Inbox zero/email bankruptcy

I’ve been thinking about these concepts for the last little while…and by little while, I mean three days. In fact, before I listened to episode 203 of my favourite podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, I don’t think I’d even heard the term email bankruptcy. In case you’re unfamiliar with either/both, here you go.

Inbox zero: having zero to few emails in your inbox. I know. I don’t think anyone has ever actually seen proof of this in real life, but they say it’s been done before.

Email bankruptcy: the act of achieving the above by blowing up any existing backlog and just deleting everything.

I currently use three email accounts. One is Gmail that I got back when you had to be invited to use it. (Yes, seriously. And invitations were so scarce you legit had to wait for them. I once even scored a client based on having an extra invitation to get them an account.) I use a ProtonMail account that I started to transition to after listening to the Escape From Yahoo! episode of the Note to Self podcast back in 2017. (I switched to ProtonMail because it is encrypted and someday I’m going to use the account full time.) I also use my work email, a corporate Outlook inbox where I perpetually receive more than a thousand emails each week.

In all of my inboxes, I have (lots of) unread mail. With all of my inboxes, I feel a lack control.

Do I really want to achieve inbox zero? To be honest, it’s not that important to me at all, but I would like to get rid of a lot of the junk that I thought I’d someday go back to, but then it all got buried in more junk that I thought I’d someday go back to and so on. I also love me a fresh start so why not just, in the words of Seth Rollins, burn it down?

The case for email bankruptcy argues that if there’s an email from 2014 (or 2004 for that matter!) that I haven’t replied to, well, then it doesn’t need a reply anymore. And if something that does need my attention gets lost, well, somebody is going to let me know about it.

I kind of like these arguments. At the same time, I’ll remind you that I’ve had my main account since the early 2000s so I’m a little afraid of losing the emails of my 20s and 30s without revisiting at least a few of them and the ridiculous eras of my life from which they originated. (I learned my lesson from

I don’t think I’m prepared to go full bankruptcy on any of my accounts, but I am going to hit all of them with a heavy hand. Including the archives. Including the folders. After all, this isn’t the first time the idea of digital decluttering has hit me.

Every time I get a new device, I swear that things will be different. I’ll maintain the records/files/apps/information/photos/songs/podcasts/you get my drift. Every time, I start strong and then I give up trying to keep track of everything. It’s the same as all my email accounts. They started with the best of intentions, but then the newsletters started rolling in and all hell broke loose.

I’d like to build up again using a better and more stringent approach to filing my important or cherished messages and just have an inbox that was generally cleaner. I’d like to be more diligent about picking a process for storing things and sticking to that plan. I’m not really sure where to start, but I think the approach I need to take is much like the most challenging goals of my year ahead – giving my full focus to just one thing at a time.

Do you strive for or live up to the inbox zero concept? Would you ever declare email bankruptcy?

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