Trying to empty your inbox is a waste of time

When it comes to productivity advice, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.

As in, you can sink an hour into bullet journaling, or colour-coding your wardrobe, or calendaring your workweek in 15-minute chunks — but to what end? So you feel more organised? Or so you make substantial progress toward your most important personal and professional goals?

If you find yourself staying at work late to go through every single email in your inbox, it’s worth asking yourself what would happen if you just (gasp) left some of them there.

That’s what Laura Vanderkam would advise. Vanderkam is the author of several books on time-management and productivity including, most recently, “I Know How She Does It.”

In the book, she warns readers against “investing too much energy in any organising system aimed at processing everything in your inbox.” It will take a lot of time and energy, she writes, that might be better spent on other tasks.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t send or respond to any emails — that would be almost impossible in today’s workplace. But Vanderkam advises against treating your inbox as a task list, so that other people’s demands are controlling what you work on every day.

Moreover, it’s helpful to realise that most of what’s filling your inbox isn’t urgent, or even that important.

Vanderkam writes:

“[Y]ou will never reach the bottom of your inbox. Better to realise that anything you haven’t gotten to after a week or so will have either gone away or been thrust back upon you by follow-up messages or calls. You can probably stop thinking about it. Earth will not crash into the sun.”

When she visited the Business Insider office in October, Vanderkam told us, “There is no correlation between having an empty inbox and being successful.”

In fact, part of being successful may be learning to prioritise the people and responsibilities in your life.

“It’s going to be impossible to answer everything,” Vanderkam said during our interview. “So you’re going to be disappointing someone and you need to be strategic about who that’s going to be.”

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