The Efficiency of Leaving 1,500+ Emails in My Inbox

Can leaving 1,534 emails in my inbox be a mark of efficiency? You bet it can. Here’s why you should figure out one thing that you (really!) don’t have to do.

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I've got 1,500+ emails in my inbox. There's no shame in that game.
I've got 1,500+ emails in my inbox. There's no shame in that game.

As you can see from the photo attached to this post, I currently have 1,534 emails in my inbox. By the time I finish writing this post, I’m sure the number will be bigger. I have finally made the decision to just leave them there. I’m not going to even try to “clear out my inbox” and file all of these emails in their proper folders. And this is a mark of efficiency. You wanna know why? Because:


I’ve never been someone who put each email into a file as I read it. I’d go back every few days and file emails in the right place. My inbox never got down to zero, but if there were few enough emails that I could see all of them on one page I felt pretty good.

One outcome of solo parenting and running a business during a global pandemic is that I’ve been forced to prioritize (even more so than usual) and take a hard look at what’s important. More than ever before, I’m doing a calculation around how much time something takes, how tedious or annoying it is, how important it is, what the benefits are… and what my mental state and anxiety levels are feeling like on any given day. It’s like a Cost-Benefit-Analysis Cocktail with a Mental Health Twist.

Whenever I want to read a previously-read email, whether it came in yesterday, last week, or last year, I just hit up the good old search bar, search for the sender (or even a phrase in the email, if I can’t remember who the heck sent it), and there it is. When I was searching for an email the other day, it hit me like a ton of bricks:


I can find my emails without filing them. Filing them does not make more organized or smarter. Nobody knows the difference. And even if they did, they wouldn’t care. And if they did care, I wouldn’t care about them. I don’t need to have “Clear Out My Inbox” on my mental To Do list every dang day. Each day that I don’t do it, I don’t have to feel bad about not doing it. I don’t have to have that gnawing feeling that the longer I go without doing it, the more time it will take and the more tedious it will feel. I can just … not do it. And I still can accomplish what I need to accomplish, quickly and efficiently.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t read all of my emails. I still have a goal of zero unread emails in my inbox. If I don’t file the emails into folders, I still will have read them all, and I still can easily find them if necessary. Mission accomplished.

What are you assuming that you “have to do,” when you don’t really have to do it?

Is there a way to carve out more time for yourself by just not doing that thing?

Will not doing that thing have any significant, negative impact on your productivity, your effectiveness, or your happiness?

Will not doing that thing negatively impact anyone else – their work, their time, their wellbeing?

Most of us are under additional strain during this pandemic, whether in our work lives, our home lives, or both (especially since both may be happening in the same physical space for the foreseeable future!). See if there is a way to cut yourself some slack, give yourself the gift of more time, and elevate your efficiency by finding one thing that you can just STOP doing. Trust me when I tell you that the freedom feels heavenly.

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