Empty inbox - congratulations?

Suddenly it dawned on me: there is something fundamentally wrong with this picture taken in Outlook Mobile on my phone.

No, I'm not referring to me using the focus inbox functionality; or the cloud and sun being visible through the balloon. It's much worse than that. 

Outlook mobile

It's being congratulated because my inbox is empty - and even worse - the suggestion that this means that I had a very productive day. So productive, that I even deserve a break.

I do realize that not a lot of people ever get to see this scene, cause most people's inboxes are never empty. Mine is. Routinely.

Not that that is my aim or ultimate goal - on the contrary - it's the only the beginning.

That's why being congratulated for having an empty inbox and suggesting that I had a productive day is fundamentally wrong.

It's only after you have managed to get this inbox empty and have put all your actions in your action-lists (and in that process empty your inbox) that you can actually start to work with a clear head. Real work. Deep work, to use Cal Newport's words. The error is in the equation 'e-mail' and 'to-do', leading to the conclusion: 'no email' means I've completed all my to-do's. And that's plain wrong.

Your e-mails are just that: e-mails. Some are important, most are not. Some are for keeping, most are not. Some lead to actions, most do not… (unless you consider mindlessly surfing the web an 'action'). And if you encounter an email that holds an action, don't consider that e-mail as your to-do. Your e-mail is still just an e-mail. Your to-do belongs somewhere else, on an action list, separate from your inbox. I'd say as far away from your inbox as possible. Sure, this can still be in Outlook, even if that might surprise you. 

This strict separation is a must for a ton of reasons, linked to productivity, focus management, stress reduction - and oh yeah - it even gives you a place where you can store actions that don't originate in other people's e-mails. Yeah, that happens. Not to everybody, but still, it happens. These are the kind of actions that you tend to postpone forever, because… well, because you've got a new e-mail! How interesting!  Sadly enough (for you) those actions that don't originate in other people's e-mails are the actions that probably matter most. To you. And I'd say that's mighty important. To you.

Therefore, dear software creators - don't congratulate people on empty inboxes. 

Having an empty inbox is not the goal - it's a condition.

Need help with achieving just that? Enabling you to do work that really matters? Contact me.  Your inbox will be empty too. Routinely.