I’ve recently been ruminating on, what seems to me as the abyss of inbox hell. Between my many email accounts, calendar invites, text messages, Facebook messages, LinkedIn messages, and everything else — I just can’t seem to keep up with it all.
Have you heard of the ‘Zero Inbox’ idea? It’s a great notion that’s been around for years. The goal is to get your email inbox, or whatever your inbox is, down to zero items every day. Zero. Kaput. Nada. Nothing left to do. Nirvana. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well there are many systems out there to help you get to zero items such as the GTD method and I’ve used a few of them myself making decent progress staying on top of things. Well, I thought I was, until recently.
You see, until what seemed like just a short time ago, I only had my work and personal email inboxes to consider, as well as a seemingly never ending todo list. It was all fairly manageable until recently.
You see, I noticed that the total number of inboxes I use has increased tremendously. I looked at all the ways I communicate with people (email and other methods) and the total number of inboxes, added up for each system, is ridiculous.
According to my recent cursory count of my methods, I have at least 15–20 separate systems to check with their several inboxes and notifications each totaling over 200 separate inboxes. Crazy, right? Let me show you what I mean…
Let’s start with the main systems most of us use to communicate every day.
Personal, work (I consult for several organizations each of which have their own email systems.), the non-profit I’m on the board of, and a few more organization’s email accounts. Fortunately, I configured email on my computer and iPhone to be able to see all these inboxes at the same time so not much slips through the cracks. A single pane of glass to see all my emails.
Home, work, cell. Also the text messages that come across each. Oh, and there’s WhatsApp and Signal as well. They have their own inboxes too.
I use OmniFocus for managing my tasks for everything in my life; work, personal, the non-profit, etc. This system is about as efficient as it gets and it interfaces with all of my technology. It’s also based on the GTD method mentioned earlier.
Yes, Facebook. If you thought social media like Facebook was just for catching up with friends from school, you’re in for a big surprise. Increasingly more and more people are trying to connect personally and professionally via all available social channels. I regularly have people contacting me via my personal Facebook account as well as my professional Facebook page. And all those contacts need attention. It’s not just getting messages via Facebook’s Messenger. It’s responding to people’s comments on my posts, contacting me on my professional page, participating in all of the groups that I’m in on Facebook such as my condo’s Facebook group, or the groups I’m in regarding the LiveLit, storytelling, and improv scenes in Chicago as well as groups from college and graduate school. With a quick check of my groups listing on Facebook, I belong to 68 groups. I also manage eleven Facebook pages. Attending to all that chews up and insane amount of attention.
I manage eleven Twitter accounts though only a few of them regularly. Each Twitter channel requires attention to not only the direct messages that I receive, but notifications of activity on each channel, and finally any Twitter conversations I’m engaged in.
I have a LinkedIn account like most people in the professional world does. On LinkedIn I manage four company pages, seven groups, and I’m a member of over 50 groups and sub-groups. In addition to all of that, LinkedIn has their own email system called InMail. Another place for me to receive spam from sales people in India and Ukraine trying to sell me cheap software development. Generally, things I really couldn’t give a crap about. Like we don’t already get enough spam. Aside from InMail, if you decide to share anything on LinkedIn there’re the notifications you get from people liking or commenting on your posts that call for attention. And to add another item to the inbox, there are the articles. LinkedIn has it’s own publication platform called Pulse that goes beyond the standard sharing of posts. It’s possible you’re reading this on Pulse right now because I often cross-post my articles on LinkedIn, my blog, Medium, and other professional platforms like CIOWaterCooler.
Think we’re done yet?
Nope. Not even close.
Here’re more inboxes that we probably have in common…
Do you use Google Apps for Business? Hangouts? Have a Google Voice number? Have a home phone number, a cell number, or a phone for work? They all are inboxes. So are texts. I get texts on my cell and in Hangouts.
How about other apps that have their own communications and collaboration systems that let you send and receive messages? I also use Instagram, Pinterest, Swarm, Foursquare, Snapchat, Tumblr, WeChat, Shapr, Yammer, Skype, Facebook for Work (Workplace), and Slack. See what I’m talking about? It’s just nuts.
Have a Fitbit or Watch? If you do, you’re probably regularly invited to challenges with your friends for the most amount of steps in a week. Tons of fitness apps have these community connections. After all, it’s more effective when you’re getting healthier with a friend than trying to go it alone.
Speaking of connecting with other people outside of work, how about meetup.com? Meetup is fantastic for connecting with people with similar interests or if you just moved to a new city. Looking for people in your town you’d like to connect with who have the same interests; such as a hiking, writing, movies, or finding an Euchre group? Meetup is great for this… also with its own inbox.
Then there’s the dating apps… all of them. Let’s face it, we all want to find love and it can get pretty lonely out there. Want to connect with someone new? Looking for someone to date? There’s an app for that, of course, lots of them, and with them come their own inboxes. One for each of them. Most people use several dating apps at a time and each of them have an inbox that regularly calls for your attention. And it’s often on a timer. Seriously, you’re timed on how quick you respond. If someone likes you, you may only have a day or two to respond so you better get on it if you want to find the love of your life… or something else. You don’t want to be ghosting on potential dates you matched with in lieu of another dating app or another inbox in yet another app.
When I pick up my phone and look at all the notifications on the screen from all the different apps, most of which I haven’t even addressed here, it’s no wonder that things fall through the cracks. Connections get abandoned, tweets don’t get responded to, and emails orphaned somewhere in the deep recesses of my many inboxes.
Depending on the day, all those notifications can chew up a nauseating amount of attention and time, and usually not in one big block but many tiny, constantly interrupting spurts of time by all of the dings, pings, and vibrations of notifications I get on my computer, iPhone, and Watch. Some days, I feel like I walked into a pachinko parlor in Tokyo with some kid constantly pulling on my wrist for attention with all the notifications I get.
This is inbox hell.
Oh, and I don’t want to forget your calendars inboxes… you know, calendar invites that come through all these different channels. For example, when someone sends me a place and time via text for a meeting or just to grab a beer after work next week. That stuff doesn’t automatically get put into my calendar. I have to take some extra steps to make sure those appointments get set. Most invites that come via email do make it into my calendar automatically, mostly. I still have to accept the invitation. Then there are the calendar subscriptions that I have for events that I sign up for via Facebook, Meetup, or the shared calendars from work. Those just pop up in my calendar — when everything is working correctly. I currently have twelve different calendars that show up in my main calendar app. Tending to all these calendars and meeting invites requires a prescriptive care and feeding manual akin to that of a rare species of jungle wildcat.
It may sound like utter and complete chaos, and in a manner of speaking, it is. Yet, I kinda make it all work. Well, sort of.
Is there a better way? Probably. Will that method get screwed up when a new hot app comes out? Likely. Perhaps they’ll introduce a new way to communicate or to incorporate our contacts, calendars, and email accounts with one another. It’s a never-ending moving target and for one of the most important parts of my life; my personal information management system. This system that includes my calendar to tell me where I need to be and when, my address book so that I can connect with who I need to, and the many many methods of communicating with all of their glorious inboxes. Without them my life would virtually fall apart. Yet, they’re so infuriatingly complex and disparate. It’s amazing it works at all.
So if I don’t get back to you in a timely manner, it’s not that I don’t think you’re important to me. It’s just… well… your message may have gotten lost in the ether. Ping me again… I promise I’ll get back to you.
Just remember; it’s about progress, not perfection.
Do you have a different perspective on this? A different solution that’s less chaotic, you know, other than burning all of our tech in effigy. Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Really, I would.
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