Postpone Inbox Procrastination


I’ve recently admitted to myself that my ineptitude with my inbox is due largely to procrastination. That is, I can’t face the task that a particular inbox message presents, and thus I ignore the message. With this admission comes a desire to reach inbox zero each and every day. I don’t like my productivity squashed by ineptitude. I must overcome!

But how?

  1. Getting to inbox zero each day is, first of all, an important goal. In other words, I really want to be at inbox zero each day. I don’t want to leave items hanging around for the next day. Therefore, among all my tasks, I have to prioritize inbox management.
  2. I filter messages heavily. I use Gmail, and have begun digging into the filtering system. At the moment, I have 27 rules that route messages to folders. Those rules are covering several dozen PR agencies, newsletters, and auto-notifiers. This helps me to focus when I’m working on my inbox, making it much easier to evaluate and react to messages depending on the folder they were routed to.
  3. I unsubscribe from uninteresting lists. Because I work in media, I receive pitches everyday from PR firms who don’t know me, but found me in a database and hope I’ll cover their customer’s product. Therefore, everyday I have to unsubscribe from certain lists I didn’t ask to be on.
  4. Outbound messages breed inbound messages. Therefore, I don’t respond to messages unless absolutely necessary. When I do respond, I attempt to be as complete as possible to minimize the conversational exchange. That means I anticipate questions and action items, and handle everything up front in a single message if possible. I don’t create a minimum effort message and throw it over the wall, which is really just delaying completion of the task.
  5. I remind myself that my inbox is not a task management tool. If I have a message I can’t complete that moment, I will create a task with a due date and tackle it when my task manager says I need to get it done. Then I am free to archive the message and respond to it later. I’m starting to feel that archiving is greater than deleting, because the message goes away while still being searchable. On the other hand, that could lead to a large mail database, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
  6. I postpone procrastination. If I open my inbox, that means I’m there to tackle each and every item, moving them all towards closure. I’m not going to cherrypick favorite items for that dopamine hit. Rather, I’m going to go through each message chronologically (I’m still terrible at this), and work it through. I will not leave for another day items that invoke dread, because another day becomes another week. A week becomes a month. A month becomes two months, or even three. Procrastination is not getting things done, so I leave procrastination for another day.

The big deal here…

…is focus. To be able to grind through the daily inbox flood, I stack the deck in favor of focus. When I focus, I get the inbox cleared out.

I think of inbox management like cleaning the catbox. Doing it every day is best. If I miss a day, it’s tolerable, but sort of gross. If I skip a couple of days, I don’t really want to go in there, because cleaning it up is just a nasty, nasty job.

Therefore, it’s best to exercise self-discipline, focus once a day, and sift the inbox clean.

About the author

Ethan Banks

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.


Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.

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