E-mail Inbox Management Tips

I frequently run across client machines of all sorts who complain of various problems related to email. Many of them have one thing in common: thousands of messages in their Inbox. I’ve been saying this for years, and I still believe that sloppy email management is the cause of problems on every mail system I have encountered, with the possible exception of Gmail.
Here are the reasons why you do not want to keep all of your mail in your inbox:

  1. It is hard to find things. On several occasions, I have observed people who leave everything in their inbox because “that way I can find everything.” When I have observed these people trying to find things, it’s almost always painful to watch because in general, they “find” things manually, by scrolling through their inbox. They often fail to do even basic things to help their manual search, like sorting by sender, subject, or date. Clearly, a human should not be wading through thousands of messages trying to find a specific one. (The words “needle” and “haystack” come to mind).By moving messages into separate folders which you pick in advance, you can more easily find things when you need them.
    Note: I realize that using a good desktop/email search program, like Google Desktop Search or Lookout can fix this problem, but read on for more reasons why this is bad.
  2. It slows your system down. Just imagine that every time you look for a piece of paper on your desk, you need to sift through thousands of other pieces of paper to get to it. How inefficient is that?Regardless of how fast your computer is, you are putting an extra load on it by constantly making it process all of these documents. Even if you are not looking at your inbox, it is being accessed every time you send and receive mail from your server. This will slow down your mail client and system overall. Recently I have had several clients complaining of slowness, and the cause has frequently been that MS Outlook is open, and they have thousands of messages in the inbox. Simply moving everything to another folder, like Inbox2, addresses this problem.
  3. It is sloppy. I can’t think of anybody whose real inbox (on their desk) or their mailbox (outside their house, at the post office, etc.) is the final repository for all of their mail, and their e-mail inbox shouldn’t be either. Gmail encourages you to just forget about filing things, and leaving everything in the inbox. That may work for Gmail, but don’t do this on other mail systems.
  4. You’re keeping all of your proverbial eggs (messages) in one basket (inbox). Bad. Just yesterday I had a client call and inform me that Outlook Express had stopped downloading his mail. It turned out that he had hard drive corruption, and his inbox (which contained emails going back over three years, and over 3,000 messages in it) was one of the affected files. Ouch. With a local email store on a notebook, and only a backup from two years ago, the chances for recovery look slim.Note that unless you are archiving files into separate PST stores, MS Outlook does keep everything in a single file, so additional steps are required to make it more fault tolerant.

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