After writing and abandoning entries on media bias in Middle East coverage and Cold War Domino Theory as applied to the Middle East, instead an entry on how I manage my email.
My inbox is my to do list. If an email sits in my inbox, it means that there is a requirement on me to: a) respond to it ; or b) do something else that will allow me to respond to it; or c) ensure that, even though I have responded, the recipient follows up to the thread. A mail will not sit in my inbox unless it fulfils one of these states.
So explicitly, my inbox is not a place where things can gather dust.
When replying to an email, there are two categories the mail can fall into.
The first is the “it doesn’t matter anymore” category. This can be where you answer a question, confirm a request or merely end an ongoing thread.
The second is the “I need to get a response” category. Here the thread is still open and I need information back, often to help me resolve other issues in my inbox.
Keeping a tab of whether people have responded to the “I need to get a response” category is handled in a few ways.
Some recipients are so reliable you know that as soon as you send an email, they will definitely reply. Over time it is easy to work out who these people are. Typically they are people who manage their inboxes in the same way I do. Or they are German. A mail can be removed from the inbox and saved, safe in the knowledge you will get a response.
For those who are less efficient, French, or the response cannot be given for a lengthy period of time, as noted above, the mail may sit in my inbox waiting for the response or a note may be made in a notebook or diary indicating when I should chase someone up.
I apply a threshold to how much mail should sit in my inbox, typically somewhere around 30 mails. Anything more than this implies that I am not getting things done sufficiently quickly and will trigger activity specifically designed to get the inbox volume down. Additionally, mails should not be older than 3 months unless the thread has a legitimate reason to stay open that long. Naturally, it follows that the only way to thread your inbox email is by date. Any other method may result in you missing newly arrived emails. Unless your inbox is sufficiently well groomed that a new mail is immediately obvious!
All mail by default ends up in my inbox with two exceptions. Most obviously spam. The second is certain types of mailing lists.
Mailing lists have two categories: time critical and non-time critical. The former are typically work related and need you to read them in a timely fashion, they should be considered no different to any other inbox email in that they either contain an action for you or they don’t. The latter are things you can read at your leisure. It won’t matter whether that is once a day, once a week or once a month.
All mail gets saved with the exception of spam mail and system alerts. You will frequently hear that people only save the email which they think they will need to access later on. As I have not managed to develop this advanced skill of prophecy, anything moving out of my inbox gets saved into a folder based on the From: address. This is a very personal consideration as I will usually remember who sent an email. The ability to save by the From: address into a folder is also aided by using a mail program that will create and save the mail to that folder in one keystroke.
I know that some people prefer to save by mailing list, which is acceptable for some large subscription mailing lists or mail aliases, however for small aliases, I find my brain indexes much more easily based on sender. As long as mails are tagged with a Subject prefix to identify the list, this should aid in folder searches within a specific sender folder. Ultimately, once we have meta-indexed folders to save to, this issue will disappear.
I do not maintain an email address book. As I have a folder for each person who has sent me an email, this acts as my address book. Merely knowing the first letter of a sender’s email address is sufficient to bring up a relatively small list of folders based on that letter to then be able to bring up an email they have sent, which will contain their email address.
My sent folder continually gets appended to. It does not get archived after a period of time, or renamed with date key. The sent folder remains extant for the lifetime of that email address. For example, my 9 year old work email address sent folder is now 1.4g. Thankfully my mail client can load this file very quickly and also search within it very rapidly. As such, I do not have to rely on trying to remember when I sent an email to find it, a flaw in the multiple archived sent folder approach.