I Never Thought I'd Say This—But I'm Now an Email Deleter

Updated 04/02/18
how to organise your inbox: woman holding an @ sign
Stocksy

When you were in school, did anyone ever teach you how to organise your inbox? We were all taught algebra and how to play the recorder, and there was that one class where we got to dissect an eyeball, but day-to-day things like inbox admin, tax returns, or how to run a household? Nope, nada.

For a long time, I thought it was normal to have tens of thousands of emails sitting in one's inbox: read, unread, useful, useless, just all there, just in case. And then social media happened, and I realised the world is divided into two camps: the email deleters and the email keepers. "I'm a keeper!" I'd squeal gleefully, pointing at the number of emails in my inbox, as if it proved what a carefree person I am. I honestly wasn't bothered by it, but the email deleters? They were stressed for me.

Bless

With this month's Byrdie theme being Less Noise and having survived a digital detox, I thought it would be interesting to see whether what the email deleters told me, about a groaning inbox being stressful, was really true. Was I actually stressed but didn't realise because I thought the relationship I had with my inbox was normal? A bit like a sort of digital Stockholm syndrome? Time to find out. 

Prepping to Delete

I did a bit of a google on the subject of organising one's inbox, and I learnt early on in my investigation that your inbox should be treated like a to-do list. If that's the case, my to-do list isn't likely to get completed until I'm six feet under. Interesting. The idea being that your inbox is a sort of holding pen where emails wait to be organised and sent to relevant folders. Ah, folders. Tricky things. I have a ton of folders—I collect folders like I collect emails. The key is to keep them streamlined.

Think about the types of emails you receive to help you work out what your folders should be. (FYI, in Gmail they're called labels.)

Do you get lots of invoices? Then you need a folder for those. Do you get invited to (or do you organise) lots of events? You guessed it—you need an events folder. You can even create subfolders for each event. And the thing is that these folders don't need to sit there forever. Once an event is over, you can get rid of the folder, either by deleting the folder and messages within, or by archiving them. Your folders will evolve over time. The new email-deleting Amy is planning to check over her folders once a month just to see what can be deleted or archived.

(Who is she?)

Now archiving is important. I've occasionally toyed with the idea of starting afresh with my inbox before, but I didn't want to spend ages deleting emails or rush into it, delete everything and realise I've lost important information in the process. That's where your archive comes in. After consulting friends and the internet, I decided to archive every single email in my inbox (all 29k of them). What's great is that you can still use the search bar to find archived emails if and when you need them, and even organise them into your folders if they're still relevant/useful.

I feel like I have a totally empty inbox with none of the fear associated with actually binning everything.

After the Archive, It's the Archive Party

There are a few things that became apparent upon archiving all my emails and creating numbered folders. I use Gmail, and I realised that on the mobile app, when you have no emails, in their place is a picture of a person on a deckchair in the sun with the words "All done!" beneath. Who knew?!

how to organise your inbox: empty Gmail inbox
Amy Lawrenson

I felt lighter now. Before, my emails were a distraction—a place I could easily procrastinate. I'd find myself popping in a few times every hour and getting lost in the stream of emails. My inbox has been clear for a little over a day, and I already feel as though I'm more productive. Only time will tell, but it seems promising. When I do go in there, I simply work my through the small amount of emails, responding, archiving or deleting as I go.

Oh, and the new email-deleting Amy is going to try to check emails twice a day, rather than twice (or more) an hour. The thing is, emails were designed to be quicker than post, sure, but when did they become a form of communication that had to be answered straight away? As a business we're trying to limit emails and use a messaging system called Slack for internal communication (but that's a whole other story).

Am I really now an email deleter?

I don't like to admit when I'm wrong—I'm only human. But I'll put my hands up and say that having an emptier inbox definitely allows me more time to do other things. My brain feels less noisy. I don't bogged down by the weight of a thousand (okay, 29,000) emails. Will it last? Again, I'm only human, and I've spent the last 21 years collecting emails, but I'm going to give it a bloody-good go.

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