Today I read with some amusement “8 tips for getting to inbox zero — and staying there” on Vox. I had no idea people actually attempt this, getting all their emails marked as read and filed away.
I take the opposite approach to “Inbox Zero” I like to call “Inbox One Thousand.” That’s a photo of my unread email status on the right. After “Inbox One Thousand” is achieved the next goal will be “Inbox Two Thousand” and I hope to live long enough to see “Inbox Ten Thousand.” As you might expect, the idea of filing every email I receive into categories is unbearably tedious to me.
I’ve noticed that sometimes people confuse being busy with being productive. As The Onion wrote long ago, “Work Avoided Through Extensive List Making” and so it would appear to be with filing away emails into nice neat folders for use someday.
Turns out I’m with Ezra Klein, as he writes “I have this theory that people overestimate the hassle of how hard it is to fix things when they go wrong and underestimate the hassle of the buildup of small things we do every day to keep them from going wrong.”
I support Klein’s theory and it is supported by my experience at Yahoo. Hard as it is to believe now, Yahoo was not a search engine, it was a directory. We employed an entire building full of people we called “surfers” whose job it was to file websites into slots in the directory. That’s right, we hired people to manually categorize all the pages on the internet.
This exercise in futility was reflected on the Yahoo home page. Take a look at the page and you’ll notice 70% of the page is made up of the directory, something no one used.
Drilling down to find exactly the website I want to find? You’ve got to be kidding me. I, along with everyone else, instead used the tiny search box at the top of the screen. But we were tied to the directory, it was the thing Jerry and David built that was the cornerstone of the whole company. It wasn’t long before Yahoo was usurped by a company that did away with the directory and gave users what they wanted – search.
So it is with filing your email. Doing so is a relic of the days when we kept things in file folders and cabinets. It doesn’t scale with the volume of emails being sent out and received today. Don’t bother, just leave it in an unsorted pile in your inbox. When you want to find something use the search. It’s sometimes a hassle but it beats sorting emails a hundred times every day.