What happens to things that are left in a pile for too long? They start to rotten. First the process is slow and invisible but after a while it gains momentum and it’s almost impossible to stop.
Transfer this to managing email an you get the same result. The more email piles up in your inbox the more difficult it becomes to react in time, to stay on top of things. Messages lie there for weeks even months and people are chasing you two or three times before you react. This is not a way to work. If just these things don’t convince you that working out of your inbox and keeping it full here are few more reasons:
Difficulty to prioritize
Every email in your inbox looks the same and unless you have done something with it like flagged it or moved to a special folder. When emails are unprocessed in you inbox there is no difference between an email form your boss, friend’s photos, daily news update. However if you process your emails and put them in your system only those that are important will be there.
New stuff pushes the old off
Most email clients will show new messages on top of the screen. When email was its early stages this made sense as at that time email provided rapid communication channel so it made sense to show you the most recent stuff first. Nowadays we are far past that time. Whether it’s an email from your boss or another newsletter they will always take the top spot. There is no pardon for importance or context of the message.
What happens when you hear a ping on your computer? More than likely you scan the message quickly and then go back to what you were doing before. After a while you go back to your email and read the very same message again. As result you look at twice the number of emails you receive. This is highly unproductive behavior, firstly you break your concentration by checking the message and then you review the same message to see what’s required.
It’s easy to loose them
With large number of messages in your inbox means that important emails will mix with newsletters, company updates, thank you notes etc. With such unstructured setup it’s very easy accidentally delete email or file them in some random places.
Something is waiting to blow up
An inbox that’s full of uprocessed emails is sign of out of control status. You need to scramble to identify important email, issues that may get you in trouble. Since more and more email arrives in your inbox all the time, it becomes impossible to maintain any degree of control and then changes of dropping the ball are far greater.
We can debate what’s full inbox, whether it’s 3000 or 10 messages but that does not matter. Also it does not matter that you keep your inbox at zero constantly. More emails will arrive and you will deal with them but you’re not here to do just that.
What’s important is creating a habit of regular review of your email inbox, as often as you need. Do it regularly and do it properly i.e. review, decide, action.