For some reason I'm completely incapable of managing my e-mail. Most of the time it's not an issue, but every once in a while I end up missing something important.

Stranger yet, the only time I seem to ever do a really good job of cleaning up my INBOX is when I'm suck on a plane for several hours (thankfully with laptop power at the seat--yeay American Airlines). So now I'm replying to 2-3 month old messages to explain that I'm lame and sorry for taking so long to reply.


Perhaps the solution to my problem is that I simply need to fly places (as a passenger) more often.

... 3.5 hours pass ...

I've managed to delete 744 of the 1,247 messages my INBOX. I've also sent 28 that exim has queued up, awaiting a network connection. Perhaps this ratio tells me that I need to better utilize the D" key on my keyboard.

Posted by jzawodn at October 19, 2003 06:23 AM

Reader Comments
# Kalyan said:

What mail client do you use ?

on October 19, 2003 07:17 AM
# Gerald said:

Clenaup - better you make a cleanup of your subject title ;-) And yes. I guess that nearly everybody with a huge amount of mails has some skeletons in the closet. The hardest cleanups are those after you return from holidays.

on October 19, 2003 11:36 AM
# Alden Bates said:

Hooray for insanely long plane flights! They're the only time I can get caught up on my reading.

on October 19, 2003 12:36 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I use Mutt.

on October 19, 2003 12:55 PM
# Aaron Brady said:

When someone refers to their inbox as 'INBOX', I've found them usually to be PINE fanatics. True?

on October 19, 2003 12:57 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I use Pine for about 5 years. Then Eudora. Then Gnus. Now Mutt.

on October 19, 2003 01:01 PM
# Ask Bjørn Hansen said:

1200? Ha. I have +7000 in my primary inbox (and a bit more spread over a few others ...).

Once in a while I spend half a Sunday trying to take it down a notch or two, but it's a losing battle ...

on October 19, 2003 06:12 PM
# Jason Lotito said:

Several things i have done that help keep my inbox clean, and it's mail client independent.

1. Setup good filters. Spend the time to setup good filters. Most important contacts of mine have filters. This spreads the email out, and so rather than have 45 new emails in the inbox, you have 45 new ones spread between 40 or so contacts. This helps you address who needs to be answered sooner than later. But good filters are important.

2. Really, setup those filters. =)

3. Delete old email. If the email is more than a day old, and it has been unread, and it's sitting in my inbox, it's deleted. A quick scan to see if I recognize anything, and it's gone. Yes, it's dangerous. You never know when you might delete that important email you shouldnt' have deleted. However, I only had that happen once. And when you tell the person: "Oh, I guess you email go caught in my spam filter...", they are very understanding.

Seriously, the criteria for daily deletion is:
1. Sitting in the inbox. This usually means to me, since I have setup filters, that either the person is new and I have never dealt with them before, or that its not something I want to deal with (spam). Since I have the filters setup, imprtant email are usually already sent to other folders.
2. Unread. Usually means it's spam, or something I don't have to answer anyways, or I dont' desire to read it.
3. More than a day old. This is the hard part. If it has been more than a day since I recieved the email (not since the email was sent), and it meets the two prior criteria, I probably won't read it. This is because there is already a new load of emails that demand my attention, and this old email gets sent down the list, taking up space.

If email meets that criteria, it's deleted. As I said, I do a quick scan before I delete them.

This is where I get mail client specific. In Evolution (and I assume other mail clients have similiar features), it has a feature called Virtual Folders. Basically, it's a saved search. So I setup in Evolution a Virtual Folder with the above criteria. So all I have to do when looking through this day old unread email is open up my virtual folder and look through it. If I don't see anything important, a Ctrl-A, Delete works wonders.

It's a bit scary doing this the first time, but actually goes a long way.

4. Unsubscribe to things you don't read. I have a habit of signing up for various mailing lists that deal with topics I am interested in. Of course, I am not very active in these lists. Sometimes I look through them, but more often than not, I don't read them. No, my mailing list subscriptions are already filtered. However, it's still added emails that I download. If your mailing list subscriptions show more unread than read, you might consider unsubscribing. However, if you are active enough, of course you are going to keep it. However, I would consider using the method described in part 3 about deleting old unread messages. These are the posts that are just not interesting, or the ones you won't read. Most mailing lists keep archives anyway, so you can always go and look up the information there.

5. Finally, archive your email in some manner. Older email (older than 3 months for me) should be setup to be moved into an archive folder. Again, setting up some Virtual Folder or saved search setup is good here. You can quickly and easily look up the emails, and move them over. Personally, I just move the emails into a seperate folder, thereby still allowing me to easily search my older emails.

Most of these ideas revolve around utilizing saved searches, setting up proper filters, and not being afraid to delete things. It takes a bit of work to get into the habit of doing, but it works well in the end (at least for me).

Outside the mail client, there are other things I do to help keep email to a minimum

1. Fetch email only once every 60 minutes. If someone needs an immediate response to an email, or to anything, they should call, or use IM. If you are expecting an email right way, simply check your email after a few minutes, and it will come in. Otherwise, while you are working, only check it once every 60 minutes. Even better would be to keep it close, but that is probably going a bit to far.

2. Reply to email at specific times. When I first get in in the morning, I check my email, and reply to anything that needs an immediate response. After this, I start work. After lunch, I again reply to emails that need an immediate response. I also reply to any emails from the morning that didnt' require an immediate response. Right before I leave, I check my emails once again, and finish up the replies. I try to allot about 30 minutes to emails at each time. Emails that require more time are answered last, so that emails that don't require much thought or time can get sent out. This way, I can send out let's say 5 really quick replies, and then spend time on the 6th email. This means the other 5 emails are already answered, and I don't have that looming over my head. Nothing is worse than answering an email that takes time, and knowing you still have more emails after that to reply to.

This point is mostly about getting into a habit of replying to email. If you get into this habit, things will go more smoothly. You learn to plan for checking your email.

3. Loosen your own reliance on email. I get a lot of email that could be a simple phone call. For example, if you need to get documentation on something from another company, you may just email them. Rather, call them up, clarify what you need, and get them to send you an email with the information. Phone is still faster than email. You can easily clarify what you need, and you don't need to email back and forth each other. Of course, if a person is not there, the phone won't work. And voice mail is usually just as bad as email.

This post is somewhat big, and I didn't intend it as such. Also, it's not to suggest Jeremy hasn't tried any or all of these methods, merely as the way the methods have worked for me, and what those methods are. As with anything, YMMV.

on October 20, 2003 07:35 AM
# Josh Woodward said:

Heh. The last time you posted this, I was in the same boat and it inspired me to get off my ass and clean it out. And I'll be damned if it's gone over a page since then. Go me.

on October 21, 2003 10:50 AM
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