I really like what Chris says here about email:
I do think it’s OK to kinda poke through your inbox sometimes just to remind your brain about things in there you might need to get to. But just marking your messages as read is essentially fake work. Be wary of fake work.
Be wary of fake work! Heck yes.
There’s two parts of this for me. First, we often want to feel productive without actually being productive. Clicking “read” on emails is not work though. Archiving, deleting, replying—that’s the work. Yet sometimes it’s really hard to know what we’ll actually do later versus what we hope we’ll do in the future. Second, machines should do most of this work for us.
I’ve been thinking about inboxes a lot over the last year (because at Sentry that’s effectively what I’m doing every day) but what makes the great ones great is that they encourage you to do real work: they automate as much as possible so that you don’t even see all the toil bullshit that the machine has done for you.
A lot of inbox-esque interfaces (not just email) put the burden of this kind of work onto the user—triaging endless useless lists of content—but we can do better. Every to-do item should be important and every click should be useful.