Empty Email

You checked your mailbox yesterday, right? The metal one in front of your house. Before you checked it, it had stuff in it. Afterwards, it was empty. And it happens every day. You wouldn’t dream of reading your mail and stuffing it back in the mailbox. Yet, that’s exactly how most of us handle the email inbox. Some people have in that inbox every message that came to that computer since the day it came out of the box. You may be one of them.

Not long ago, I sat down with a professional who sported 52,000 emails in her inbox. Why was she keeping them there? Her answer was simple: “I might need them.”

Her answer makes sense. Documentation is important, and email serves as documentation. It contains good reference information. Most of it won’t see the light of day again. But which one email is going to be the one that saves the company money, someone’s reputation, or someone’s job? So you wind up keeping them all.

But the problem is really something else…

There’s nothing wrong with saving email. Storage is cheap and retention is easy. The problem is not one of “what” we save but “where” we save it.

The technique I shared with her is the one I share with many people at their desks. You can have the same thing, and you can have it today.

If you use Gmail, look for an icon that says “Archive” when you mouse over it. It resembles a box with a downward-pointing arrow. It appears at the top of any open message, along with the other icons. It also appears at the top of the list of emails. Many people don’t realize what that icon is for.

While inside an email, clicking the icon removes that message from the inbox. When viewing a list of emails, putting check boxes beside some of those emails and clicking the Archive icon removes all the checked items.

“Why put up with an overflowing inbox? Treat it like the metal mailbox in front of your house…empty every day.” 

But where did they go?

The emails are not gone. They have been archived. To find any archived email, click on the “All mail” label in the left sidebar. They all magically return. Conducting a search within “All mail” will return messages from years ago. Clicking on “Inbox” returns you to the emails which have arrived since you last cleared the Inbox..

So how do I get started? (For Gmail)

Let’s start with Gmail users. Look at your list of emails and examine what has arrived during the past few days up to the past two weeks. Look for any emails that require action and handle them. More than likely, you will have very few that actually require action. As for emails older than two weeks, those people have already given up on hearing from you.

What remains are emails which need to be archived. We can handle them all in one batch. While looking at the list of emails, put a check in the very top box. All emails gain that check mark.

A message appears saying something like, “All 50 messages on this page are selected. Select all 52,492 messages.” Click that link. Then, click the “Archive” icon.

When I did this process with the user who had over 52,000 emails, Gmail thought for a few minutes. Suddenly, they were all gone…except for the two that needed action. From 52,000 to 2 emails and the whole process took 10 minutes.

So how do I get started? (For Outlook)

The process begins as it did with Gmail. Look at the list of emails and examine what has arrived the past few days to two weeks. Handle whatever requires action.

What remains are emails which need to be archived. We will save them “just in case” we ever need them.

Create a folder called “Just in Case” in the left sidebar. In your list of emails, click the first one. Hold the Shift key. Scroll to the very bottom of the list. While holding the Shift key, click the last email. Everything between will highlight.

Click on any one of the emails and drag it to the “Just in Case” folder. All the emails follow. Your inbox is clean.

If you need to find something in the “Just in Case” folder, click on it and search. You can search that folder just like you would your inbox.

Why put up with an overflowing inbox? Treat it like the metal mailbox in front of your house…empty every day. It’s too easy not to do.

What does your inbox look like? Are you able to empty it daily? If not, what’s holding you back?