It's generally encouraged for people to aim for a zero inbox. It’s not just that 'dust your hands' feeling of a job well done, it’s also about reducing the amount of stress hormones that are produced when we look at an inbox that has 11,875 messages with 7412 unread.
This is not to say that you should allow your inbox to drive your productivity behaviours, it’s that you will be able to focus on the most important things in your world if you can see them. Working towards having nothing left to do on a Friday is a noble intention. It means you can head off to the weekend with a free and clear mind. Something I’m also a fan of.
Where it comes unstuck, is that in the clearing of your inbox, replying to all those messages, forwarding tasks or work related to projects, following up on outstanding tasks, you end up filling the inboxes of your team and your colleagues who are also trying to get through things before finishing up for the week. This is creating angst and the need for people to 'catch up on weekends'.
As a leader, this is an absolute no-no. From now on and for the rest of your life stop sending emails on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to 'clear your slate'. It is not productive. It’s moving the monkey from your back to someone else.
What should you do with your inbox?
- Delay or schedule the sending of the message. The most common email applications have this functionality. Schedule them for 9.30am or 10am on a Monday. This gives people the breathing space they need hearing into the weekend and a chance to get in on Monday morning, get settled and get started.
- Get comfortable with having a few things left over on a Friday. There may be real merit in leaving an email response until you are fresh on a Monday rather than banging something out in haste that you may regret later.
- Do an hour of power... earlier in the day. Schedule a block of time after lunch on a Friday and take stock of what really (and I mean really) must be done before you leave. Ignore that part of your mind that just wants it ALL done and focus on getting the things done that others may be waiting on so that they can knock over tasks before the weekend.
- Convert some of the emails into appointments for next week so you can do them fresh, then delete or file the email so it is out of your inbox.
Prior to the pandemic, people were already reporting that they were feeling burnt out, less engaged, less productive and struggling with workloads. At a time when people are working from home in many cases working longer hours, it’s important to note that there is a difference between busy-work and work that is actually productive.
Clearing your inbox at 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon is busy-work. That footer on your email that says, 'I send emails at all hours of the day but I don’t expect you to respond' is not working. If you work in any kind of hierarchy (which is most organisations) anyone that sees your email will assume you want an almost immediate response irrespective of the time. However, if you insist on keeping it, at least move it to the top of your message. Scheduling the delivery of your messages is a much more respectful way to manage the flexibility without obligation. Otherwise, it's just plain rude.