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What Inbox Zero Really Means

This week, I’ve finished every day with a rare and prized goal achieved, inbox zero. Across the six email addresses I manage for work and home, there wasn’t a single email sitting there, requiring my attention.

I’ve written before about the value of inbox zero and it’s a much discussed topic. Often, I hear people saying inbox zero is either an unrealistic goal, or a luxury that only comes from having too much spare time.

I know enough successful people, folks who can achieve more a day than I can in a month of days, to know those criticisms simply aren’t true.

I’ve also come to realise something else; the ability to hit inbox zero isn’t entirely a function of time, it’s more a function of our relationship to the people who send emails to our inbox.

After all, every email is really a signpost to a relationship. When those relationships are clear, it’s easy to reply to emails, after all, we don’t struggle to talk to people we like. But, when those relationships are ambiguous, fraught, or downright toxic, then it all gets much harder.

And, something similar can be said about our relationship to our work. If we love our work, then it isn’t hard to talk about it, or answer questions. But, when our work sucks, when we feel demotivated or lost, then we run from any question about what we do or how we feel about our working lives.

Those emails that gnaw at our gut, that inspire heroic, reality defying acts of procrastination aren’t usually the ones that require a lot of work, or time, they are ones that make us face situations and relationships we feel uncomfortable with, problems that don’t so much require us to apply our talent or intellect, as to wade through ambiguous or conflicting emotions.

I cherish those moments when I can reach and sustain inbox zero not because it makes me look like some kind of productivity guru, but because it says, in a fleeting, slightly fragile way, that for a moment at least, I have some small amount of clarity about the work I do and the people I relate with.

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In his Tokyo studio Fernando combines his life-long passions for art and technology. On the road, he is always looking to take the next wrong turn, just to see what kind of images and stories might unfold. A photographer and writer, with a background in music, Fernando has lived in Chile, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Read More.

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