My wife is out of town this week. And whenever that happens, I establish some lofty goal that I want to accomplish before she gets back. This week, I attempted the impossible: an empty inbox.
After some research and experimentation, I discovered that it really wasn’t as difficult as I’d first thought. To accomplish the empty inbox, you just need to follow a few easy steps. Here they are.
1. Delete any email beginning with a consonant.
This should take care of all those emails beginning with hey, hello, and howdy, which you probably shouldn’t respond to anyway. And they’ll also eliminate emails that start off with Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Sir, or Madam. I figure that anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to call me by name probably doesn’t need a response. (And, as an added bonus, if your name also happens to start with a consonant you’ll come out way ahead on this one.)
2. Send an auto-reply to every remaining email asking them to go get a drink of water.
This step is really important because it’s biblical. The key here is that they have to email you back telling you how they went about drinking the water. If they drank from a cup, glass, or other container, delete the email. And people who just stuck their heads under a faucet and slurped away get tossed as well. But anyone who cupped their hands under the faucet and drank that way gets to pass on to the next round. (That’s how God told Gideon to do it, so it must work.)
3. Delete any email asking you to do something.
This one can be a little more time-consuming because it actually requires you to read (or at least skim) your emails. So make sure you wait until step three to do it. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending way too much time on this project. But once you’ve reached step three, it shouldn’t be too difficult to quickly skim your remaining emails, find those that ask you to do anything, and delete them. And the key here is to be ruthless. Delete the email no matter how small the request. Remember, those little tasks can add up. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up like Gulliver staked to the ground by hundreds of tiny ropes. So delete away.
4. Auto-respond to every remaining email with “That sounds great. Thanks.”
This is the perfect email response. It’s short and ambiguous, but still sounds like you’re engaged and making decisions (and thus earning that salary that someone is paying you). You’ll be able to take care of at least half your remaining emailers with this one. Some will be perfectly satisfied with your response and will happily go away. Others won’t have any idea how your response relates to the email they sent you, but they’ll decide that the email wasn’t important enough to follow up on, so they’ll go away as well. Only a few will be both confused by your response and motivated enough to send you another email. You can take care of them in the next step.
(Important note: Make sure you do Step 3 before doing Step 4. Otherwise you’ll have a real problem on your hands.)
5. Forward all remaining emails to an underling.
Any email that’s left probably needs to be dealt with. If an email has somehow survived repeated deletings, it means that the email sender has sold his or her eternal soul to the devil in exchange for unstoppable emails. You could try challenging them to a fiddle contest, but it’s easier just to give them a response. And you might also have a few people who have decided to email you back out of confusion generated by Step 4.
So here’s how you deal with any remaining emails: forward them to an underling and tell him or her to deal with it. After all, that’s what underlings are for. The important thing here is that the underling needs to be given clear instructions not to ask you how to respond to any of the emails. Otherwise, you might as well have responded to them yourself. Encourage them to remain vague but confident. And under no circumstances should they commit you to doing anything (a clear violation of the spirit of Step 3).
But what if you don’t have any underlings? No problem. Underlings are easy to find. You can pretend to be someone’s friend at church and then manipulate them into doing your email for you. Or you can become a teacher and use your awesome control of a student’s future to get them to be your underling. And, of course, if all else fails, you can always have children.
Congratulations! You now have an empty inbox. Go celebrate for a while. Treat yourself to something nice. You probably won’t have a job in a few days, but don’t worry about it. At least you don’t have any emails to respond to for a bit.