Inbox zero doesn’t grow your business… sorry

grow your business

First thing you do after your morning brew…

It’s 8:30 am (or thereabouts) and you fire up your laptop.

What’s the first thing you do?

I bet you a double shot latte (long mac topped up for those playing in Perth) that you open Outlook. If you suffer from inbox comfort, you’re not alone. By my observation, 8/10 leaders do the same.

Is there hope?

Don’t worry, this condition doesn’t require a physician to treat.

I coach a number of leaders on a recurring basis, helping them develop their own growth culture and strategy, as well as their team’s. I was at a session with one such coachee (we will call him Brad) and he was complaining about not having made progress on his strategy. I asked him to give me a rundown of each day last week. We went through the list and he cited meetings, staff coaching, project time, etc. 

Once he could name the “rocks” I asked him to leave behind what he remembers and to walk me through exactly what he does in the morning on a typical day.

Brad: “I check my diary.

Me: “ What do you do after you check the diary?” 

Brad: “Check my emails.” 

Me: “What does checking your emails mean? Tomorrow, record how long it takes.

Turns out, “checking” meant 20–30 minutes in the morning. I asked what he would do if he had 20–30 minutes between meetings, and again he answered: “check emails “. Whenever he had time, he’d deal with emails.

I got him to rate those emails as high or low urgency and high or low importance. The vast majority, was, of course, low importance. I’d encourage you to do the same with your own emails, you’ll be shocked.

Why inbox zero doesn’t matter

Brad isn’t some outlier. He is just like most of us. I have to consciously stop myself from doing the same from time to time. So why do we do it:

  • We’ve been conditioned to believe that inbox zero (e.g. no emails in the inbox) means we are on top of things
  • We believe leaving emails to sit till the end of the day / next day is rude, in a society where everyone is conditioned for instantaneous feedback
  • It feels cognitively easy and makes us feel like we are making progress

When’s the last time you heard someone say “ ah, Jan was always the best at keeping an empty inbox?“ 


Because in the scheme of things, it’s not actually achieving anything. No leader is measured by the tidiness of their inbox.

Recapture your time to spark growth

Whether or not most people believe it, we have a finite capacity to make quality decisions throughout the day. Starting your day in your inbox is a sure-fire way to whittle away your capacity.

For a week, I want you to instead leave your inbox until mid-day (that means not before lunch!). Do your project, strategy and growth work first. Power through it and use as much of that amazing brain of yours as possible. If you’re nervous people won’t be able to cope without you, tell them to call/text if it’s urgent, otherwise, you’ll respond back mid-day.

It’s not easy, trust me, BUT I know you can do it and the results will speak louder than I ever could. A week will become two and three and before you know it, you’ll be cracking that strategic and growth-focused time just like Brad was able to do after our coaching.

Inbox zero = irrelevant

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