‘Inbox Zero’ is a terrible mirage.

We all dream of it. A beautiful, completely empty inbox. Nobody waiting for you to respond. Nobody nagging you for your attention. Just you and your beautiful empty inbox, in total homeostasis with the world.

If you’ve ever aimed for Inbox Zero and achieved it, you know that it feels great.

For a moment.

Then another email appears in your inbox. Then another. A wave of anxiety returns, and you are faced with two horribly unpleasant options:

1. Chain yourself to your inbox, zapping every email that appears, until the day you die.

2. Let the inbox build itself up once again, your victory all too fleeting.

I think it’s safe to assume that nobody considers the first option practical. Anyone who does might already have some semi-serious psychological conditions. If they don’t, they will soon.

Your inbox, like your life, is in a constant state of flux. New things are always happening that disturb the balance and tax your attention. Attempting to fight that fact will lead you to nothing but frustration. And a still nonempty inbox.

Pursuing Inbox Zero without the proper perspective is a subscription for pain and disappointment. When you’re trying to get a handle on your correspondence, first frame your expectations as follows:

Email is something not to be conquered, but managed.

Over time, I will be exploring inbox management techniques in a way that accounts for the neverending nature of incoming email. That may include structured exercises focused on achieving some form of ‘Inbox Zero,’ but I believe part of the issue is in rethinking how we define the word ‘Inbox’ in the first place.