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Inbox zero, stage 1

Recently, a number of my colleagues have been talking about inbox zero, the idea that you try to keep your inbox empty (or perhaps nearly empty) at all times. If I recall correctly, Janet Davis mentioned it as part of her plans for winter break, and Rachel Schnepper and Erik Simpson, brought it up in conversations. Janet went so far as to suggest that she might even declare email bankruptcy [1] to achieve inbox zero.

While I will admit that there are some appealing aspects to inbox zero, I’m a bit far from it. I’ve never been particularly good at cleaning out my inbox [2]. To make matters worse, a few years ago I read an interesting article that suggested that it wasn’t worth the effort to organize mail from your inbox, or perhaps, even to delete mail, since you can always use the awesome search feature of your mail reader to find messages [3]. Now, while I delete a reasonable number of messages, I don’t delete them all, and I don’t file all that many. So, as of January 9, 2017, I have inbox 203K. Yes, that’s right, there are over 203,000 messages in my inbox, dating back to January 1, 2008 [4].

Is it useful to have so many messages? Well, I’ll admit that many of them have no point. A quick scan of the ones from early 2008 show me checking with the Dean about Jerod’s contract, setting up an appointment with the Dean to check on a leave, announcements for kid’s camp at SIGCSE, some discussions for the department’s external review, students asking about grades, some assorted Council emails, and more. During that quick scan, I deleted a bunch. But, you know, what, it’s kind of nice to have Jim’s note saying I am thrilled to report that Jerod Weinman has accepted our offer of a TT position in CS. Congratulations to the department! [5] And, in recent months, I’ve found some of the historical messages useful, whether it’s in discussions about when we created a separate Tech Studies designation or questions about the old mailboxes. So yes, it’s useful to have some of the messages, and it’s not worth my time to go through and figure out which are and are not useful.

Since some of the old messages are useful, I don’t want to declare inbox bankruptcy. But maybe I can do something nearly as good; I could move all of my old mail to separate folders. Now, that’s a bit worrisome, because I did seem to do something nasty to our servers one of the times I tried a few years ago [6], and with the transition of our Postmaster to a new position, I’m not sure who is available to clean up any mess I make. But it’s worth trying. Of course, I should probably be at work when I try, since I assume there’s a lot of back-and-forth with the server when you move messages. We’ll see.

So, over the next week or so, I’m going to try to achieve inbox zero, although not through inbox bankruptcy, and then maintain it through some sensible practices. I’ll discuss my process and status in subsequent essays.

[1] Deleting everything, if I understand correctly.

[2] After all, why should my inbox be any different than my office or my lab or …..

[3] I use on my Macintosh. I appreciate that I can search by sender, recipient, subject, content, and combinations thereof.

[4] There are things older than 2008 in my mail system. I think the oldest is about 2004.

[5] Sorry, Jerod. It appears that Microsoft knows how happy we were to hire you. I remain happy to have you as a colleague.

[6] I don’t think our Outlook server liked 30K messages moving from folder to folder. Somewhere in the process, it decided that my mailbox was full, and ended up effectively duplicating a lot of the messages. But I think my quota is higher now.

Version 1.0.1 of 2017-01-23.