How to solve email

The Guardian - G2 - - Front Page - An­dré Spicer

At the be­gin­ning of each year, many of us look at our over­flow­ing in­boxes with hor­ror, then make a res­o­lu­tion: no longer will our email ac­count be bur­dened with thou­sands of un­read mes­sages. In­stead, it will be­come glo­ri­ously empty. You will leave work each day know­ing that you have dealt with ev­ery sin­gle mes­sage.

Devo­tees of “in­box zero” say that hav­ing a clean email ac­count is like hav­ing a clean con­science. No guilt about unan­swered mes­sages, no anx­i­ety, no vague sense of im­pend­ing doom.

Main­tain­ing an empty in­box may sound easy – just delete the lot and start again from scratch. But while purg­ing your in­box can take sec­onds, keep­ing it empty re­quires the kind of ded­i­ca­tion and time that many of us sim­ply don’t have. So, in­stead of feel­ing bad about thou­sands of un­read mes­sages, a jour­nal­ist at the At­lantic has sug­gested an al­ter­na­tive: “in­box in­fin­ity”.

Rather than try­ing to deal with ev­ery sin­gle email, al­low the dig­i­tal tide to wash over you. Ac­cept that the num­ber of mes­sages in your in­box will al­ways be in­fi­nite be­cause the time you have to deal with them will al­ways be fi­nite.

Some devo­tees of in­box in­fin­ity do their best to an­swer as many emails as they can. Oth­ers have taken to ex­treme mea­sures, such as set­ting up a per­ma­nent out-of-of­fice re­ply with other ways of reach­ing them. There are even some who don’t use email at all. The film di­rec­tor Christo­pher Nolan shuns email en­tirely.

In­box in­fin­ity seems a great way of deal­ing with the end­less del­uge of emails. But it does not come with­out risks. Ne­glect­ing emails may make you seem un­pro­fes­sional. Col­leagues and friends may think it is a sign that you don’t care. It could even cut you out of cru­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tions. But for some, it re­ally is the only prac­ti­cal op­tion. Af­ter all, how can any­one deal with 500 emails when there are only 480 min­utes in the av­er­age work­ing day?

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