Why Inbox Zero sucks

For a while I have been very much into, and obeying – the practice of Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is the practice of cleaning your email inbox, attempting to get it down to zero emails. Of course, you don’t delete emails since there may be some you really need, but you put them into folders.

I actually never quite got used to folders when I first got into email. I didn’t see it as a sense of organisation. Now, ten years on, it’s very much different for me. I make folders so I can put away emails I have dealt with and don’t really need to revisit, unless they contain something like receipts or shipping information.

There seems to be less on the internet about Inbox Zero sucking than Inbox Zero being the best notion ever invented (at least for email). I love doing the Inbox Zero thing, deleting newsletters when I’ve already gone through the content and written any important dates, putting personal emails in a Personal folder, receipts and payment information in another folder, replying to emails and putting them away as soon as I have done so… but there are a few bad things that I have had from personal experience.

You’re in an infinite loop in your email.

The lot of us in the Inbox Zero clan end up getting stuck on email. We just want to clean it, put everything in folders, meaning that we want to deal with everything in our inbox and take action now!

This is bad because it’s easy to lose track of time. You can get bogged down in the mere task of cleaning your inbox that you try to deal with it all, and before you know it, you’re on Reddit because you clicked a link to someone’s portfolio that led you to their Twitter account where you found the Reddit link shared, and now you’re reading about octopus with pink teeth. When really, you were supposed to be reviewing the owner of the aforementioned portfolio to see whether he or she is suitable for a job.

You start to deal with things in a rush.

I know from years of being late and disorganised that being in a rush is never a good feeling. Trying to achieve Inbox Zero can have a very exhausting feeling because you forget that emails keep coming. You can try to get down to zero at the same time every day, but no matter what, at any time, someone could send you an email.

If you happen to be sitting there working on your email, and a new email comes in, you have no choice. You’ll want to open it and check it out in this session. You will be on such a roll, so determined to get your inbox cleaned, that you’ll try to get it done in that one sitting. This means you could be rushing when you respond to emails. You could be hurrying to the shop downstairs to take care of something you were reminded to do – via email, no less – just so you can file away or delete that reminder email. This, in turn, means that you’re wasting your time or losing track of it.

You hate, hate, hate numbers…

Inbox Zero people obviously hate numbers. Why else are they trying to get zero emails in their inbox? It beats even a (1). They freak out when they see other people sitting there with (3,045) at the corner of their Mail application on their phone. I panic when I even see (9).

There are two types of people in this world: people who actually use “Mark as Unread”, and people who don’t. People who do Inbox Zero will never, ever, ever, ever use “Mark as Unread”. People who do Inbox Zero just go by the assumption that everything in their inbox needs to be dealt with. Be it a reply or just filing it away, something needs to be done if the inbox is not empty.

Which leads you to not reading anything at all.

Because we hate numbers, sometimes we open emails just to get rid of that stupid (1), then forget about the actual email. It sits in our inbox and before long, as we’ve prioritised newer emails first, the day soon comes to reply to it or file it away. Then we realise we’ve missed a half-price sale on shoes. Or vinyl. Or a presale on concert tickets. Whatever is your jam.

On the contrary, sometimes opening emails is not enough. We want that email gone, filed away or deleted, stat! Because of this mindset we have, unfortunately, it is easy for us to downgrade the importance of emails. I’ve found myself deleting some newsletters before opening them, because I assume right away that I am not interested in the content, or deem it a waste of time.

… at all.

Sometimes you leave something in your inbox and hope to deal with it later. But the bad thing is, emails keep coming.

One of the worst things about Inbox Zero is that you get so engrossed in getting the number of emails down, that you downgrade the importance of emails. Emails you still haven’t replied to suddenly get the “I may as well delete this, I didn’t touch it, so it’s probably not that important” treatment.


I still like to achieve Inbox Zero, but I no longer allow myself to get obsessed with it. Sometimes you just don’t have time to reply to an email. You don’t want to be thinking about an empty inbox all the time. I will also reiterate that emails keep coming. If you reply to an email, surely you might expect a reply back, especially if you are communicating with someone.

Inbox Zero is a good start to getting a sense of organisation, but don’t let it consume you.

Comments on this post

OMG, how did you get in my brain? D:

I was part of a club I didn’t even know about! 😏


I don’t need to have it out of my inbox but it needs to be marked as read. At work we have our email marked not to automatically mark as read because of how we use our group mailbox queues.. it makes me cry.

My boss has something like 900 unread emails in his inbox and it makes me wonder just how much of my emails he reads.

In my gmail I have about a billion emails in my inbox but usually none unread. One thing I like about gmail is you can set all your unread emails to sit at the top.. so I can always see what I haven’t read yet, it’s neat.

I always delete my emails but in order to make sure I never lose any important emails I automatically forward every email I receive to my gmail account. That way I can be sure I always have back up.

I had the opposite reaction – I ADORE Inbox Zero. I found the concept on my journey to minimalism and decluttering my life (both physically and digitally… and mentally too, I guess). It made me want to cut down on the amount of email I get. So instead of focusing on how to remove the 500 emails that landed in my inbox, I focused on how to not have 500 incoming emails in the first place! Removed notifications from every social media and blog site, unsubscribed from EVERYTHING, and removed/blocked contacts that I no longer speak with. The end result is that I get maybe 10 emails a day, and I take action on them as soon as I hear the little alert. It’s very refreshing.

I also don’t believe in Inbox Zero quite so literally. I do leave 1 or 2 read emails in my inbox that I need to take action on later in the day. So my inbox has become more of my “to do later” list than anything else, haha.

That is exactly how I treat my inbox. :) I found myself unsubscribing from a lot of things so I do get only about ten emails a day, but I suppose I get caught up in the concept sometimes. Because I do freelance work on the side, I get obsessed with having an empty inbox so anything I still have to work on or reply to (I get some long personal emails from friends sometimes!) will sit there until I reply to it. When that happens, I feel a bit pressured especially if the inbox items are not simply a “quick task”.