WARNING. This article is NOT for the faint of heart. Or for the helpless email hoarder. Or the person who uses their Inbox as their sole filing system.
But for the rest of us who struggle with email management, an email Inbox is a repository for valid mail mixed with newsletters, vendor adverts, CC’s, and messages so old you will never act upon them. Last week, my Inbox had over 1,000 emails in it with over 600 UNREAD. These emails ran back to my current Inbox archive limit of three months. Sure, occasionally I would use the search function to find a message from a conversation or person. But for the most part, the reason I needed to keep older messages was that I didn’t act upon the email when it was fresh and most relevant. Let me backtrack by saying I hate Clutter. Both Clutter in Office 365 and clutter in life in general. So glancing at my Inbox every few minutes eight hours each day served as a reminder of the mess I was making. A mess of sprawling irrelevance.
My first instinct to fix my Inbox was to start some Spring-cleaning. That lasted a few minutes until I realized I was sifting through information that wasn’t critical to what I was doing and the loss of those messages would not affect my work or the work of others. How is that possible? Because email is asynchronous messaging. There is a time delay between when someone sends it, it will be read, it will be acted upon, and it will get a response. If the message were CRITICAL, I would have gotten an instant message, a phone call, or a visit. If it were CRITICAL, I would have read it already and acted upon it. The rest of the Inbox is not critical and to save time I deleted everything. EVERYTHING.
I’m a trapeze artist with a safety net
In full disclosure, I have a safety net. The first, and most obvious, is my Deleted Items folder. I have a 14-day retention policy on my Deleted Items. So, if something WAS CRITICAL and I missed it, I could always refer to my Deleted Items. If I wasn’t get fussed at in 14 days, it couldn’t have been so critical.
Second, I have an external email archiving system. All my email is locked into an external archive that I can search at any time. External archives are great for legal requirements, compliance, and the general safekeeping of emails. Best of all, it requires no management. Every inbound and outbound email is copied to the external archive and indexed. I can go back years and with a simple search find an email or chain. It isn’t as convenient as my Inbox, but my Inbox has become a junkyard. My email archive is a nicely indexed repository of messages and conversations dating back seven years.
Third, I do use folders in my mailbox to organize email by current project. I try to keep my folders to a minimum and when a project is wrapped up and the final report is written, I delete that project folder. So some inbound email is redirected to these folders. This isn’t cheating. This is good mailbox management.
How I intend to keep my mailbox clean . . . this time
This isn’t the first time I’ve declared “Email Bankruptcy“. I have done this before with good intentions of keeping my mailbox clean and relevant. Nevertheless, time, projects, and volume have overwhelmed me.
THIS TIME, I have resolved to:
- Act upon email when I get it, file it in a project folder, or delete it
- Keep only a couple dozen emails in my Inbox which require my current attention
- Use other systems like CRM to keep relevant information and messages
- Unsubscribe from every non-critical email newsletter or vendor message that I will not read or act upon
As I’m writing this, It is Day 4 following my email bankruptcy and I have 9 emails in my Inbox, 1,800 in my Deleted Items, an email archive I can fall back on if I REALLY need to, and no excuse to get sidetracked looking at my cluttered email Inbox.