Accounting & Auditing | Leadership / Management | Professional development

Is keeping your inbox empty realistic?

Reading lists of organizational practices and tips, there’s always been one particular item on those lists that I know sparks debate: making sure your email inbox is nearly empty at the end of each and every day. You may be a reader of this blog who says, “Yeh, I pretty much do that” or you might be one who laughs and scoffs, “That’s about as possible as me beating LeBron James in basketball!”

Many people find keeping the inbox clear to be an impossible, unthinkable assignment. The common objection to doing so is naturally, “I’m way too busy for that to happen.” But it really has nothing to do with how busy you are; it’s all about organization. I’ve heard presidents of companies and other people with high-level positions that make sure they’ve got no more than a handful of emails in their inboxes at the end of the day.

Time Management Ninja dictates “you touch it, you own it.” TMN questions, “Do you open email to see what it says, but then simply close it? Practice ‘if you open it, you own it.’ Do something with it: Reply, File, Archive, or Delete. If you can’t do one of those actions, you probably shouldn’t have been checking email.”

Another key tip from Time Management Ninja is to stop using your inbox as your to-do list. Simply put, don’t leave action items in your inbox. They will get lost and forgotten among the deluge of new mail. Instead, file them and add the task to your to-do list.

The marketing analytics company Kissmetrics points out that sometimes the toughest part of emptying out your inbox is finally saying “no” to something. In other words, don’t hang onto something (task request, meeting request, invitation, etc.) for a while if you’re not going to do it. Say “no” and move on toward keeping that inbox as empty as a beer bottle at a frat house.

If you’d like more of a worldview on this topic, the Australian Institute of Management offers this concise, no-nonsense list. Of course, if this article results in greater efficiencies, that will ultimately mean more “lolly” in your pocket (lolly: Australian slang for money/cash).


“Management is all about managing in the short term, while developing the plans for the long term.”--Jack Welch


Rob Nance