Saturday, February 13, 2016

Inbox Zero

Some might think of it as an Inverted Jenny or a 1949 Double Eagle. Or maybe for you it's more akin to Sasquatch or Nessie. Still others might think of it as a humble Hillary or an Introspective Donald. Each is an object rumored in song and story, something only a few have ever said they have seen and whose actual existence is doubted. In case you're unsure, the first set of references was to rare stamps and coins, the second to mythical creatures and the third - wait – aren't those also mythical creatures?

No matter. I'm referring to a zone of zendom that I thought was only rumor, but which I recently entered, if only for a few moments. Still, the feeling was like one I'm told you get when you strike the perfect downward dog, or are throwing a no-hitter, or float in a weightless environment. But I am not a devotee of yoga, a professional pitcher or an astronaut, and so those moments will likely forever elude me. However, in my world, I would think this is the rough equivalent: I got my email inbox count to zero.

There are two types of people in this world. Some keep everything in their inbox, deleting only the obvious junk. The counter on the side of their screen routinely moves into 4-digit territory, but at least they know where everything is. That note about their cousin's new baby is nestled right next to that missive from the co-op board about parking spaces and adjacent to the reminder from their boss about the Cincinnati project. And with everything searchable by key word, all it takes is a few taps to isolate the needed piece of information, be it "cousin," "co-op" or "Cincinnati" (unless your cousin lives in a co-op in Cincinnati).

Then there are those who obsessively file or delete each piece of incoming correspondence, trying to make the counter click downward. Sometimes it's easy: the project notes go in the project folder, the bank statements in the statement folder, the jokes in the joke folder. Others require some creative interpretation: does the offer for a phone upgrade get saved in the "phone" folder or in the "sales" folder? And still others defy any categorization: what do I do with the email I sent myself to remember to deal with the text I was sent that I still haven't responded to? Stuff like that truly defines the expression "rabbit hole."

I fall squarely into the second camp. Every time I sit down I try and take action on everything that requires it. I send out budgets, pictures, answers to questions, whatever I can, as soon as I get the information together. I'd much rather keep the ball in another's court, waiting for them to make a new request of me, versus getting a note saying "still waiting on your response."

So a quiet start to the year enabled me to do just that. I obsessively worked my mouse, clicking and dragging and dropping. And then it happened. At some point on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday night, a night when the Republicans weren't yelling at each other, a night when Cam Newton and Peyton Manning were sitting on their couches studying their playbooks, a night when Donald Trump was getting on his plane to fly back to his penthouse in New York City from Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, I deleted one more offer from Cabela's Hunting Supply and there it was.


My breath caught in my throat, and my head spun with possibilities. My electronic demons had been exorcised, and no one anywhere was waiting on me for anything. If there was ever truly a state of freedom, this was it. I thought about what new directions I might take with my life: cure cancer, discover a new planet, learn to play piano. With nothing but time and no encumbrances, my options were limitless.

But before I even got a chance for a second thought, my computer beeped, and 13 new messages popped up: a request for someone to friend me, a sale on socks, a request to modify the floor plan for an upcoming job. And just that quickly, I was back to where I had been. Maybe Shakespeare was right: Hell really is empty, and all the devils are there.


Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to keep his inbox clear. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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