Inbox zero: Where do you sit?

New year, fresh start, first day back in the office, and I was looking for a tidying-up task to avoid doing actual thinking work.

Organizing the inbox is a great place to start.

When I sat down at my desk on January 2nd, I had 255 emails sitting in my inbox, some dating back to January 2011. Most of these needed to be filed away, although several still required an actual response on my part. I had planned to follow my usual routine: scroll through each email, starting with the most recent, file or action away what I could, and then quit when I became overwhelmed by the realization of how inefficient I am with emails. The end result would hopefully be filing away approximately 10% of my inbox.

However, that morning, I decided to try an email organizer tool recommended by one of Cybera's tech developers, called Mailstrom.

Mailstrom

Mailstrom sorts emails into a variety of categories: sender, subject, mailing lists, size, etc. It doesn't do the heavy lifting for you, but the logical grouping system makes it super simple to make mass decisions about whether to archive or delete your emails. Two Cybera staffers who used this tool were reportedly able to go from ~1,000 emails to zero in one sitting.

Imagine that: an empty inbox.

Of course, this leads to the question: why would I want that? With cloud computing and increased storage capacity, companies rarely run out of space for emails (when was the last time you were asked by the IT department to clean out your inbox?).

Followers of the "Inbox Zero" movement, created by the founder of 43folders.com, make the case for an empty inbox by demonstrating the time and sanity it saves (its website says the "zero" refers not so much to how many messages are in your inbox, but "how much of your own brain is in that inbox").

Curious, I surveyed Cybera staff members, asking how many emails they currently had in their inbox, and what they thought about the zero movement.

Of the 18 respondents, five people had 30 emails or less (with the aforementioned Mailstrom enthusiast sitting at zero). These ruthless message deleters shared several common characteristics: a desire for simplicity and control, a sense of growing dread when their inbox expanded beyond the main scrolling screen, etc. "Can't sleep at night with unread emails'€¦" noted one.

Five people fell within the 100-1,000 email range.

Eight had over 1,000. (One particularly popular staff member was sitting on an astounding 16,819 emails, half of which were unread…)

Some of those with the heftier inboxes said it would be nice to have zero emails, but felt it was unrealistic given the mass influx of new emails they received each day.

Others scoffed at the "inbox zero" followers. One said he found the concept "overrated," noting that "with smart folders in email clients, you can sort out email automatically," and that email archives are very easy to search. "And there are those helpful blue dots to tell me when an email has been read or not."

Another Cyberan said the "inbox zero" movement was "for anal-retentive" people only.  

I have now concluded that the inbox is a personal reflection of your beliefs and character, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

I spent the day off and on Mailstrom, and managed to remove 95 emails. Not bad. But I also received 62 messages in that time period. So I am down to 222. I figure if I can aim to keep my number under 200, that should be good enough for me.

How many emails do you have in your inbox? And how do you feel about that number?