Fear of Inbox Zero

Lately as I've juggled commitments and searched for quiet time for myself, it occurred to me that quiet time is not something everybody wants. I wondered to myself "what if I just ignored Google Reader for a while, to make time to do something completely different, or do nothing." And I understood that for some people, the treadmill serves a purpose, and to do nothing is anathema.

Google Reader is an example of an inbox - communications pile up there until you deal with them. Most of us have a lot of inboxes: work and personal emails, voice mails and texts, recorded TiVo/PVR programs, magazines we subscribe to, a stack of books we plan to read, et cetera. Something like TiVo is supposed to make your life more convenient, by letting you watch only what you want, when you want it. But a funny thing happened to early adopters: the hard drive full of unwatched programs began to feel like a burden. In a word, an obligation. An inbox creates a sense of obligation. Timothy Ferriss has identified this and he avoids it.

Some people always look busy - to others and maybe to themselves. The constant fulfilment of the obligations of the inboxes creates a sense of being busy doing something important. Well, maybe "sense" isn't the right word for it if the inbox is your TiVo, but this is the treadmill. To ignore your inboxes is to step off the treadmill, to live without the reassurance of running. Even reaching Inbox Zero means stopping.

Stopping. The opposite of feeling busy is having free time, in other words, having to choose what to do next. You might choose to just sit and observe, or think. You might do something active and unstructured - play. You might shift from dealing with the minute-to-minute to thinking about where you want to be in five years. This might disturb you. I've commented before that the way a person deals with boredom is a good indication of their character: if they can't sit still without their head exploding, then they're probably not at peace with themselves.

I need quiet. A couple weeks ago I assembled some cheap bookshelves and set up a desk in an unused extra bedroom in my house. Just fifteen minutes there is enough to calm me down and center me. I'm practicing quietness, even though it's hard to justify in the face of so many obligations. I'll just say that I'm fulfilling an obligation to myself.