Here’s Why We Feel Stressed Ending the Day with a Cluttered Inbox

updated Jul 17, 2020
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Credit: Kim Lucian

For some of us, attaining inbox zero at the end of a workday feels like a crucial way to feel like we’ve accomplished all our tasks for the day, giving us a clean slate for the next morning. For the rest of us, inbox zero just isn’t possible despite our best efforts to keep on top of our email flow. If you’ve ever felt stressed by the state of your inbox long after you’ve left the office, like when you’re eating dinner or enjoying some wind-down time with your loved ones, there’s an actual psychological reason why, according to experts.

“We feel pressure to have our inboxes clear because we anticipate the stress we’ll feel the next day if we get behind, and the feeling of being behind at work is incredibly hard to shake. It’s what makes us distracted at dinner and keeps us awake at night,” as career coach and host of the Career Foresight podcast Jennifer Spoelma explained to MarthaStewart.com.

But the truth is that going Marie Kondo on your inbox every day is next to impossible for most people, especially given that it’s increasingly likely you’ll continue getting emails all hours into the night—if you have a hard time disconnecting from your devices, there’s a good chance your colleagues do, too. So as difficult as it might feel, Spoelma recommends trying to prioritize your own needs above your inbox, which is surely easier said than done for most people. “Email is unpredictable. You never know who will pop into your inbox, what their request of you will be, or how long it will take to respond to them. Prioritizing emails is really prioritizing everyone else’s needs above your own,” she said.

Though certain people must be on call during off-hours, the rest of us would benefit from worrying less about the elusive concept of a clutter-free inbox, and trusting that we’ll be able to take care of things the next day.

If you can’t fully detach from your devices and need to at least check your email after your workday is done (guilty!), Kaitlyn Merola, email marketing expert and founder of Möve Marketing recommends at least taking a beat before responding instantly. Even in our “always-on” society, worrying less about providing instant gratification can be just the ticket to actually being more productive. “In the meantime, just shoot the person an email back that says, ‘I’ll look into it and get back to you,’ or ‘let me do some digging and see what I can find,’ to give yourself the time you need to put your answer together,” advised Merola.

For additional email tips, check out MarthaStewart.com