turn you mail to ‘MANUAL’ retrieve so that you can work in mail while connected to the internet but receive no NEW mail to distract you?”

  • John

    Hmm…good question. I turned it off in mine, and I still have mail show up. That’s why sometimes I just turn it off completely.

    But, I also turn off all dock notifications and any other notifications that email has arrived. That helps a ton.