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Take back your inbox!

I’ve re-taken control of my email and right now have no more than 20 emails saved in my 13ish email accounts. Except my work email, which I need to be better about. At home, I don’t use my email as a storage system. Instead I use it like I use voice mail. I get a message, I reply or do what needs doing, and I delete. Done. If I have more than 5 emails per account, I think I’m having a bad week.

It’s probably an unprovable adage, but in my limited experience, the people who always forget about backups are either the lucky ones who’ve never needed to restore, or the administrators who insist people perform them! I’m the latter and after the dozen times I’ve found myself in a bind because, like a moron, I didn’t back things up, you’d think I’d learn. But no. No.

Recently, before all that hacking, one of my email accounts had zero messages in the inbox. Not my email account, someone else’s. She was out of town and not checking email so I knew it wasn’t her. But, unlike me, she has a few hundred emails in her inbox. If I have more than 4 emails in any of my inboxes it’s a weird day (I have 7 email accounts that I use regularly, plus 3 ‘admin’ accounts for server stuff and 3 others I don’t use, but I’m saving for later). Since I hate inbox overload, I always read and file right away. If I have to reply, I tend to mark the message un-read until I can sit down and reply. If it’s a joke, I hit delete right away.

My general email rules are:

  1. Delete ruthlessly – Too many people send me ‘I thought you’d like this!’ emails. I delete them, often skimmed only and never read. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I don’t care. Really. I don’t need to see that cute bunny.
  2. Touch each message only once – If I see an email, I’m going to read it now and reply now (or do whatever I need to do). That’s why, while I have few emails in my inbox, they’re almost all unread. The exceptions are emails with purchase or shipping information, or ones with information I know I’ll need to apply soon.
  3. Save the important messages offline – Also known as ‘Don’t use your email as a filing cabinet’. If my Retirement Guy emails me a PDF, I save that PDF to his folder on my desktop, reply to the mail, and delete. DONE. The doc is now sorted where I need it to be, i.e. off the email, and in a logical, easy-to-find-later place. My Documents/Retirement/2010/Roth IRA/document.pdf. And yes, I always name my docs something I understand. Those recipes people email me? They go into the recipes folder on my computer, not one in my email. Sure, I can’t access these from any computer, but I really rarely need to!
  4. Use Filters – I have a few people who constantly email me things I really don’t care about, however maybe once a year there’s something I need to know. I filter those emails into folders and check them periodically. I even have an iCal alert for the first Sunday of the month to tell me ‘Hey, check these folders.’ It stops me from getting annoyed that Tanya sent me a bunny picture, again, for the third time, today.

This was supposed to be about backups, but I’ve made a Mellvillian digression. So I still have that to do. Given how many people I know have inbox dread, or declare ‘bankrupcy’ (which I approve of!) or just freak out about how many emails they get, I felt this post was useful. My office inbox has 20 emails, and those are all ones I need to have handy for the next two weeks or so. I filter most of my emails so that, when I come back from vacation to 600 emails, I can just delete all in a folder and not worry.