Why striving to have an empty inbox at the end of the day is a waste of time
"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." - Henry David Thoreau
Empty inbox race
I know first hand, how easy it is to get caught up in things that may seem important, but are actually not. The 'empty inbox' race is a good example... do you know people that try to have every message read or answered before the end of the day? Many times I heard co-workers proudly state that this was their goal for day.
Although it might feel good to be a 'very responsible' employee that reads and answers every email, is this really creating the highest value for your clients and your company? Is this the best use of your time day after day? Probably not.
Email is low leverage
I have come to realize that my inbox is mostly a distraction. As important as it is to be up to date with what's going on in your organization, email is one of the biggest time wasters that keeps us busy all day without actually producing much of anything new. The worst part is, that generally the time you spend on an email, is a '1:1' or 'low leverage' activity. You tend to only directly influence or affect one to perhaps a handful people with each email. Not a great ratio when it comes to leverage. (For more info on the concept of 'managerial leverage' see this post.)
I have found that scanning through my inbox, in the early morning and once in the afternoon is enough. Clients and other people that have a higher focus, are labelled as VIP's in my inbox. I get notified when something new comes in and they receive an immediate response. Everyone else has to wait. You might ask: "Why do you keep people waiting?" Because it frees up my time to actually focus on tasks that I consider strategically important and have a high input to output or managerial leverage ratio.
Block time for what you consider important
Instead of letting your day be dictated by whatever pops up in your inbox, try to block at least 2 hours every morning (if you're a morning person like me), to progress topics that you consider important. This will ensure that everyday you are progressing topics which will have a strong impact and provide real value for the needs of your clients and organization.
In my view the criteria for making this decision, is the value which these projects can bring to your clients and your company. (For more on value from an agile perspective see the post below)
If you haven't read Tim Ferriss' classic "4 Hour Workweek" yet, I highly recommend it!