The Fundamental Theorem of Email
I can count on one hand the number of times my inbox has been empty in my life. If you are like me, your email inbox is the center of your organizational universe. It’s the main “to do” list, and when the emails start piling up unread or unprocessed, it creates anxiety. A whole industry has cropped up to address such angst by teaching people practical tactics for becoming more efficient with their time. While this is good and all, it doesn’t seem to address the Fundamental Theorem of Email: the rate you receive new email is directly proportional to the speed with which you reply. Some corollaries:
- No matter how hard you try to keep your inbox clear, there is an equal and opposite force working to fill it up.
- If you do happen to clear it, soon it will just fill up again.
- If you stop answering emails entirely, eventually they will just stop coming in.
- Each person has their own equilibrium point where the the incoming flow balances naturally with their desire for a clear inbox. (Mine is at about 20 emails)
- The joy you receive from having a clean slate is always less than (and more fleeting than) the anxiety you feel trying to get there.
- When you die, your inbox won’t be empty. (Okay, so I stole that one from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff)
I’m working on letting go of the anxiety about the situation and being happy with an average of 20. But then, by releasing the pressure won’t my average just go up, causing the anxiety to return?