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Hoarders vs. Deleters- What Your Inbox Says 328

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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Hoarders vs. Deleters- What Your Inbox Says

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * < minus cat> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:12PM (#15885300) Journal

    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.


  • Me vs. My Parents (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:18PM (#15885329) Homepage

    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).

  • by eln ( 21727 ) * on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:20PM (#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.
  • OCD (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Data Link Layer ( 743774 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:22PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:24PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:25PM (#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.
  • 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.
  • Bullsh*t! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phase_9 ( 909592 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:30PM (#15885394) Homepage
    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 :)
  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:34PM (#15885415) Homepage
    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.

  • Inbox Zero, anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mithras the prophet ( 579978 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:37PM (#15885432) Homepage Journal

    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...

  • Living in the past (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paxmaniac ( 988091 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:41PM (#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.
  • by rodgster ( 671476 ) * < minus poet> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:42PM (#15885455) Journal
    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:Evidence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @07:48PM (#15885481) Journal
    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 10, 2006 @08:03PM (#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.
  • Re:Flaw in Theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kesch ( 943326 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @08:13PM (#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.
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @08:18PM (#15885630)
    This behavior has saved my bacon more times than I care to count.

    Boss: "So, why didn't you inform executive A that we were going to cut over the website this week."

    Me: "I did, a few months ago, I think. I remember talking to her on the phone."

    Boss: "She's swearing up and down that she's never heard anything about it."

    Me: "Bullshit." (When said to your boss, you'd BETTER damn well be able to put your money where your mouth is.)

    Boss: "This is a pretty big deal. It came up in the executive briefing. Do you have an email trail or anything?"

    Me: "Yeah. Let me send you all the related emails. (*clickity-click*) There you go. Looks like we talked about it in May. I'm sorry she's bugging you about it."

    Boss: "Don't worry about it. This is no longer our problem."
  • Article is Stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by miyako ( 632510 ) < minus language> on Thursday August 10, 2006 @08:36PM (#15885716) Homepage Journal
    Right now, my email client says I have 2667 messages in my in-box. The oldest message I have dates back to January 31st, 2006. While most of these emails aren't very important, and it certainly wouldn't do much harm in deleting them, it seems to me like there isn't any reason to delete email that is less than a year or two old. My .evolution folder is only taking up 122.3MB out of the 1TB in the machine, so it's certainly mot a matter of running out of storage space. Organization is accomplished with Search Folders in Evolution, and if I need to find anything searching is fairly snappy. Given that there aren't really any down sides, I don't see any reason to not keep email around for a year or two, just in case. It's not like storing actual letters where they could pile up and take up real physical storage space, be difficult to search through, etc.
    Especially when so much business correspondance takes place via email, isn't it better to be safe and keep things around "just in case" than sorry if you happen to need them?
  • Query the DB (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @09:10PM (#15885858) Homepage Journal
    I stopped deleting messages from my email boxes long after I stopped sorting out into which folders I download files. These hierarchical DBs are useless for nearly everything but long transaction lists. When I want to find something, I use a search function. When I want to associate different items, I create links. I rarely know what I'll need to find, or how it relates to what else I'll have stored, when I first receive or create it. All those relationships are virtual, views and links - ways of using the data that's not directly related to where I store it.
  • But it is a skill. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by TrisexualPuppy ( 976893 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @09:32PM (#15885940)
    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. :-)
  • Spam-Trap Inbox (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Burning Plastic ( 153446 ) on Thursday August 10, 2006 @10:27PM (#15886247) Journal
    I use my inbox as a spam-trap. I have filters that automatically route anything to a valid email address to a specific folder (depends on the address) and so anything that is remaining in the inbox should be spam that has slipped through the spam filters.

    This tends to be 5-10 messages a day (filters low to avoid false positives) and maybe once a month or so I get a real email that remains in the inbox.

    I currently have about 50-70,000 emails in my mail client with another 250,000 archived...

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @08:33AM (#15888219) Homepage
    Time spent swearing when Gmail decides to start charging your for their service: Tons. It has happened to me a couple times. They start offering tons of features that make their service great, like really big inboxes, forwarding, pop3 access, and a ton of other features, and then once they have enough users in their grasp, they start charging for features that were previously free. Oh, and they own your email address too (if you use @gmail, and don't just forward mail from your own domain/email address, which they will probably start charging for eventually), so if you want to switch services, because something better comes along, or they decide to be evil, you also have to switch email addresses. I've been burned 1 too many times in my life by free email services to trust another corporation to provide me for everything for free forever.
  • by macwarriorny ( 811042 ) * on Friday August 11, 2006 @09:29AM (#15888525) Homepage
    I learned people did that the hard way when I was doing desktop maintenance on various systems in my group and emptying the recycle bin and deleted items folders just out of habit. Apparently, there are *a lot* of people out there that store their mail in their deleted items. I had one woman that was using folders, built off her deleted items folder. Madness.

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich