Forget The Empty Inbox and To Do List

I’ve now read this in several different places over the years, but I recently been thinking about the idea that when you die your inbox will never be empty and your to do list will never be complete.  Rather both ideas are merely a way to help sort out what to do with your time and your life.

Lists, calendars and emails can be tools to help your life or they can turn into your life into hell on earth by being a slave to them.  Instead of resenting these productivity tools I’ve learned over the years to just embrace them for what works for me and not to worry about them taking over my life.  For example, I’m not entirely logical on how I use my tools.  For example, at my day job I tend not to use to do lists that often, but I commonly use them at home.  Or the fact, I really do need to use my calendar for both work and home things or I will forget appointments or meetings (yes, confession I have forgotten to attend a meeting before…and guess what no one died.  Shocking I  know).

I accept I’m a bit of numbers geek (from the guy with a early retirement blog, you don’t say 😉 ), but in the end I know I won’t ever get every done that I want to in life.  Regardless of how much you earn, or what you save you still have the same number of hours in the day, days in the week and weeks in the year.  So accept now that you can’t do it all.  Some things won’t get done and that is ok.  It took me a while to really accept this concept and not to over book my time, but eventually I’ve gotten around to making a life that I feel is fairly manageable and still productive.

Perhaps the biggest thing was to understand you don’ t have to be productive all day long.  There is a deep satisfaction that comes from spending a Sunday afternoon in comfortable chair with a sunbeam on you and reading a book for hours on end.  Or just playing building forts with my kids for a few hours and taking over half the family room with piles of blankets. Or heaven forbid, talking with my wife for an hour before supper over a glass of wine.  Life is about living and that isn’t typically on anyone’s to do list or calendar.

This is why I think I enjoy not working full time.  Since I tend to notice the average person finds a typically two day weekend far too short for their taste.  After all once you have slept in a bit, d0 your errands, cleaning and a few kids activities you end up with next to no time to actually relax.  So you end up over valuing things that you perceive to save time like fast food (which ironically doesn’t always work – I can cook some thing faster than going to pick up fast food), when in fact you could actually enjoy your life a hell of a lot more if you just stopped trying to cram so much into your two days off.

Yet that would mean accepting you can’t do it all.  You can’t have the career, be the perfect parent, have the house out of magazine, great friends, volunteer at several organizations, write that novel you always wanted and binge watch that entire new series on Netflix.  In fact you likely can’t even do half of that list.  Reality sucks eh?

So rather than fight it, I accept it.  I have and now my inbox is never empty and my to do list is never done.  Yet oddly enough I’m happy that I’ve leaned to let go of being perfect.  Odd how that happens when you stop setting yourself up for failure by trying to do too much.

What have you given up on doing in you life? For me I’ll given up on: painting (I like writing better), being the best dad (I settle for being a caring one instead), watching everything the looks interesting for movies and TV shows (my Netflix queue will never be empty), and reading magazines (I prefer books instead).

Odd thing in life is you remember those happy little moments that don’t appear in your calendar more than that important meeting last month with your boss.  Which one do you think should be more important, but often isn’t?

5 thoughts on “Forget The Empty Inbox and To Do List”

  1. I think it can be hard to cut back, slow down, and enjoy life. As a stay at home mom it’s something that I’ve been working on pretty hard because I think it has a lot of value (it was REALLY hard at first)

  2. My home inbox is zero at least once a week. Doesn’t mean I actually *do* everything – it means I select all and hit delete (or for work pretty much every day, file (to a folder called “Filed”)). It’s like clutter and clutter is annoying. It actually causes me a bit of anxiety to see 1000+ item inboxes – especially with some messages unread. It makes me think the person doesn’t know how to prioritize or make decisions. Also makes me think they actually have to DO something with all that stuff. About 8 years or so ago, I had a management consultant at a company I worked at shadow me for a day. He said that I was the first person he’d ever seen with a zero inbox. So I don’t think it’s actually that common despite the years of Merlin Mann / 43 folders / Lifehacker etc.
    And my to-do list is ongoing and never cleared by design (although many things end up being deleted) – it’s not a problem, it’s a feature. 🙂

  3. I always wanted to do music as my career however I think I made a better decision to be an accountant. If I became a musician, then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy music as much as I do now.



  4. My inbox is my to-do list. Once a response has been sent or action has been taken, it gets filed in the correct topic folder, and my goal is to keep the inbox as empty as possible. It is 12:37pm and there are 10 mails in my inbox, all of which will be dealt with by the end of the day and filed away. Having more than 20 mails in my inbox makes me anxious so I try to keep it under tight control.

    As for things I have let go of, I try to book as few activities as possible every week – not more than 2-3. I no longer subscribe to magazines and I rarely watch TV. I need lots of down time to spend with my family and read, so I underschedule myself purposely.

  5. Mmm, I’m impressed that people keep their inbox so close to empty…I’m just trying out a similar idea to Tara with my personal email. Which had been educational as I found out that I need to put aside time to process my inbox (just archive and delete stuff) rather than just read and answer them. Work would be an much different beast to tackle given the volume, but I sort of like the idea.

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