I love GMail – conversation grouping, labels, filters are all great. But one of the tools I’ll use the most is “Archive”. This removes a conversation from my inbox without deleting it. So when I’ve replied to an email, or dealt with whatever it required me to do, the conversation can get archived – leaving the inbox as some form of to-do list.

Emails will always keep on coming – but my inbox count becomes a nice, quick indicator of whether I’m letting emails pile up too much. So I would never be happy with more than 50 conversations in the inbox: this would generally trigger a culling of the inbox, until I was satisfied – generally with fewer than 20, sometimes 10 conversations left.

A couple of weeks ago, and for the first time since I set up the account, I reached Inbox Zero. The Holy Grail of email management. That’s not “Zero unread”, that’s “Zero I need to do something about”. Going for that absolute has had one very positive consequence:

Before, when I would get an email difficult to answer (because it’d make me look weak, or lazy, or simply because it was a complicated answer to give), I’d think “right, I’ll leave it in the Inbox and reply later”. The double digit target meant that it would sink to the bottom of those ten and take months before getting answered. I received one such email recently. It didn’t exactly require an answer, but it’s the kind I’d have been unsatisfied with until I’d have given one. Because I wanted to keep Inbox Zero, though, I gave an answer fairly swiftly.

Personal correspondence has been mightily improved too – this webcomic sums up pretty well my personal email habits up till Inbox Zero. Now I’ve had fruitful correspondence with a new friend with many emails exchanged over the past week. I’ve got back in touch with old friends.

Obviously, it means the time I spend on emailing has increased – but it has been massively worth it.

The lesson

Sometimes, we can lead ourselves to believe we’re keeping on top of our lives because we manage to keep our inbox down to single digits. There’s many areas that are concerned: sin, work, relationships, … And yes, to an extent, we are. But this got me thinking: what am I missing out on by letting those old conversations rot and rust at the bottom of my inbox?

What about you?