One recent morning, I was looking for a mailbox on Elm Street to mail a greeting card. I found a pair of them outside an office building, a reminder of a time when a single mailbox was not enough to handle the daily volume from local businesses.

I’m guessing those days are gone, considering the mailbox I chose had a spider web covering the entire opening. I had to brush it away with my hand to mail the card, feeling a twinge of guilt as I destroyed a tiny creature’s geometric meal ticket. (About an hour’s work for a spider, I hear.)

It was 9:30 a.m. on a weekday so I was a bit surprised to see that spider web still there. I was probably the first person to use the mailbox that morning.

Sometimes, I wish my email inbox had such little traffic. As of noon Friday, I had 2,227 unread emails at my Union Leader address, with my total inbox punching past 3,000.

For most people these days, that’s a small number. For me, it’s a work in progress. I’m still recovering from inbox zero syndrome, the crazy notion that the path to staying organized means deleting the stuff you don’t need and attending to what you do.

I’ve wasted far too much time playing electronic whack-a-mole. While business people face a torrent of messages via email, voicemail, text, private messages, Twitter and other social media, few professions match journalists for the sheer volume of data that comes our way.

We’re flooded daily with announcements from government, law enforcement, businesses, nonprofits, political campaigns and anyone else who seeks publicity or needs to provide information to the public. My inbox zero goal was one I could never meet — under 100 was generally the watermark. It was an effort to try to manage the flow. So was my assembly of subject folders that became an army of virtual file cabinets, themselves covered with virtual spider webs.

I’m finally coming around to realizing I was like the guy in the Pink Floyd song: “No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.”

Inbox zero is a relic from the days when our emails sat on local servers at work or on our computer hard drives at home before the era of Gmail and other cloud-based networks. I was trained to delete messages due to the auto-warning messages I used to receive at one of my former employers that I was going over my email box size limit. One size fits all now, and there’s plenty of room to grow.

Some of us are just slow to change. I started thinking about email management during a particularly busy period at work when several projects were coming due. I had to cut something out of my day. Rather than ask my colleagues about how they manage their inboxes, I simply spied over their shoulders at their work stations, confirming my suspicion that I was an email dinosaur as I saw inboxes that were many thousands away from zero.

So far, the only consequences I’ve noticed since my big switch was a couple of followup messages from contacts who sent me messages and had not received a prompt response. Otherwise, I’ve trained myself to rely on searches and a quick scan of the day’s intake.

But I will miss you, zero — even if we never really had a chance to properly meet.

Mike Cote is the business editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Contact him at or 603-206-7724.

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