My route to inbox zero

Inbox zero, the state of having your email inbox, your paper mail inbox, and your brain inbox ("Oh, I really should remember that I need to....") empty, with everything that's come in decided on or processed, is a goal many of us have, following the Getting Things Done mantra.

I sure do. I usually fail.  But sometimes I succeed. How I fail, and how I succeed, are worth thinking about, because, looking at what goes wrong, I have discovered two basic rules that make success more likely (this applies mostly to the email box, which is the fastest to fill and the hardest to empty):

  1. Don't leave your inbox visible. Check it at some wide intervals during the day--every couple of hours is probably a reasonable interval. And don't look at it first thing in the morning. Work steadily for at least a couple of hours at some important project before you open it up.
  2. When you finally do open it up, give yourself a decent block of time and process the emails in received order, one at a time, without skipping any.

Yeah, I know. That's a bit like saying that the rules for picking up a gigantic boulder are:

  1. Work out and develop gigantic, awesome muscles.
  2. Pick that sucker up!

But it's not, really.  Though you could probably stand to do more lifting than you do, right?

I've found that if I watch emails come in, I am driven to respond to them right away. Then I ignore other, more fraught, difficult, or time-consuming emails. They pile up, and then, like abandoned houses, attract a lot of riffraff in various other neglected emails. In a day or so, I have a mess again.

The same is true of my paper inbox.  If I deal with bills and statements every day or so, I have no problem. If the emotional pain of one specific one causes me to delay it, it too serves as a dark area where other stuff accumulates.

Ideas are really the same way.  Sometimes there is not good reason why I'm avoiding some thought, but I can see that I am.  Right now I have to make plane reservations to go to something not particularly onerous, but that somehow has become something I am avoiding.  All sorts of other stuff has gotten backed up because of that, and I risk encountering high ticket prices when I actually go to do it.

So, you see, I haven't solved the problem.  But I do know what practices make the problem worse, and which decrease it. Then it's up to me.