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Email bankruptcy? No sirree!

I can’t claim to be the fastest follow-up on email.  There are all kinds of circumstances which prevent me from getting all of the emails in my inbox cleared out, not the least of which is that sorting email tends to take a second priority to just about everything else in business.  Sometimes it can take weeks for me to respond to mail.

I haven’t ever declared email “bankruptcy” however.  Email bankruptcy is the practice of throwing your hands up in the air, tossing out the email inbox and starting over.  Nor have I resorted to the latest tactic that people are using — autoresponders with a message that says “I only answer email between these hours”.

The technique I use is borrowed from a friend of mine with a military background.  He hated the way his paper files would balloon, so he used this simple technique.  At the end of each month, he boxed up all of his paperwork, taped the box shut, and wrote the date on the outside of each box.   If the box hadn’t been reopened in 12 months, it was clear that the contents were unnecessary, and he simply shipped them off for shredding.

Once every month or so, I move all of the email in my inbox that is older than one month  into a folder called deferred.  It’s still in Outlook.  It’s still indexed.  If you write me and ask about a particular thing that I haven’t responded to, I can still find it.  And six months later I just move the whole deferred folder to the trash.  If we haven’t talked about whatever you wrote me about in six months it’s probably not important, right?

I ditched over 8,000 unread mail messages that way a couple of weeks ago.

Next, I read the remaining messages using “conversation view”.  That way I can simply read the last mail in the thread, respond and delete the rest.  It’s fast, and very efficient.   It’s even faster, more efficient and easier on the wrist if you ditch the mouse and learn to use the keyboard shortcuts in Outlook — CTRL-R to reply, CRTL-SHIFT-V to file, DEL to delete.

In the last two days I’ve chewed through nearly 2,000 emails.  I’ve thrown several thousand more into the deferred bin. And I’m looking at an inbox with just 53 items remaining.

So what do you do?

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Mike White December 4, 2008, 9:04 pm

    I'm more of a shift + delete kind of guy… Yesterday I managed to get my unreads to below 3K – I was pretty pleased with myself.

  • Gary Will December 4, 2008, 9:42 pm

    Good to hear I'm not alone! I call my folder "lapsed." Your name is more optimistic. :-)

  • Dean Collins December 4, 2008, 10:36 pm

    Wow as someone who has sent you email from time to time I feel so special.

    Would love you to forward this blog post to everyone in your address book and watch your poor email inbox drop off…..basically i think this post would offend anyone who has ever communicated with you via email and wondered hmmm why didn't Alec respond.

    I'm basically thinking you need another solution.


  • MGU December 5, 2008, 3:32 am

    Hey Dean, He’s pretty good about answering mine too! His Dad

  • Dean Collins December 5, 2008, 5:04 am

    lol perfect, couldn't have asked for a better example.

    Alec, dont worry about your email issues…..i think you'll be getting less in the future :p


  • Alec December 5, 2008, 5:22 am

    Hey Dean — the reality is that between the unsolicited offers to buy offshore development services, financial management services, etc plus the press releases from every flack under the sun pitching me to blog about their particular project (I get everything from green fuel, to political pitches in addition to a myriad of tech pitches) that email has to take a back seat to actually running the business.

    So don't be offended. I was disappointed to have missed the high def audio sessions you emailed me about earlier this month. Didn't seem to be any point in emailing back to say "thanks for the info, sorry I couldn't make it". I would have been clogging your inbox with a gratuitous and unnecessary message.

    Think i could cut down on the email by sending this to everyone? Maybe I will….

  • Alec December 5, 2008, 5:30 am

    Dean – to give you an idea of the volume of email I get, this morning my Exchange Server told me that I had exceeded my 1.8G limit on the server, this despite these steps. Now archiving.

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