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Overcoming the Barriers to Emptying my Email Inbox

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  • Overcoming the Barriers to Emptying my Email Inbox

    I would like to at least experience what it is like to empty my gmail inbox. However something always seems to stop me doing this.

    I think that the biggest thing that stops me is that if I delete an email, it will make it awkward to retrieve later should the unexpected happen. What if I needed a deleted email to get an address or phone number? Does gmail auto empty trash after a while? Is the trash searchable on an iphone?

    Someone recommended that instead of deleting mail, in gmail it can be 'Archived'. This means you still have it but it won't show in your inbox. Sounds good but on the iphone mail app has no way to archive messages, just delete them.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  • #2
    Yes, archive like mad. I have zero in my inbox right now, but about 90,000 archived over the years. It works well, and you can quickly search to find what you need.

    iPhone makes it difficult to archive, but not impossible. You can "move" the email to the archive (or to another label) and that will accomplish the same thing. However, if you use Gmail and you really care about productivity, switch to an Android phone. The Gmail application on there is GREAT, and makes life so much easier. That was the main reason I switched, and I'm never going back.

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    • #3
      Google Android looks nice, but I use Omnifocus and that's not on Android.

      I have heard great things about Omnifocus on the iPad and was hoping to buy that at some point.

      Using an iPhone, what's the most productive workflow? Gmail on Safari?

      I secretly quite enjoy hitting the trash icon in iphone Mail app, but I just read that gmail empties stuff in the trash after 30 days - yikes!

      Gmail on Safari has the all important "Archive" button - only down side is when you don't have reception
      Last edited by timjamesbrennan; 12-23-2010, 06:29 AM.

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      • #4
        Why don't you just put all info into your system as you get email?

        Any phone numbers put into your contacts. Same with addresses. Dates into your diary or reminders into your tickler system. My finacee has 300,000 emails in his archive. Yes he can search them but he rarely does. I say DELETE

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Duckienz View Post
          Any phone numbers put into your contacts. Same with addresses. Dates into your diary or reminders into your tickler system. My finacee has 300,000 emails in his archive. Yes he can search them but he rarely does. I say DELETE
          I agree. However, a few thoughts come to mind:

          1 -- He "rarely" searches them, which means he sometimes needs to.
          2 -- In gmail, it's just as easy to archive as it is to delete.
          3 -- In gmail, archiving helps keep the "conversation" intact, so you can gain more insight into a thread when someone replies to a weeks-old email (the "auto-resurrection" effect).
          4 -- It costs $0 to archive vs. delete.

          Again, I agree that you should mine the information out (dates, numbers, etc) and toss the email, but there's no harm in keeping them around just in case.

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          • #6
            I am currently involved in a legal dispute with my ex-employer (I left in 2001) regarding shares that were transferred back to him without my permission. I dearly wish I had kept EVERY email from that period - especially the ones I thought were irrelevant at the time - but I didn't.

            I now archive every non-spam email I receive in a folder for each year. I don't care if I get several hundred thousands of them: disk space is a lot cheaper than legal fees!

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            • #7
              Yep save every email that is not spam to hard disk. Why not? Searching is quick. HD space is cheap. I save mine into folders by month and those are inside folders by year. But probably there is no point in that other than being a bit OCD. I have limited space on my mail server so I keep the last 3 months up there and the rest on my mac. As a result my iPhone only sees the last 3 months. (This is a work IMAP server not gmail.)

              If you process your email on the Mac with OmniFocus it does a nice job of clipping an email by a key stroke inside Mail and putting into the OF InBox with a copy of an email and a link to the email. So you can zero your Email InBox easily and then you have to process your OF InBox. On the iPhone this is not so easy as communication between apps is very limited verging on non-existent. I have no experience of the iPad.

              Michael

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              • #8
                Originally posted by mickmel View Post
                Yes, archive like mad. I have zero in my inbox right now, but about 90,000 archived over the years. It works well, and you can quickly search to find what you need.
                That's worse! You're just moving your mail from your view to another folder you don't check as often, you're not actually solving the real problem: Keeping more data/clutter than you need to maintain.

                I use a different approach to handling email, which takes mere seconds to crank through a LOT of email. My mail goes back 11-12+ years, and I can breeze through a full Inbox of 300 messages in under a minute or two, including replies.
                1. Do (reply to the email, cut important info from it, print it, etc.)
                2. Delegate (send it to someone else for action, then Delete)
                3. Defer (leave it in your Inbox to respond to later)
                4. Delete (junk email, no need to reply or keep)
                5. Archive (reference material, long-term information)

                I almost never read the same email more than once, unless it's archive or reference material I want to refer to often.

                Shoving email into the Archive (or tagging it with the "Archive" label in the Gmail sense) is just deferring the problem to a later time.

                Be liberal with deleting emails, especially if you respond to one and delete the original. You already have the context and the thread in the reply you compose, so keeping the original is not giving you any value.

                Microsoft Outlook 2010 has a "Conversation Cleanup" function that does exactly this, by keeping only the most-recent email in a long thread of discussions.

                Archiving email has it's place, but to use the archive function as a way to keep your Inbox clean by just pushing the problem around, is not a real solution.

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                • #9
                  There are lots of useful technical tips for answering this, but I would encourage you to look at what has you hooked emotionally on this as well. You may want to consider asking yourself:
                  • What does empty inbox mean to you?
                  • Do you feel like you are valued in what you do if you don't look busy?
                  • What would other people think (coworkers?) if they saw you had zero in your inbox?
                  • What are you afraid will happen if you can't get your hands on information?
                  I know this all probably sounds deeper than your issue implies, but I've seen lots of deep roots for people around all this, and others reading this may realize they are holding themselves in a pattern of not truly getting to inbox zero because of something that has nothing to do with the technical features of their software.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by hacker View Post
                    Be liberal with deleting emails, especially if you respond to one and delete the original. You already have the context and the thread in the reply you compose, so keeping the original is not giving you any value.
                    Why do you think this matters? It's electronic data so takes up no valuable space (at least in my case), I can't see it so there is no psychological burden. I wouldn't find the time spent doing that kind of pruning worthwhile. Although I guess that "Conversation Cleanup" feature makes it automatic for you.

                    Archiving email has it's place, but to use the archive function as a way to keep your Inbox clean by just pushing the problem around, is not a real solution.
                    Agreed.

                    Michael

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                    • #11
                      Matt Cutt's method.

                      Matt Cutts (the head of Google’s Webspam team) has his own New Year's e-mail inbox emptying advice: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/gmail-inbox-zero/.

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                      • #12
                        What matters to me is not mixing up action items with reference material. I choose to keep all old emails as reference material, so when processing my inbox I note any actions associated with an email in Omnifocus and then move the email into an archive folder once it has been viewed. The email is handled once and my inbox is emptied.

                        The inbox is merely a holding station for unprocessed material: Omnifocus deals with my actions and waiting for items and the archive folder is my reference material.

                        I guess the choice here is what I regard as reference material. My ongoing legal dispute has taught me that what appears to be an inconsequential, informal email now may be gold in a few years time. Storage space is not an issue, so my choice is associated with practically no overheads.

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                        • #13
                          "When in Doubt Keep It or When in Doubt Toss it."

                          Originally posted by steveinbristol View Post
                          What matters to me is not mixing up action items with reference material.
                          I think this guideline is the key to getting and maintaining an empty in box. You have to be comfortable with the places you are moving those emails into. You want a "landing spot" for everything - i.e. actionable, action support, waiting for support, read - fyi, reference, etc.

                          Personally I delete emails within Gmail but I only do that when I'm 100% certain I don't want to access it again - e.g. last Tuesday's Boston Globe email summary. It's old news, who cares, gone.

                          If I have any hesitation and I know it's not actionable (or action support) then it's reference. I keep a lot of reference!

                          Mark

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                          • #14
                            Keeping too much email can come back to bite you later!

                            Originally posted by Mark Jantzen View Post
                            If I have any hesitation and I know it's not actionable (or action support) then it's reference. I keep a lot of reference!
                            There's another side to this also... storing too much email, may come back to bite you later, or incriminate you.

                            I'm not saying that you are doing or saying anything illegal in your emails, but with the recent laws changing, if you're pulled over and the officer decides he wants to look through your phone, and pulls up your email, Gmail account or whatever, he can go through it and find all kinds of things to arrest you for.

                            Yes, it's a fishing expedition, but with phones becoming more like computers and having greater and greater amounts of connectivity and storage, you can run into legal trouble if they start digging.

                            There's also legal and compliance reasons for not storing as much email. In my company, we are legally forbidden from storing any email older than 90 days. The company I originally was hired into, did not have this requirement, and my reference material and archive went back 2 years.

                            When we were acquired, the new reqiurement was enforced without notice, and everyone's email was "trimmed" to only the latest 90 days of email. All email older than 90 days was deleted. It caused no end of anger and frustration, but that's what we have to live with.

                            In my personal email, my email goes back 11 years, with hundreds of thousands of emails of reference material, mailing list emails and so on, but I'm personally very judicious about deleting anything that has no action or "future lookup" potential to it.

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                            • #15
                              It's possible to archive on iPhone!

                              In the general settings, go to mail, then your account, then there's a toggle which should named "archive messages". Toggle to yes, and you archive, not delete.

                              That's it!

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