You may have never seen one of these. It’s an empty inbox. Most people I know have thousands of emails sitting in their inboxes. What a Weight! The stress of it is astounding. Conversely there is both a freedom and a positive type of inertia effect from having all of your emails out and where they belong; turned into ‘to-do’ actions (in my case using a neat add-in from OmniFocus that lets me turn emails into items in my project/task management tool), calendar events (my reference numbers for concerts, or contact and address information for appointments are where I need them when I need them. If you use Google Mail/Calendar you want to learn the Create an Event option built into GMail), in reference folders or IN THE TRASH. Think of the time you waste reviewing the same pile of emails over and over, not to mention the hassle of finding the item you actually need at the moment you need it.
The positive inertial force is that just as an object in motion tends to stay in motion, a person in order tends to stay in order. The cycle of completion is something I will delve into in more detail in another post, but think of it like this. We, as human beings, comprise a closed energy system. We only have so much attention we can allocate to the myriad promises we make, tasks we undertake, projects we have, etc. We can, over time, increase the amount of energy in the system through exercise, proper diet, mental practices of focus, meditation or cognitive training. Go ahead and do all the things you can to build up your available energy, but for the most part that will be only incremental. Every time we commit to some action (we make a promise to ourselves or others), or we are assigned some action (the boss, spouse, kids delegate to us), or pend some action (we leave email in the inbox waiting to decide about it later), we tie up some piece of our closed energy system in preparation to do that work. Let’s call the part of your consciousness that is the gatekeeper to your energy, commitments, body and survival; The Basic Self. (here is a link to one view on the dynamic involved). Every time we do the thing we commit to, the energy is released and available for new work, new commitments, etc. Think back to the rush of energy you feel when you clear out old ‘to-dos’. The real juice is releasing the energy we have tied up within ourselves remembering commitments we could more readily track with an external system or process. Our full inbox is an albatross robbing us of energy. We need that energy available to do stuff, not remember stuff. Every item we clear from our inbox, by making a decision about it and moving it through our personal productivity system, releases our energy. By the way, the more we keep our commitments, the more our Basic Self trusts us and provides the energy we need (it can stop hoarding and we stop feeling lethargic, overwhelmed and anxious).
Finally, just as that inertial object wants to stay in motion, our clean inbox wants to stay clean so we feel motivated to keep the virtuous cycle going and in the process free ourselves to be productive, engaged and satisfied.