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Hoarders vs. Deleters- What Your Inbox Says

CmdrTaco posted more than 8 years ago | from the it's-all-so-simple-sometimes dept.


BlueCup writes "You are your inbox. Take a clear-eyed look at how you answer or file each email. Notice what you choose to keep or delete. Consider your anxiety when your inbox is jammed with unanswered messages. The makeup and tidiness of your inbox is a reflection of your habits, your mental health and, yes, even the way Mom and Dad raised you." I always knew my obsessive packratting said something important about me as a human being.

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gmail solved my clutter (5, Interesting)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885300)

And I did (and still do) fit the clutter definition. I currently have about 1500 gmails, and I long ago stopped paying much care to them other than scanning and letting go. Google takes care of the rest.

I have on file (old computers, old e-mail clients (elm, pine, thunderbird, on and on)) about 15 to 20 thousand e-mails, and it's always been a dilemma what to keep and what to throw away. What to deem important and what to forget. Ultimately I wrote my own software to manage my e-mail, wrote an inverted index machine (more than ten years ago, and did it as a shell script(!)). That took care of most of my needs and certainly surpassed the features of any e-mail clients at the time.

But with that system I had the added anxiety of modifying/creating/maintaining my home-grown e-mail management software. Sigh.

Now, with gmail, most of the features I needed (but not all) are provided and implemented much better than I ever did. If I can remember just one or two words from an important e-mail, it's almost always enough to retrieve the desired note using gmail index. I don't even bother marking things as important. If they're important, they come up.

From the article: In Greensboro, N.C., Internet consultant Wally Bock keeps his inbox down to a manageable few dozen messages. He credits his sense of order to "having disciplined parents who made that a value." . YOu don't have to do this anymore with gmail. There is virtually no difference between e-mail that is "there", or "archived". Of course there is a difference if it is deleted, but why bother? For most users, gmail gives enough storage to not need to distinguish between throwing something away or keeping it.

Also from the article: A saner way to pare down an inbox is to move email into folders, by subject or need for follow-up, and once a week set aside time for inbox housekeeping. Again, with gmail, not necessary! If you can remember a few key words, you're golden!

And, I wonder at this recommendation from an "expert" in the article: University of Toronto instructor Christina Cavanagh studied hundreds of office workers for her book "Managing Your Email: Thinking Outside the Inbox." One of her subjects, a finance executive, had 10,000 emails in his inbox. She advised him to simply delete the oldest 9,000. Insane! And dangerous! Let Google manage that, and avoid the risk of "suffering the consequences" for stupid management techniques.

Since I've "switched", my e-mail life has been virtually stress free, and how and what I manage with e-mail has improved my day to day management of communications dramatically. This is close to life (in e-mail) as it should be.


Re:gmail solved my clutter (5, Insightful)

MustardMan (52102) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885378)

I don't understand what is unique to gmail here. You're saying you can find any message by searching for keywords - so can just about any modern mail client. I do this all the time in, and my emails aren't being scanned to present advertisements to me. Am I missing something here?

Re:gmail solved my clutter (2, Insightful)

iMaple (769378) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885434)

Am I missing something here?

Convenient email backup, access from anywhere, combined chats and emails, labels, an excellent spam filter and the best email interface (IMO) (I prefer it over thunderbird, which is nice too .. havnt really used so cant comment on that)

But I find search to be a ittle disappointing in Gmail, there is no spell checker , no suggested words, no word splitter /combiner .. all those things which we take for granted in google searches.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (4, Informative)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885524)

Am I missing something here?


You are using and Spotlight (I do too) so you don't think gmail is so amazing.

But if you were to use another e-mail client for a while (AOL, Outlook, etc) you would realize just how TERRIBLE the average e-mail program's search ability is. It just doesn't work that well. Often, they search by (seemingly) walking though the e-mails one by one. Thus when you have 1000 e-mails searches take 10x as long as when you have 100. If you were to try to search through my backed e-mail (2-3 years) it would take a LONG time. Compare this to a fraction of a second to do the same with Spotlight (or gmail).

The live results and updates that Spotlight gives is what makes it so powerful.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885388)

Christina Cavanagh studied hundreds of office workers for her book "Managing Your Email: Thinking Outside the Inbox." One of her subjects, a finance executive, had 10,000 emails in his inbox. She advised him to simply delete the oldest 9,000

Let me guess, it was the CFO of either Enron, WorldCom, or Martha Stewart.

That advice is not only extremely stupid, it's probably criminal as well. There are reasonable document retention policies one could imagine, but her advice is certainly not one of them.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (3, Insightful)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885426)

That advice is not only extremely stupid, it's probably criminal as well. There are reasonable document retention policies one could imagine, but her advice is certainly not one of them.

There's nothing criminal about deleting your old e-mail whenever you feel like it to free up space or clean things up. It may be criminal to hide evidence of wrongdoing by deleting your mail, and you might get into hot water if it looks like you were trying to cover something up by your "housekeeping," but a blanket statement of calling deleting email "probably criminal" is ridiculous.

There's enough dumb laws without people dreaming up imaginary ones.

here's one that's unbelievable (4, Interesting)

rodgster (671476) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885455)

Have you ever seen people who "save" email in their deleted items folder?

I was astounded when I first observed it. I seen it several times now. No joke.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885420)

I'm sort of the same way. I keep all my e-mail (that I don't actively want to see) in a set of folder for mostly historical reasons (I like being organized, and dumping it all in one huge folder would annoy me). The main folders are:

  • School Stuff - I just graduated, but all school e-mails went in there
  • Important Passwords - Passwords I may need to look up
  • Job Search - I'm looking for a job so all job correspondence goes there
  • Letters - Letters from friends
  • Old Mail - Miscellaneous

Now the last one contains all other old mail that doesn't go into the specific folders above. Inside there are many subfolders for specific things that generate a ton of e-mail (Slashdot, Netflix, mailing lists, etc).

But like I said, I do that for historical reasons. It's a habit. It made it easy to find things.

But I use OS X and specifically, so I have spotlight. Ever since I got Tiger (I bought my Mac about a month before it came out so I feel like I've always had it here) I've used spotlight. What's my Netflix password? Type "netflix password" into Spotlight (usually in Mail, but you don't have to be). Want an e-mail from a friend that says what they got for their last birthday? Search for their name and birthday. Want the e-mails you traded with someone about configuring hardware x on Linux under a 2.6 kernel? Search for x, Linux, and 2.6

Finding things under Outlook (what I used before I got the Mac) was easier manually. The search didn't work too well. But now, it doesn't matter what I'm doing I can just Spotlight it. It's fantastic. Same basic thing as gmail.

To a certain degree having years of old mail was useless before because it was so hard to find something. Now, it's not. Now it's trivial. I usually have about 3 months of spam on my machine (that's how often I delete the spam folder's contents). If I think I lost an e-mail there is no reason to go looking at the spam subjects one-by-one. Just type the name or a keyword in Spotlight and have it search the Junk folder. If it's there, it will be found almost instantly.

It can really change the way you do things, and it's great. It's very obvious why MS is putting the same kind of thing in Vista, it's just so handy.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (2, Informative)

nsayer (86181) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885567)

Important Passwords

Those should really be stored as 'secure notes' in your keychain. That way at least they're stored encrypted and it requires your keychain password to get them.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885450)

I have no idea how much mail is in my Gmail account. It's been months since I last checked. I guess I am one laid-back motherfucker.

Email is dead. The hassle and precautions that are necessary to avoid drowning in spam are not worth it. People have moved on to forums, wikis and IM.

Re:gmail solved my clutter (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885558)

I agree, manually sorting your email is not something we should be doing in the 21st century.

I have about 40,000 emails from the last 3 years of work. If anyone seriously expects me to manually move those to some folder they have another thing coming. If they expect me to delete them, they don't understand the value of an information archive.

For the outlook users out there:

I've found the free LookOut search plugin for outlook to be pretty good, especially since it can search my huge archive folders. I used to try to organize my email by using outlook's braindead rules system, but now everything just goes to the inbox, and to find something I search using lookout.

If I leave something I need to reply to for later, I flag it as for followup. If I don't flag it, or don't reply immediately, then it's considered dealt with.

The other important thing is adjusting the settings, to remove the preview pane and/or adjust it so that once you read an email it is marked as read immediately, not 5 seconds later or whatever that outlook does by default. That avoids the buildup of supposedly "unread" mail. This way, the unread mail search folder is my "inbox", and is always managable.

The only thing I lack is the ability to have "search folders" span archives, the same way that lookout does.

You are your inbox. (4, Funny)

Kawolski (939414) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885312)

Full of spam? :(

Re:You are your inbox. (1)

dvice_null (981029) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885367)

Spam is meat, isn't it?

Re:You are your inbox. (1)

Karloskar (980435) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885412)

Allegedly. What does it stand for again? Spayed Ham?

Re:You are your inbox. (3, Funny)

StarvingSE (875139) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885487)

SPiced hAM - the meat of the gods, the meat that got the United States out of the great depression. Bow down to its unnaturally-pink goodness.

Re:You are your inbox. (1)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885413)

SPAM® is meat (or so it claims to be). Spam is the crap in your inbox.

Re:You are your inbox. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885622)

Only if you're Hawaiian...

What an excellent article. (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885313)

Let's take people from two different extremes and generalize statements about non-extreme people from that.

I have 1,215 messages in my inbox and all of them have been answered. I keep them because it's a "paper trail" for when someone asks me about it again in 6 months.

Re:What an excellent article. (3, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885339)

Exactly. I keep work-related emails forever, and archive them to separate folders every few months. I tend to clean out personal emails on a fairly regular basis, though.

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885345)

I do the same thing. Except every six to twelve months, I move all the emails to a different folder. I have most of them going back several years.

What an STUPID article. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885361)

The size of your inbox says a lot more about the tools you use to manage your mail.

I think the main thing a large inbox tells about a user is that he uses tools capable of working easily against a large inbox.

With reasonable tools (imap if you keep them on the server, and good search indexes on the client) 50,000 emails isn't unmanageable. With tools that suck (pop if you keep them on the server) an inbox of 100 gets ugly.
I have almost(*) all the email I've ever received since 1986 or so; organized in two mail-folders per year (one for spam). It's quite a few (well, many) gig of email; but interesting nonetheless. It's also quite useful when answering the "didn't you get my email" type questions.

But the primary reason I don't delete them is "why should I - my email client already marks them as 'read', and once it did that, the email is out of the way and no longer bothers me unless I actively search for it".

(*) company data retention policies made me delete some work related emails.

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

Karloskar (980435) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885403)

Where I work we have an in-house developed Outlook add-on that allows us to file e-mails to the related project directory and then retrieve them by any of the fields it stores (sender, recipient, subject, date, body-text, attachment name) and you can set it to strip out attachments as separate files or just delete them or keep them in the e-mail system. This gives us the paper-trail that's required and reduces the load on the Exchange server and our network when we change computers. It works well, in my opinion. It's getting the hoarders to use it that causes the problems. There are people in the office with 1,500 e-mails in their inbox, pretty much all of them flagged with the 6 colours that Outlook allows. I currently have 88 items in my inbox, which according to the article means, unfortunately enough, that I'm normal.

Re:What an excellent article. (5, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885415)

I have 1,215 messages in my inbox and all of them have been answered. I keep them because it's a "paper trail" for when someone asks me about it again in 6 months.

That's nothing. I literally have 12,000+ messages in my inbox at home, and anybody who hasn't received a response from one of them isn't going to get one.

The reason I keep them is simple. In this digital age, it's the only record I have of my correspondence with a great many people -- some of it memorable, some of it totally frivolous. Think about it: The only record. Have you ever noticed those six-volume collected editions of the letters of famous writers? Well, I and you might never be that important, but even if we were, guess what? Nobody writes letters anymore. Unless you do something to hang onto it, anything you spirit away into the Internet ether is essentially gone for good.

So why not hang onto it? There's all kinds of stuff in that inbox. It's a paper trail, sure ... but it's also a crate full of opportunities acted upon or otherwise, phone numbers I forgot to write down elsewhere, copies of old files, heck, even plain old memories. Why take the time to sort through it all and decide what's what, when the entire archive can be zipped onto a keychain USB drive in less than a minute, and even the most basic email client can search out anything I want to find in the whole stack in a few seconds?

Clearly this jerk is just another typical psychologist, willing to say anything to keep the Thetans trapped in my body.

P.S. Oh, for the record, that email client is Thunderbird. 12,000 messages and counting, works just fine. Beat that, Outlook.

Re:What an excellent article. (4, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885438)

Oh, and also for the record, I am organized. Every single one of my emails is filed exactly where it belongs -- ordered by date.

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

durdur (252098) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885488)

>12,000 messages and counting, works just fine

It works just fine .. until it doesn't work. Most email clients are not well suited to managing huge folders full of mail. If your inbox file gets corrupted, they will barf and you will have to hope you can fix it. I have had this issue more than once, with Outlook and (yes) Thunderbird. Backups of course help but in general it would be nice if mail client authors assumed they'd get ridiculous quantities of data and put a better data management and integrity layer underneath. Maybe this is a good argument to keep it all on the server (although until recently my corporate email kept quotas and prevented you doing that).

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

Punt3r (926089) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885580)

I was curious at those numbers of inbox messages in the low thousands, thinking is that really big? With my inbox well into the 10s of thousands, I'm glad to see I'm not alone.

The only mail I delete is spam and the transient "Hey, call me when you get a chance" type of messages. Everything else stays. I sort personal emails into a separate folder (occationally) and have rules to auto-filter newlsetter/group subscriptions into their own folders, but other than that, everything just goes in the inbox and stays there as a chronological history of my work communications.

The mail server and my email clients handle it quite well. I use both Outlook AND Thunderbird on different computers running against the same M$ Exchange server.

Why delete? Storage is cheap, business communications are important.

Maybe my attitude would be different if I couldn't store it all on the server, but I use multiple computers, so that would be problematic anyway.

Oh, one other type of message I delete ... those "Your mailbox is over it's size limit" automated messages I get from the IT department every week ;)

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885584)

Only 1,215? My horde is 10,778 emails minus spam, forums and mailing lists.
I've been collecting since October 2003.

Re:What an excellent article. (1)

lucky130 (267588) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885585)

A 'paper trail' is great, but it's kinda rediculous when your inbox is 1.2GB comprised of 130,000 emails spanning 10 years (I'm very much a hoarder :)).

My Inbox (5, Funny)

peterfa (941523) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885325)

My inbox is full of ads for a bigger penis, to get chicks, to make lots of money, etc. I wonder what this says about me. :/

Re:My Inbox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885508)

you're poor, have a little pee-pee and poor luck with women, possibly related to #1 & 2?

Re:My Inbox (0, Troll)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885533)

you poor, lonely, small penised man.

Me vs. My Parents (4, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885329)

Myself, I'm a hoarder with organization. I save EVERY email somewhere (except for spam which gets cleared out once and a while). Things get filed away as soon as possible. I read it, then I file it. The exceptions are the things I want kept at my attention. Open orders, ongoing discussions, and the last letter from a select friend or two are always in there. If I'm done with it, it's filed. I'd have mail going back 6 or 7 years if it wasn't for a hard drive crash. As it is, it only goes back about 2 or 3.

Now the thing I finder interesting is my parents. They use AOL and are self taught. I've been moving them over to gmail but their habits have stayed with them.

The thing you have to understand is that AOL has this really queer behavior where if you've read an e-mail, it will delete it. If you read an e-mail and then leave AOL, it gets moved somewhere. After that, it quickly gets deleted automatically. I'm not sure why they do this, but it is the behavior I've seen. So if you want to keep an e-mail, you have two options. You can save it somewhere in another folder (which they do sometimes), or you can click "keep as new" (marks the message unread). So anything they think they'll read again gets marked "keep as new". This means they always have "new" mail. They can't look and see "I have 2 new messages" because they are ALL new messages (so they would have to remember the previous number).

But by and large they are deleters. When they are done with an e-mail unless they think they have a good reason to save it, they just let it get deleted (or recently they have been speeding it up by pressing delete).

Don't delete e-mails. (2, Insightful)

BlahMatt (931052) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885334)

I get roughly 5-10 personal e-mails on a daily basis in my gmail inbox(not including responses). I keep every e-mail. I respond to most. It keeps a trail of what has been said and done so 2 years later when someone asks if you have that program that they sent you, you can say YES. All you have to do (in gmail at least) is perform a search. I'm a supporter of not deleting e-mails. It gives you deniability and you never have to think "Darn, I wish I had that file that John Q. Nobody e-mailed me"

Oh really? (4, Insightful)

Matt Perry (793115) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885338)

The makeup and tidiness of your inbox is a reflection of your habits, your mental health and, yes, even the way Mom and Dad raised you.
Or it means that hard drive space is so plentiful and cheap, and search algorithms so good, that I don't have to bother deleting or sorting anything.

Re:Oh really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885504)

The cost of your space has nothing to do with how you organize that space. And the search algorithms in your brain or eyes will never improve (and don't need to).

Your eyes still need to look at the tail of that 5000-message-blob in your inbox, EVERY TIME YOU OPEN IT. Yeesh. Your brain has to subconciously categorize each of those messages.. EVERY TIME! (or most likely, just categorizes them as "forgotten old stuff"). No wonder some people I know never get anything done until I've reminded them 5 times. They've got finished projects, to-do items, calendar items, junk mail, forwarded crap, outdated crap, and who-knows-what in their inbox.

Do yourself, and the people you work with, a favor: keep your inbox reserved for new messages only.

Like the article said: do you keep your bills in your mailbox after the postman has delivered them? No, you probably put them in a "bills to pay" pile. Etc.

So what would they say about someone who (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885340)

answers all 250 emails per day, organizes them, and archives 'em? :)

Re:So what would they say about someone who (2, Funny)

bunbuntheminilop (935594) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885407)

Perhaps something around the lines of

"I for one welcome my email sorting and organizing overlord!"

Re:So what would they say about someone who (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885484)

That you don't have enough to do at work?

Re:So what would they say about someone who (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885509)

answers all 250 emails per day, organizes them, and archives 'em? :)

Too much free time?

OCD (2, Interesting)

Data Link Layer (743774) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885351)

I have that problem not with e-mail but with media I have downloaded. Instead of watching TV through cable I download TV shows and I find that even though I will never watch the series again I keep all the episodes. I have even bought larger hard drives and now have 750GB of space. This is a total waste of money but I find I can't delete them. I suposse its related to collecting things like beenie babies or spoons or whatever.

Re:OCD (1)

Frogbert (589961) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885503)

You say that now but in 20 years time on a rainy day watching a season of Deep Space 9 might seem like a good idea.

Re:OCD (1)

Kesch (943326) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885512)

I have the same problem. I would rather spend money on more HD space instead of deleting any of my media. I think the whole obsession with hoarding bits is a standard geek trait.

People still use email? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885355)

I've all but given up on email. The ham to spam ratio keeps declining. People don't email anymore, they go to forums or call. I get about a dozen "oswlVlIAGRA", stock scam and untraining messages per hour. I really only use email anymore when I need to contact a big company through one of their webforms. Email has mostly turned into a stream of automatic notifications and alerts.

it's a skill.. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885356)

Keeping your inbox empty (and generally being organized) is a skill that some people have naturally, and others don't. Those that don't, can learn it quite easily.

It always amazes me when I see people who are incredibly disorganized, have to expend so much effort to find things, who basically are always just one big mistake away from burnout, when they could learn some basic organization skills and work SO much more efficiently.

And for some reason these people say that being disorganized is being "creative" or something like that. Uh? Unless you're some kind of performance artist whose medium is a desk, papers, and computer, you should learn to focus your creativity in your work or whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish. I've seen the studios of famous artists who paint crazy, disorganized, abstract paintings.. they are often neat and clean and all the tools, like brushes and paints, are in a row, ready to use. These people have learned to focus their energy on their work, and not trying to find the Cadmium Yellow in that pile on the floor.

Another thing about being disorganized: it keeps you from scaling. Limits the number of projects you can do or the hobbies you can keep track of. What a drag.

Personally I recommend the Do It, Defer It, Delegate It, Delete It routine (found in Getting Things Done and other books). Just practice it for a month and see if doesn't make your life a little bit smoother to see that empty inbox.

The inbox should be used for NEW, UNREAD MESSAGES ONLY!

Even this article gives the impression that a messy inbox is just a "lifestyle choice", or something your parents taught you. Forget it. An organized inbox, desk, computer, etc., will almost always win over a sloppy one. So stop blaming your genes or your parents or the clock and GET ORGANIZED. Especially if you work with me. :-)

Re:it's a skill.. (2, Funny)

dangitman (862676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885540)

The inbox should be used for NEW, UNREAD MESSAGES ONLY!

Who are you, the email Nazi? NO IMAP FOR YOU!

Re:it's a skill.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885608)

> The inbox should be used for NEW, UNREAD MESSAGES ONLY!

No, that's what the automatic "unread mail" search folder is for.

And the "For Follow Up" automatic search folder is for items that need to be followed up.

Your computer is supposed to help you, not the other way around.

A bit simplistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885357)

Amusing article, I'm a hoarder myself and my desk and work areas are always one step away from being declared hazardous zones.

Thing is, I don't see the difference between storing your emails in sep folders vs in your inbox, either way you've saved the email (i.e. you didn't delete it). Sure, it _may_ be faster to retrieve if it's sorted, but the time saved is often not all that huge. Plus, I'm constantly referring back to previous emails, it would be very counter productive to have to, irony here, fire off an email to someone to remind me of some key piece of information (assuming I can even remember who to ask).

Sure, there is a lot of background clutter that occurs, and I could delete those, but they are generally not in my way. The big thing I see is simple performance, if a large inbox causes things like searches and or simply basic operations to take too long, then it's time to prune.

Re:A bit simplistic (1)

callistra.moonshadow (956717) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885380)

What is a larger annoyance is the SOX stuff that requires keeping emails. Then you add in the smart admins that limit your inbox size although you are not supposed to delete anything. Sure makes tons of sense.

Re:A bit simplistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885416)

Thing is, I don't see the difference between storing your emails in sep folders vs in your inbox, either way you've saved the email (i.e. you didn't delete it).

The difference is, when you open your inbox and there's 500 messages in there, your eyes scan over them and it each one demands your attention for just an instant. Each time you open your email. Every time, you have to make that mental decision: "is this something I have to do? To read? To do later? Junk mail?" Don't you get tired of that? What do you do when you can't answer an email right away, but you will in a week? Do you somehow memorize all those emails that need follow-ups? Probably, you do what I see most people do: you mentally separate your inbox into "old" and "new", based on the message indicator. You don't know which are things you have to do, which are things to read, which are reference, which are calendar items, etc., so you just punt. The old ones slowly rot away until somebody reminds you again.

If you took ONE instant, up front, to file the email into "trash" "to do later" "waiting on" "reference", or into a project-related folder, you'd know where everything is. When you scan the "to do later" folder, you know: every message you see is something you have to do.

And you'd have just one category in your inbox: unread mail.

Isn't that better?

Plus, I'm constantly referring back to previous emails, it would be very counter productive to have to, irony here, fire off an email to someone to remind me of some key piece of information (assuming I can even remember who to ask).

File the old emails in the project's folder. Then you can find the information, AND figure out who is on the project, because it's all in one place.

there is a lot of background clutter that occurs, and I could delete those, but they are generally not in my way

Sounds like denial!

my email client is clean (1)

Eugenia Loli (250395) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885362)

I never have unanswered emails (usually I receive between 50 and 80 daily). I take care all of them. I keep the stuff I need to act upon further on my main Inbox, and I move everything that's already been replied on my Archive-Inbox folder. I delete all spam emails on the spot, I archive all legitimate. My main inbox folder (that I need to further act upon) usually doesn't have more than 3-10 emails.

Re:my email client is clean (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885409)

You answer 50 to 80 emails a day? How do you get anything done?

Re:my email client is clean (0, Offtopic)

Eugenia Loli (250395) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885445)

I have lots of free time. :D

Evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885363)

I'm keeping all of my SPAM as evidence for the day when I can sue all those motherfuckers.

Re:Evidence (3, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885481)

I'm keeping all of my SPAM as evidence for the day when I can sue all those motherfuckers.

I used to do that, too. I had this file with all the spam I'd received, back to the first one I ever got: An offer to sell me software to automate sending email to multiple recipients and a list of email addresses.

I recall thinking, at the time: "Oh oh! There goes email. We'll be buried in junkmail within a couple months, once this guy's customers and all the copycats get deployed." (This is time I've most hated being dead-on with a prediction. B-( )

Unfortunately, that was a while ago, when disk space was far more precious. My disk filled up to the point that I had to dump something to keep the system going, and couldn't get expanded in time. The collected spam file was the main culprit so it had to go.

Advice (4, Insightful)

Mullen (14656) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885364)

A little advice, in work environment, keep every email and every reply so no one can fuck you over.

Re:Advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885421)

A little advice, in work environment, keep every email and every reply so no one can fuck you over
I do this. It has saved me MANY MANY MANY times... I have seen it save at least 3 people their jobs.

I used to be ultra organized about it too. Now I have 4 folders.

Stuff I am working on

Done is huge. Inbox and stuff I am working on gets a bit cluttered if I do not stay on top of it though.

I used to have about 40 folders one for each person and project. I could never find anything. This way I can find things much easier.

Re:Advice (1)

JWtW (875602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885537)

Absoulutely!!! My personal mail is a hodgepodge of just about everything, but my IMAP account at work is pretty well organized. I have folders for every project, regardless of how small my role might have been, and I have folders dating back to 10 years ago, when I started with the company. I go through at least once a week, and put everything from my inbox in its place.
Deviating from your point, the article doesn't seem to cover those that may be in the middle ground. Through my CYA attitude at work, I've been somewhat anal about my inbox there, but my personal email...well, even though I try to keep up with the labels and apply rules, it's a freaking mess.

Or maybe (2, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885365)

My e-mail box is full of old e-mails because there's no reason to delete them?

At work I keep almost every e-mail I get. I want them all to stay long enough to get backed up (policy is actually that we MUST do that, though it's not enforced) however I've plenty of space, there's no need to delete them. That way, should there be a question about something some months later, I can look it up in the old mail. Once a year or so I trash everything over 6 months old, if it was important I'd have already filed it away in an important folder.

My inbox habits aren't really related to how I do things in my personal life, just to what the technology allows me to do. It's not like I leave the mails waiting because I haven't responded, I just leave them because there's no compelling reason to delete them regularly, and several to not do so.

Folders, rules, unread (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885366)

Thunderbird automatically moves all my emails into the appropriate nested folders automatically. Once an email has been read and dealt with, it is marked read. If there are tasks I have to do based on the email, it is left as 'unread' till I'm done. I have over 25k emails over last 8 years and right now only one message shows as 'unread'

I've never had an email clutter issue. Searching through emails is easy too. My sent mail is organized in nested folders too. Now if only Thunderbird could apply rules to my sent emails automatically.

Organization! (1)

singularity (2031) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885375)

I never thought I was in the minority, but the more I see how others work, the more I think that I might very well be.

My In box is used exclusively for immediate, pressing emails. They are almost all from the last week, and are generally emails that I have not responded to, but need to. Sometimes I keep an email in there that I have responded to, but that just means that I *need* a response, and that I should email the person again if I do not hear back.

If my In box ever gets more than about 10-12 messages in it, I make a concerted effort to go through and clean it out.

That said, I have well over 60,000 messages (no junk/spam, that gets deleted) saved on my computer. They are saved in about 120 different mailboxes (as Eudora calls them), using about 20 or so different folders and subfolders.

As soon as an email is no longer needed in my In box, it gets filed away in another mailbox.

The idea of keeping everything in one giant mailbox is completely strange to me.

Re:Organization! (1)

OSXCPA2 (988302) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885577)

Welcome to the club. Your (our) approach will pay off when a one of the following happens: 1. Coworker asks about a memo they were taken to task for not reading and complying with - "When did they send that out?" You forward it to him/her. 2. Coworker gripes that boss yelled at them for not replying to email promptly - when they have 144 'unread' emails and >1000 read ones in their inbox. 3. Coworker narcs you out for not providing crucial information, whereupon you forward the time stamped, return-receipted email you sent that has languished in coworkers inbox because s/he sorts email by subject line - and see #2 I try not to be too much of a screwup at work, but the coworker referenced above makes it much easier...

Delete! (2, Funny)

ratboot (721595) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885376)

If it was important, another "have you forget" email will follow...

large hard drive + good search = keep everything (2, Interesting)

alex_guy_CA (748887) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885382)

I used to file or delete everything. I was proud of the low numbers in my inbox as it showed I was on top of it. Now, I've got over 1 TB of storage, and a fast processor. I still file some categories of email out of habit, and every once and a while I throw other categories away. My inbox has over 8,200 emails in it. At any time I can search them by name, date, subject, keyword, even multiple fields. I guess the bust thing about computers is that even if you don't have a meticulous filing system, you can index search and organize things anyway. Works for me anyhow.

It Says Nothing (1)

umbrellasd (876984) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885390)

I used to address every email and delete it immediately or hold onto it only long enough to get closure on the thread. I did that for many years and then last year, I figured: "Let's try a different approach and see where that leads." So now I don't delete a damn thing and if I run out of space I just chop off the oldest half. According to the article, I'm having my midlife crisis.

According to me, the whole thing is nonsense.

history (3, Insightful)

brenddie (897982) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885391)

Dont delete them. Archive them, and 5 years from now go back and see if you remember what was going on those days. I have gone back a read some old email and some of them made me smile. Funny how everything changes including oneself. This is the closest you can get to a diary, whitout writing one.

Bullsh*t! (3, Interesting)

phase_9 (909592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885394)

I'm sorry, but this has really incensed me! This is absolute crap, I am incredibly organised when it comes to email because it's easy to stay on-top off (well, at least try to.) If an email is important, or it contains information that I will definatly need in the future, I will file it in a subfolder. If it's related to ongoing work, I will keep it in my intray until said work is completed when it will then be deleted. If it's my mother sending me pictures of kitten it will hit the trash before I've even gotten to the end. I wish my life was this organised, but it's just not - my bedroom is always a mess of clothes (until I start running out) and God knows that this place could do with a spring clean! Organising one's "virtual" presence is a hell of a lot easier than physically sorting things out! That felt good :)

Re:Bullsh*t! (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885459)

"I wish my life was this organised,.."

If the technology existed to make housework as easy as email, wouldn't you use it?

Re:Bullsh*t! (1)

phase_9 (909592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885497)

Of course, but this is where the line is drawn - and as of now, my girlfriend resents endless housework ;)

Home or Work? (1)

Splork2 (152140) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885396)

I think you have to take into consideration your personal email and your work email and how well the search function works. For example, my work email is neat and tidy. This is due to the lovely 60 day auto delete rule. Sure, I have a a personal folder, but I'd rather pull off my toenails than use the search function in Outlook. On the otherhand, I keep every last email (unless it's p0rn spam) in my gmail. If I need to find out something, I type in a few key words and presto chango I have mac and cheese.

Flaw in Theory (1)

kai.chan (795863) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885398)

It's pretty obvious that who you are affects what you do in life: Be it work, or your inbox, it's nothing surprising, really. Where Mr. Greenfield's theory falls apart is when you consider the work that needs to be done to clean the inbox versus the work that needs to be done in everyday life. For example, my inbox is sorted and cleaned each time an email comes in, but yet, my house is quite messy and I have a lot of outstanding items on my agenda. Mr. Greenfield says "inboxes are metaphors for our lives", I am a living proof that the claim is not true.

ah, but (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885408)

if the technology exhisted to 'sort' the stuff around your house automatically
(or by just poting at something and telling it where to go), then he would be correct.

Re:Flaw in Theory (2, Interesting)

Kesch (943326) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885614)

I have to agree. My inbox is amazingly tidy and organized compared to the rest of my life. I'm not that messy of a person, but I rarely ever store anything in a fashion bordering on organized(it lands where it gets tossed). My only saving grace is my good memory; around 95% of the time I can recall where I tossed an object when I go looking for it 2 months later.

Work vs personal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885404)

At work I maintain folders for each project, and seperate folders for general, personal, hr etc. As soon as I get mail it goes to the appropriate folder. When a project is done, the entire folder moves to the completed projects folder. Every time I reply to an email, I cc myself so I can put my own emails in the folder also.

With gmail, which I use for my personal mail, this isn't necessary. Conversations are grouped together (no need to cc myself). Folders are irrelevent with the vastly superior google search (ever tried to search an outlook inbox? takes minutes... somehow google does the same thing in seconds, with greater accuracy). google does let you have folders if you want - they just call them labels. labels are more powerful than folders because a single message can simultaneously be in many different labels.

Wow... how appropriate! (1)

Chmarr (18662) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885417)

I can't believe this topic just came up.

I've JUST spent the past three weeks emptying out my Inbox. I had over 1000 messages, going back to 2002, and all messages I felt deserved some kind of answer. (I run a rather busy website, and folk are mailing me for help or complaints all the time).

Unfortuantely, if I let an email sit for a while - like, its a difficult problem to deal with - it'll get buried in other mail, and before I know it, I have a hundred messages, then 200, then 500, and you can guess the rest.

Well, I have ZERO now. They're all handled. Okay, I cheated on some and turned a handful of messages into a "todo" item, but in every case the people sending me mail know what I've done... now.

Zero messages! Woo! I wonder how long this will last :)

Re:Wow... how appropriate! (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885571)

I've JUST spent the past three weeks emptying out my Inbox. I had over 1000 messages, going back to 2002,

How quaint. Somebody with only 1,000 emails. You should win an award for "Slashdot reader with least email traffic" or something.

Both! (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885418)

I leave my email in the inbox for as long as I need to deal with it. Once I finish, I delete it and it goes into the trash.

The thing is that I never empty the trash - I still have emails as far back as 2001 in there :)

Inbox Zero, anyone? (5, Interesting)

mithras the prophet (579978) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885432)

Ever since discovering Inbox Zero [] , I am a happier man.

For me, this means:

  • Only check email every 30 minutes or 1 hour, on a schedule. No notifiers [] , no gorgeous translucent summaries [] , no stinkin' badges [] . I don't jump when email says to jump; I deal with it when I'm ready to.
  • When I'm reading through new mail, every message has one of four fates:
    1. Deleted, if it's useless
    2. Archived, where I can find it if I need to later
    3. Replied to or handled, if I can do so in 2 minutes or less
    4. Transformed into a todo [] -- either to do later in the day, or on a specific date -- and archived

That way I don't have to wonder, "Say, I think there was some email I was meaning to deal with, where was it, somewhere in here, was it last week? And it's such a joy to have a perfectly empty It really is a great methodology / philosophy, and I heartily recommend it.

Of course, I'd have more cred as a gettting-things-done wizard if I weren't reading Slashdot at the moment...

My GOffice (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885435)

I like GMail's rules, and obey them in my office:
* Search, don't sort
* Don't throw anything away

No so keen on
* Keep it all in context

There are few things I would not do to have Google, Spotlight, or even grep for my office!

Living in the past (4, Interesting)

paxmaniac (988091) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885447)

Looks like Jeffrey Zaslow is still living in the internet of ten years ago.

I can't begin to describe how useful it is to keep a comprehensive email history. With a good system of labelling, archiving and searching, anything can be retrieved in a matter of seconds. Every day I query my mail archives: to find old contacts; to recall what was said in a conversation a year ago; to re-read old minutes. I have even taken to emailing memos and reminders to myself so that they can be searched in the same process with my communications.

Just a thought, but ... (1)

gone_bush (578354) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885451)

does a neat and tidy inbox also mean a neat and tidy desk and / or work environment? That is, can this be generalised to a person's the work persona? And I mean, "work persona" not the the person in general - I'm pretty neat at work but my home is a mess!

I am a HISTORIAN (1)

Nova Express (100383) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885458)

Someday, future generations will thank me for the vast treasure-trove of research data provided by my meticulously saved folder of penis-enlargement spam and Windows viruses...

The important thing to understand is.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885466)

...that whether your inbox is cluttered or clean, you need professional psychiatric help, according to psychiatrists!

Just kidding. Actually, there are no professional psychiatrists quoted in the article at all -- just "consultants" of various sorts.

Screw e-mail. (1)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885468)

The only time I read any of my e-mail is when I use registration forms on websites and it requires it. IM works fine for every other use.

Obvious? (1)

dapho (939695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885469)

Another obvious article on Slashdot? Every physical and mental task you do tells about yourself in the way you do it. This is no different from the way somebody eats a pizza, or how you choose to put pepperoni on your pizza.

Email Middens from 1987! (1)

meehawl (73285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885474)

I have various flavours of archived inboxes and mboxes, stretching back to rather disorganized BSD PDP-11 in 1987.

Don't delete anything. You'd be surprised at what becomes valuable or worthy of a chuckle 20 years later. Or archeology given long enough.

See also: midden [] .

Gmail is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885498)

The clutter issue is only relevant with traditional e-mail clients like the creepy Lotus Notes, or stuff back from the BBS age, like Outlook, Eudora, Firebird.

In a completely different topic, I absolutely abhor the way Lotus Notes manages conversation threads. Its confusing. Or did I become used to the Google/Web way of doing stuff?


Thanks Gmail... (1)

Tony Lechner (994093) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885499)

I remember the last time I deleted an email... lets see the taskbar on my machine was grey and uninspired, it was a 25mb ISP POP3 account, I was in Mozilla Mail, and I had just gotten this email saying "... has invited you to Gmail!"

Inbox agnostic (2, Funny)

dangitman (862676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885515)

"You are your inbox. Take a clear-eyed look at how you answer or file each email. Notice what you choose to keep or delete. Consider your anxiety when your inbox is jammed with unanswered messages.

Piss off. I'm not doing what you tell me to, and submitting you your repressive inbox-ocracy. I refuse to even consider the idea that an inbox exists.

18695 and riseing (1)

hector_uk (882132) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885522)

i've never deleted an email, ever. though i'd be totally screwed if someone had access to my mail box, all those password reminders after i have a sudden spout of "whats the most crazy password i can thing of"

Enforced Discarding (1)

ancarett (221103) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885525)

My work has a system where any emails in the inbox more than six months old are automatically deleted. So if you really want to keep something, you archive it promptly to ensure it doesn't disappear. Or, judging from the behaviour of some colleagues, you mourn the loss in dramatic terms, stamping up and down the hallways, muttering imprecations against the IT department.

Now for a drop in office productivity. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885548)

I bet the next week or two will show a major drop in office worker productivity, as this article inspires a significant number of people to drop everthing else and clean out their inboxes.


University Mail (1)

jefu (53450) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885551)

The university I work for has a mail server and we are all "encouraged" to use this for our mail.

OK, but the mailbox there has a 100Mb limit and if I keep any amount of the mail on the server (which I assume is backed up - an added plus) I run into the limit quickly (it doesn't take many ".doc" files and that is the format that everyone uses). Which then means I need to spend quite a bit of time moving things around. I'd download them (actually, I do download them, but using IMAP so a copy stays on the server), but I use several different computers from several locations, so I really like the convenience of having it all accessible.

Add in the fact that mail spam processing takes several hours (from time of sending a message till it gets into my mailbox). And if I turn on spam processing half my students email gets tagged as spam. But if i turn off spam processing I get enough spam to fill up my mailbox even faster.

And that they can't even keep the thing running.

So I use google mail and it just works. If only I could talk the university into using the google mail hosted service.

idea (1)

brenddie (897982) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885559)

I feel like replying to that 4 year old email........

Not so sure (1)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885563)

Eh, I'm not convinced my inbox represents me. I'm very messy and certainly nobody has ever accused me of being organized, but just setting up a few simple rules keeps me from having more than a few emails in my inbox at any given time.

Get yourself a good IMAP provider (try, set up spam filering and some Seive filtering on the server side and you'll never see clutter again. Mailing lists go into their folders, family stuff goes into a family folder, and clients go to their own place. Setting aside time each week to do that would mean it was never done for most people. The only thing I ever do manually is drag old messages to an "archive" folder once they're too old to worry about.

You can use any email client you like this way ( does insanely fast text searching thanks to spotlight), or just check from your phone or web browser and not have to download lots of junk. All other mail solutions (gmail, etc) seem positivly archaic because they require you to *do* stuff on a regular basis, or they lock you into a particular interface, or are impossible to backup.

If I could just write a seive filter to auto-reply to all my messages in an intelligent manner, I could finally go back to playing video games all the time!

BIZ%NATCH (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15885572)

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Huh? (1)

slaker (53818) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885588)

I have every personal e-mail message I've ever sent or received since 1994 sitting in my mail spool on a VPN-accessible IMAP server in my apartment. About 60,000 messages (perhaps 5GB, all told) in my "inbox". No folders. No sorting. No deleting. I can find any message I want using the search capabilities of my mail client (thunderbird or pine or elm, depending) and I can't say I've ever lost track of a discussion.

Now I understand that people have quotas on their mail spool and the like, what what the hell is up with wanting to remove messages from their inbox? And why bother trying to sort messages in to folders? Is it too hard to remember keywords from any particular exchange in a message?

Work (1)

Shky (703024) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885595)

As an ad coordinator (read: middleman) at a publishing company, my entire job is email. I'm an insanely disorganized and slobbish person in real life, but in my work life I have to be organized or I wouldn't be able to function. I have specific folders for everything and my inbox is always empty. When someone asks me about something that's happened months ago, I always know exactly where to find what I need.

As I sit here at home, though, fearing to go to my gmail inbox as it's a mess, looking around me at the dirty clothes, empty cans (well, most of them are empty), and overflowing garbage, I'm forced to wish I could organize myself that well at home.

Oh well, I just blame my parents for raising me this way.

the number you get per day matters... (1)

rritterson (588983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885615)

What TFA doesn't mention and no one else here seems to have brought up is that the number you get every day matters. It's obviously much easier to stay on top of 20 daily emails than it is 200. Once the pile gets too big, you simply think that it's too hard to manage, and give up.

I get about 20 emails a day, which means about 3 per hour. Of those, half are informative messages sent to me from one of my servers (which can be read and then deleted). So I only have to manage/respond to one email per hour. That's not a problem at all.

OTOH, if I had to respond to ten email an hour they would probably pile up faster than I could handle and would soon stop responding all together (and that's exactly what the faculty around here seem to do, unless the From header is someone they know)

My solution to email (3, Insightful)

proxima (165692) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885624)

I give every organization its own email address (I realize this isn't unique, but I'm surprised at how few people do it). If the address gets out and I start getting spam, it's a simple matter to redirect that mail to /dev/null. A fortunate consequence of this method is another, easier way of filtering incoming messages: by the "To:" field, rather than hacking together "From:" or "Subject:" entries as needed. So far, I've had no need for any spam filtering solution. I get the most spam from the address listed in my WHOIS records and on my website, but I could start rotating that address if I really cared.

Not to say I'm organized enough to have every filter set up. Still, I usually don't let more than a couple hundred messages build up before I clear them out.

Northwest Florida News for Nerds? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 8 years ago | (#15885626)

What's with the Northwest Florida Daily News links to what are really just AP stories? This makes 2 [] in as many days...
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