Technology eReport
Volume 5, Number 4
November 2006

Table of Contents
Past Issues

Surviving Email

Raising the White Flag of Surrender

By jennifer j. rose


How many messages do you have in your inbox right now? More than hundred? More like 1,495? All right, is it 23,000? Tell the truth now. Are you using your inbox as a tickler system and filing cabinet, hoping against hope that you’ll get around to answering that message you received back during the Clinton Administration?

 Writing in the August 10, 2006, issue of the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Zaslow asked readers to explore what a full inbox spelled for them in his article, “ Hoarders vs. Deleters: What Your Inbox Says About You. Two years ago, copyright guru and Wired columnist Lawrence Lessig beat him to the draw, declaring email bankruptcy, wiping out his inbox with a single mass mailing to everyone who’d ever written him. He wrote them a polite note, excusing himself, promising to do better in the future, and asking them to resend anything of dire importance. You could do the same.

Admittedly, my inbox looks better than my desk, which could make an archaeologist’s field day. Even though my inbox may not harbor cancelled $.29 stamps, expired AA batteries, and pizza crumbs, it still risks becoming a catch basin for odd email that I fully intend to answer, threads of conversations that resist filing in some appropriate place, and messages intended to remind me that there will a conference call next Friday afternoon. There’s absolutely no reason, save sloth, that keeps me from stashing the contents of my inbox into some other repository.

Last June, I lost the contents of my inbox and learned a valuable lesson. Shrouded in shame and ignominy, I had to beg those who’d sent mail to me to please resend important messages. It was a humbling, embarrassing, and time-consuming process, one which still remains unfinished. I swore to myself that I’d just have to do better. Sure, I still hoard email, saving it against the day and the possibility that just one archived message might prove highly valuable. And I’m perfectly aware that Sotheby’s and future generations aren’t going to place the same high premium upon a saved email that might be attached to a genuine signature from a Founding Father. Old email still has the same importance to me that the 1982 World Almanac sitting over on the shelf does, and it definitely takes up a lot less space.

Logic would demand that each incoming—and outgoing—e-mail be promptly deposited into a mailbox specifically created for its needs. But who has time to make all of those logical decisions? Filters and rules neatly direct most mail where it properly belongs, but that’s not the mail that ends up sitting in the inbox. My inbox—and likely yours, too—is filled with mail that’s not neatly pigeon-holed into categories.

Here’s my solution:

  • Create additional mailboxes to pigeonhole the contents of your inbox.
  • The mailboxes don’t even have to have logical names. Something like “Get this stuff done,” “Odd bits,” “Save it for later,” and “Really good stuff that I don’t know what to do with” are just fine.
  • Each night before shutting off your computer, spend 5 minutes shifting and shoveling the contents of your inbox someplace else.
  • Wake up each morning to a clean, or mostly clean, inbox.
Cleaning out that inbox doesn’t have to mean missing opportunities. Nor does it even mean having to confront your inner child to decide whether you’re a hoarder or a deleter. All it means is that you’ve now developed the good sense to hide the demons out of plain sight.


jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GP|Solo, receives her email at and has 23 messages in her inbox.




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