March 3, 2014

Instead of Inbox Zero, How About Outbox Zero

inbox-zeroIf I ever have to switch careers, I want to become a full-time writer.

I know, on average it pays less than what I currently earn — at least according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics — where the average salary is $55,940 and there is an increase of only 3% more writer roles expected to be posted by 2022. But I don’t care.

Why a writer?

Well, I love it. I may not be good at it, but I truly love it.

Secondly, I love reading. Be it books, articles, poems … and yes, even research reports. When combining all that reading with my true passion for writing, it’s a purpose-match made in heaven.

This got me thinking. I hate writing and reading emails.

Weird, I know. But I truly hate it.

The reasons are plentiful, but I’d like to suggest something for all of us.

Why don’t we try for Outbox Zero as opposed to Inbox Zero.

Originally suggested by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is as it sounds; an empty email inbox. Of Inbox Zero, Mann states:

“Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.”

Yes. Email has a choke hold over our productivity, our days and our sanity.

Remember that point above about me loving to read? Each year, I find myself sourcing the latest on email statistics, data and forecasts from The Radicati Group. The report they put together in 2013 was, well … astounding. A few highlights:

  • the majority of email traffic comes from business email, which accounts for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day (egads)
  • business email will account for over 132 billion emails sent and received per day by the end of 2017 (oh joy)
  • total number of worldwide email accounts is expected to increase from nearly 3.9 billion accounts in 2013 to over 4.9 billion accounts by the end of 2017 (good grief)

It doesn’t get better. A McKinsey and Company research report suggested 28% of time by all workers/employees is consumed … in the inbox, reading and answering emails.

That’s about a day and a half a week.

Soul crushing.

If I have to become a full-time writer, I promise not to write (and send) unnecessary emails. My target will be one per day. (because I will be writing so many books and articles, how will I have time to write emails?)

As I continue, however, in my current career path, I’m going to more consciously think about the number of emails I am actually sending. I am going to try to achieve Outbox Zero. (or as close to it as possible)

The quest shouldn’t be Inbox Zero. That’s looking at things the wrong way, backwards even. Inbox Zero is simply pushing water uphill with a pitchfork. The quest should be that each of us — as peers in the digital agora — subscribe to Outbox Zero and lessen the load on each others inbox.

Outbox Zero is my next personal challenge.

Maybe you can try it too?

PS. To help combat the onslaught of email, I did devise a system called DADDIO that may interest you as might a story I wrote called, “Email, A Love Story“.

4 Replies to “Instead of Inbox Zero, How About Outbox Zero”

  1. I’m picking up what you’re putting down. Personally, though, I think email is something of a necessary time user, and its growth inevitable.

    Why? A few reasons:

    1. Not everyone will embrace social mediums as communications method

    2. Increased decentralization, workstyles, and autonomy mean we naturally communicate more by digital means (less and less in-person)

    3. In times of increasing focus on knowledge work (fewer “make things” or “move things” roles), information exchange becomes more vital and prominent, and so volume increases.

    Therefore, email.

    That said, I think outbox zero and inbox zero share a critical important trait that demands further education: we are in control of our information management schemas, and must build and support them appropriately.

    I might spend 50% of my time in email (or other digital communication equivalent), but since my job is to have and share ideas, that’s a good thing. The nature of my work is helping knowledge to move around. Many see this as a bad thing; they aren’t “getting work done”.


    1. Define your work. Know what it is and what the value add activities are (and what they aren’t).

    2. Build a system (incoming and outgoing) that supports your work definition, focusing you on the right things.

    I think inbox zero is an appealing starting point because it doesn’t require you to change the world or culture around you; it’s like judo, working with what comes at you. Outbox zero (or at least a smart outbox), though, is a brilliant evolutionary next step to give back.

    Cheers, and apparently I like writing, too,


  2. Thanks @Scotty … define your work, and build a system. So well stated. Appreciate the insight.

    @Steve … agreed. I like to think of me as creative too (ie. see DADDIO) but there are far too many people who simply send emails for the sake of sending emails.

  3. I can only confirm it works. I have been practicing it for over 2 years now.
    It may differ from organization to organization and it depends on how people in your collaboration circle use and write emails, what kind of reading and writing habits they may have. Yet, the formula is pretty simple and proven – the more you send the more you get. I recall an article I read somewhere about an organization in which managers started sending less email, which reduced the number of emails in times for the whole organization.
    Of course, less email does not mean less communication or less collaboration. It is just that there are much better fit-for-purpose tools to do those nowadays.

    I love email, but it is such a lonely place to be with all those impersonal messages you are flooded with and less and less of what we loved it for.
    I am looking forward to when it would be as cool as in the early email days – something special, an electronic version of a hand-written mail by someone you care for.

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