Even though life is completely insane right now and I’m juggling 100 hour weeks with work, school, and baby, I still manage to get my email inboxes down to zero messages most days of the week. When I see co-workers that have hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of messages in their inbox it just boggles my mind. I ask, “How do you know what you have to act on?” and usually get some mumbled response combining unread status, flags, luck, and “some things get missed.” Inevitably when I ask why they operate this way the response is the same, “I don’t know when I might need to refer back to something.”
People, your inbox is just that, an inbox. Its a waypoint for new items that need to be processed, not a storage file.
A long time ago I would read through my email and for every message that might in some way be relevant I manually copied it to a read-mail folder. That way I kept my inbox clean and still maintained a history of messages in case I needed to search backwards.
Mail volumes continue to increase though, and the few seconds per message it took me to manually copy was a waste of time. As disk space has gotten cheaper and search capabilities faster I’ve moved to a new model, the complete “Mail Log”.
Basically, I’ve added a server-side mail rule that automatically copies every single message that is delivered to me into a separate “Mail Log” folder (and all outgoing mail into a “Sent Mail” folder). This all happens automatically behind the scenes, I don’t have to worry about it. Now when I’m done with a message in my Inbox I delete, no worries. If I ever need to refer to it again I open up the Mail Log and search for it. Easy peasy.
This works great on Exchange with Entourage as well as on my personal mailbox (powered by procmail on the back end). Gmail does this automatically (brilliant). Sometimes I rotate archives for manageability (quarterly at work, yearly at home), but some day someone will build a mail client that can reliably store and quickly search 10+GB of mail messages so I don’t have to worry about this.
Stop using your inbox as an archive. Get the historical crap out of there and only look at the stuff you really need to worry about!
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