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Inbox Zero: Delete, delete, delete (or, "Fail faster")
Merlin Mann | Mar 14 2006
This post is part of the Inbox Zero series.
Do you have a sloppy relationship with the messages in your life? Be honest. Do you tend to see every new email as a virtual hug that must be reciprocated? Do you keep emails in your inbox for weeks or months even though you know in your heart of hearts that you have no intention of ever responding to them? If so, it's dragging you down if you ever hope to hit "zero" in this lifetime. Mentioned briefly yesterday, it bears repeating: delete, my friend. Delete, delete, delete.
The first and most workmanlike filter in your email processing scheme must involve very quickly deciding whether a given message can be deleted or archived immediately upon receipt. This, Grasshopper, is the dirtiest of dirty little secrets in the "Inbox Zero" fu book. Because once you can reduce the amount of hay in your particular stack, the needles start revealing themselves like shiny little diamonds. Kill junk, kill pseudo-junk, and then kill all the stuff you won't ever respond to. Whatever's left is yours to return. That's where your actual, useful job lives.
Believe it or not, deleting fast and well is actually one of the most difficult skills to master, since it requires you to be straight with yourself starting from the moment a new message arrives. Is there an action here? Will you really respond to this email? Or, will you, more likely, just let it sit there for an hour or a day or a decade while you ruminate upon its ontological significance? Will you put it into some lame "holding" folder where notional Magick Things might transform it into something more interesting to you? Feh.
Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you're reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it's what's led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today. Maybe? Think about it.
So, seriously, if you're not going to do anything with a message, just get it out of your sight, and make room for the actionable messages in your life. Delete it, or -- if you're a big chicken like me -- archive it. In any case, remember that if this were something you really wanted to and could respond to, you would have done it the second it arrived.
Jedi trick: When this particular attitude on response and deletion moves from "interesting speculative theory" to "how you operate," you'll no longer have to fear and despise the delete key and what it potentially says about your slackitude. Responding may be better than deleting, but deleting is way better than first slacking for 6 months then finally, reluctantly deleting.
Concentrate on deletion as a way to thin the herd and fail faster. If the little voice says "You're never going to answer this," consider listening. If the little voice is wrong, respond then and there, no exceptions.
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