‘How would you like an empty inbox’*

One of the best ways I know to reduce stress and get more done is to empty the inbox every day. I’ve been doing that for about 7 years now and it’s made life so much easier.

Why? What’s the problem with a bulging inbox? Well….

A bulging inbox wastes time. Every time you go to your inbox you have to scan the same messages time and again. Each time you have to make sense of them and remember or re-decide what you’re going to do about them. You’re doing the same work over and over again.

A bulging inbox wastes energy. Each one of those emails is subtly playing on your mind, pulling your attention from whatever you’re trying to focus on. It takes energy to resist all those little tugs.

A bulging inbox creates unnecessary crises. You can’t possibly keep track of hundreds or thousands of emails. Every now and again one of those issues is going to blow up into a crisis, and you’re going to have to drop everything to fight the fire. Whereas if you handle things before they reach crisis point, everything works more smoothly and efficiently.

A bulging inbox makes prioritisation impossible. Nobody can meaningfully prioritise an inbox of hundreds or thousands of messages. So you inevitably end up focused on the newest, the easiest or the most urgent. (And ‘most urgent’ usually means it’s somebody else’s priority – not yours). So you’re not focusing your energy on your highest priority. That cripples your effectiveness.

The alternative is ‘Inbox Zero’ – empty your inbox every day.


The first and most important step is to separate your inbox and your to-do list.

If you use your inbox as a to-do list, then anyone, anywhere in the world can add to your to-do list any time they like. Without asking. That’s madness!

So, reserve your inbox for incoming mail you haven’t looked at yet. The very first time you look at it, move it on:

For emails that need action, create a folder called @action (the @ is just to put the folder at the top of the list). And of course have folders to file emails that contain information you want to keep.

So when you visit your inbox, for each email, do one of the following:

  1. trash it
  2. file it
  3. move it to @action

Working in this way you’ll save time and save energy. You’ll avoid avoidable crises. And you’ll have dramatically increased clarity, and focus on what matters most.


Best wishes,

P.S. At this point you’re probably thinking, ‘good idea – but it’ll take hours to clear my inbox.’ Yes – good point. It does take time to clear the backlog. It feels a bit slow at first, but as you get down to older emails it gets a lot easier. I’d suggest putting in 10 minutes a day. It’s an investment that really pays off. And believe me, it feels really good when you get there.

*Source: the superb free newsletter by Shakya Kumara, www.briefmindfulness.com


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