Collaborating with Braden Shepherdson.
The most important example, for most of us, is your email inbox. Unless you use the Inbox River method, in which case your inbox doesn’t count.
A task’s value is its age in days, squared. So 0 for tasks arriving today, 1 for yesterday, 4 for 2 days ago, etc. Beemind a hard limit of 100 for the sum of the task values in the backlog.
Instead of measuring the total number of inbox messages, measure how many days old the messages are.
The way I personally use Inbox Zero is as a to-do list / triage system. So old messages in my inbox are things that I have been putting off for a long time.
I would be interested in a system to encourage me to keep my inbox fresh. “No messages older than x days old allowed,” with x decreasing.
Here’s the super short version of Mark Forster’s advice on backlogs: Isolate the backlog and [bee]mind it separately.
Rationale: If you mix backlog processing with inbox processing then (1) it’s just kinda demoralizing to feel like the red queen and (2) you’re driving blind, with no feedback loop on whether your inbox processing is sustainable. You need to hit inbox zero every day, even if you do it by letting things fall on the floor, because you need to be in control of what falls on the floor.
Some people can get away with the river approach (thanks to John Langford for the metaphor), where they can trust themselves to pull out anything sufficiently important as the emails flow past. I cannot be trusted with that approach, since I persist in watching important emails flow past into the vast sea that is my inbox and delusionally insisting that I’ll totally get to that later.
If you’re like me — super akratic about your inbox — then you have to somehow be an inbox zeroer. If you’ve slipped and have a backlog then you’re suddenly the red queen on a slippery slope. Hence: isolate the backlog, keep inbox zeroing, beemind the backlog separately.