Email can be the most efficient method of written communication we have. Part of this claim stems from how easy it is to save email for future reference. When you send, the message is automatically stored. Likewise, when you receive, the message is saved until you delete it. While you feel confident you can resurrect any email, you may be surprised at your missing email.

Gmail and URLs

This post will examine Gmail exclusively due to the wide popularity of this platform. One of the characteristics of a Gmail message is that it has a unique URL. Perhaps you’ve never noticed this property before. Open Gmail and click on a message to see what I mean.

To take this concept a step further, if “Conversation View” is on, that one URL applies to the entire conversation. To turn Conversation View on or off, in Gmail’s settings, go to the “General” tab and scroll to “Conversation View.”

Why is this feature handy?

Sometimes you know you’ll need an email at a specific date in the future. When checking into a hotel, it’s nice to be able to access the confirmation email. With Gmail, it’s as easy as copying the URL for the message and pasting it in your calendar or task list for that day.

If you’re keeping up with the details for a trip in Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, or any other digital resource, save the link there. One click on the URL and the message opens. As the conversation goes back and forth, the thread grows. One click on the URL opens the entire thread. This feature is a huge time-saver. It allows us to instantly access a message without a copy/paste of the entire text. It also ensures all the bits and pieces of the thread stay together.

What could go wrong?

If you are a Gmail user, be quick to “Archive” and slow to “Delete.” Let’s look at the life cycle of a Gmail message:

  1. You receive a Gmail message. It’s in your “Inbox.”
  2. You reply to that message. It’s now in “Sent.” It’s also searchable in “All Mail.” If you copied the URL, pasting that URL in the address bar returns both the original message and your reply.
  3. The other person replies with good information. The thread now returns to your “Inbox.” If no reply is needed on your part, you would probably like to save it. Click “Archive.” It’s out of the Inbox and is easily searchable in “All Mail.” If you reply, the thread is now in “Sent” and also searchable in “All Mail.” Either way, the original URL pulls up the entire thread.
  4. Perhaps the conversation continues. The thread bounces from your “Inbox” to “Sent” before finally coming to rest in “Archive.” The entire time, it can easily be found by searching “All Mail.”

The dreaded “Thanks!”

At some point, the conversation comes to a close. The other person reads your message. To let you know your message was received and read, the person replies, “Thanks!” We see it all the time.

You think to yourself, “I don’t need to save a message that simply says ‘Thanks,’ so I will delete it.”

That was your mistake.

Three months later, you search for that email thread. A search in “All Mail” doesn’t find it. You still have the URL, which you pasted into your calendar, task list, or reference material. Clicking on it returns nothing.

“I know I archived that information,” you say. “It was important. I know I didn’t delete it.”

Ah, but you did…

Remember when you deleted the email response that said, “Thanks!”? Deleting that message deleted the entire email thread.

The moral of the story is simple. When it comes to Gmail, be quick to Archive and slow to Delete. Sure, delete the single junk emails. But be careful when deleting an email that is part of a thread if the rest of the thread is of any value.

If you’ve been having trouble finding emails you think you saved, now you know why.

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