Hodgman After

“I long ago gave up trying to sort my email into folders or even bother deleting the junk. I let it all decadently roll to the bottom of my inbox like a Twitter stream. I have 22,153 emails in my inbox, and I don’t care what you think about it. This is very liberating.”

I don’t know about you, but over the years, I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to every time I notice an unread message in my e-mail inbox. I might see that (1) in the Gmail tab in my web browser or I might see the notification on my smartphone. Wherever I see it, I can’t help but to see what that e-mail could be. I know. This can’t possibly be healthy.

I See Unread Messages

Don’t get me wrong. I think e-mail is a wonderful and fantastic invention. In the context of business, I’ve even written on how you can improve your email communication in an effort to make it even more effective. While I may not necessarily respond right away to every message that I get, I do endeavor to reply quickly, because I would appreciate the same kind of courtesy in return. We all hate it when conversations end up in digital limbo.

Even so, I’ve never really achieved the mythical “inbox zero,” because I still have a habit of using my inbox as something of a to-do list or a reminder list. There are many productivity and communication experts out there who say you shouldn’t do that and I can understand the merits of their arguments; I’ve just never made the switch. John Hodgman, on the other hand, has gone far off in the other direction.

Go with the Flow

You might recognize him as the resident “deranged millionaire” on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or perhaps you remember him as the “PC” from the “Mac vs. PC” Apple commercials a few years back. With Hodgman, as he so eloquently explains in the quote above, he doesn’t ever hit “delete” or “archive” or anything of that sort. He just lets the messages flow down the page.

I can certainly appreciate how “liberating” that can feel, but I’m not at all convinced it’s the best way to handle e-mail. “Urgent” or “crucial” messages can easily be missed. I don’t sort my messages into folders anymore either — Gmail already splits them up into three buckets automatically and even the concept of a “label” is archaic when search is so much more effective — but I do hit the “archive” button to indicate that I have read and processed that message appropriately.

Then and only then can I feel comfortable having those messages disappear into the digital file cabinet.

A Better Email

But that’s me. And maybe that’s why I haven’t made it as a deranged millionaire yet. What about you? What is your approach to e-mail? Do you restrict yourself to checking it only at select times of the day? Have you ever achieved inbox zero? Does it bother you when you see that you have 1,236 unread messages in there?