I have a zero inbox policy . I read every email I get within a short time of it showing up , respond to the ones that need attention then move them to an archive . I don’t go to bed till I am done . And I have been this way for about 8 years .I don’t let my assistant reply to my emails , although she has access to it .I have the same zero inbox policy on personal email and twitter too . In that aspect , I was “real time” friendly before real time became the new black :)
It has its advantages that I can reasonably stay on top of my work , given the high volume of emails I get. In general it has definitely helped me with career success and progression too .
However , there is a big price to pay to keep this habit. And I will be lying if I say I enjoy this habit a lot . A more accurate statement will be that I have high tolerance now :)
For starters – it means I stay up late every night , including most weekends . Even on vacations I try to stay up late to finish email some times – which irritates my family to no end . If I don’t – I will never catch up with the back log . I kid you not – I had to once lock my smartphone in a bag and leave the key out of sight to stop looking at email during vacation.
It also means I very rarely write long , well crafted emails . I usually respond in one sentence or two – and it occasionally comes across as harsh or non caring to people who don’t know me . I am however a tad more careful when I email customers – but even there , I stay brief . In general – people need a bit of time to get used to my ultra brief emails with rarely any salutation or signature :) . Thankfully – my boss is also a fan of brief emails .
One lesson I learned early in my career was to not rely on email for all communication . I use chat functionality and phone heavily , and that minimizes the email traffic . I also like to do face to face communication with others whenever possible . On the bad side – you might not have anything documented if memory fails you about a phone call . So for important stuff – I try to send a short summary via email .
I also use a separate email id for Internet stuff that has even a remote chance of spamming me in future . And of course I rarely open that account . If anyone spams me intentionally more than once – I block them . This is especially a problem with personal friends and relatives who will get offended quickly.
With my team, I encourage them to use the phone as much as possible and then just send one email in summary . It doesn’t always work – given I never had the same team working for me for several years at a stretch . So we relearn together periodically :)
I also don’t create a complex folder structure for my archive . I trust search more than my organizational skills . However , search is as much an art as a science – so occasionally I get some serious grief . For that matter , I don’t use flags or color coding or anything of that sort . This is probably why I think BI should also largely move to search as primary interface :)
Some emails always will fall through the cracks – given my frequent archival . I try to be careful , but I make mistakes . But the good thing is that if it was important – I would get a reminder most of the time . Again, if the email is from a customer – I try to be twice as careful , but of course I occasionally miss those too.
I do let my EA handle my calendar almost exclusively . I am terrible at that – and she is very good with that . So I just follow her lead and will only mess with it if something comes up when she is not working . I refer to her as my life saver .
So for all the good things I get out of having a zero inbox – and all the discipline I follow to keep it that way, there is one thing that I have no control over . Since I respond near real time – it gives the wrong idea to some people that I am “always on”. And some of them will get offended if I read but do not respond quickly at 2 AM . I have tried many different things – but no good scalable solution has been found yet .
So that brings me back to why I wrote this now – is it worth keeping up with zero inbox policy and the stress that comes with it? Or should I relax and let it slide ? That will be something I will think about in 2 weeks time when we leave for an island vacation . Last year when we went to Hawaii is when I decided to quit my job at IBM . I wonder whether I will decide to stop the zero inbox policy this trip . The decision kind of has similar magnitude in my mind :)
If any one has any tips, suggestions , wise cracks et al – let me know .