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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Aim for Inbox Zero

Keeping your inbox spotless might feel productive, but there are good reasons to take your time responding.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Aim for Inbox Zero
[Photo: Flickr user Alex Barth]

For some of us, leaving outstanding email messages bolded and unread can be stressful. Personally, I often feel a need to keep my inbox as tidy as possible by reading—and responding—to emails ASAP.

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However, I’ve learned that while this practice of writing back quickly might make me feel productive, in the sense that I’m getting stuff done, it might be better in the long run to take pause when it comes to my email—and leave some unread messages for the next morning, or take a couple hours to think before firing off a response.

Here’s how slowing down over email can help you mentally—and professionally.

1. You’ll stay more focused.

If you stop what you’re doing to check email every time you get a ping, you’ll break concentration pretty frequently. While you may think you’re a good multi-tasker, fact is that only 2% of people actually are. So, instead, close your browser when you’re working on something that requires your full attention and decide that you’ll reopen it periodically (perhaps on the hour or half-hour) during scheduled breaks.

2. You’ll proofread better.

Nothing looks sloppier than an email with typos. If you work too quickly, you’ll likely misspell words, miss words, or make weird formatting errors that could have been avoided if you had just take a bit more time to write out your message and read it over before hitting send. (If you need further proof that proofreading is essential, take a look at BuzzFeed’s hilarious, but cautionary, reasons you should always, always, always read over your work.)

3. You’ll resist shooting back an emotionally charged response.

Sometimes, you might receive an email that makes your chest pound, or even, pardon the cliché, your blood boil. We often take things personally when they likely aren’t personal at all, or might feel the need to make things personal as a way of defending ourselves. But firing off an angry email won’t help you in the long-run.

If you find yourself in the situation, Forbes.com writer Travis Bradberry advises typing out the email you’d like to send—but saving it in your drafts. “Come back to it later when you’ve cooled down,” he writes. “By then you’ll be rational enough to edit the message and pare down the parts that burn, or—even better—rewrite the kind of message that you want to be remembered by.”

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4. You’ll be able to critically think about your reply.

We’re all been there: Hours after you send an email, you realize you could have, should have, said something completely different. Allowing yourself some time to respond gives you the brain space to think through an idea, question, or problem, rather than writing what first comes to your mind.

But there’s another reason to pause: So you don’t end up sending an email that’s longer than it needs to be—or not as clear. As Anthony K. Tjan writes on HarvardBusinessReview.org, it’s crucial for your credibility to “get the facts and your message points straight in your head, then focus on delivering them in the clearest, most understandable, most consistent manner possible.” Doing this takes time.

5. You’ll avoid sending purely clutter mail.

When you’re not trying to clear your inbox, you’ll resist sending messages bearing only “thanks” or “got it” or other emails that simply clutter the recipient’s inbox. If you wait to respond once some time has passed, you may have more to say. (Maybe you have new information about the project you’re working on, or you have additional assets ready to send.)

Remember that, typically, “you don’t need to answer every email” you receive, according to Peggy Duncan, author of Conquer Email Overload With Better Habits, Etiquette And Outlook. If your message won’t add anything to the conversation, it’s unnecessary.

This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.

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