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Inbox zero, take two

Disclaimer: Although this essay reports activities in somewhat linear order, they weren’t nearly this linear.

As you may recall, I’m trying to go from inbox 200K to inbox zero, without declaring email bankruptcy and without trying to classify every damn one of the 200K emails. So, let’s look at my first day or so of attempts to clean up.

I started with quick scan of the first few pages of the 70K or so unread messages. Observation one: I don’t seem to bother to delete all of my announcements from Twitter. I have 279 of those going back to 2014. Observation two: I seem to have missed a bunch of important messages, even in these first few days of 2017. Observation three: A lot of the unread messages are from me [1]. Observation four: Even more are unread because they are pointless, and I can delete them quickly [2]. Observation five: Some are really useful. For example, I almost missed an announcement in the SIGCIS mailing list for what seems to be an interesting open book on the history of the Interweb. I guess that’s one reason to try for inbox zero: I won’t miss things like that. But how will I remember them?

Okay, I think that’s enough of looking at a few pages of unread messages. I’ll clear through more later.

Here’s one thing that makes the broader cleaning task complicated: I monitor seven different accounts. My primary account is I have a gmail account, which I sometimes use for stuff that I don’t want urldefended [3]. There is an account for CSC 322, which I’ve learned I need to watch, since it gets alerts from the services my students use and I pay for. There’s also another account for one of the groups in that class. I have yet another for Global Online Academy, I need that because some schools only receive email from a GOA address. It’s also where some folks contact me. includes iCloud, which I don’t use, but which I’m afraid of deleting. Finally, I have an account for some of my old MathLAN email, which I can’t do anything with since the MathLAN mail server is gone [4].

But I can deal with those. I’ll just create a Saved mailbox for each account, and move things there. Perhaps I can even do a little cleanup along the way, particularly with the primary gmail account [5].

What next? Well, let’s look at today’s messages. Between midnight last night and noon today, I received 114 messages. And that’s during break. It’s (much) worse when classes are in session, mostly because more of the messages are important. Not all of these are important; I’d deleted about forty before 8 a.m. without much thought.

What else is in today’s messages? Let’s start with the important ones. A note from the Registrar’s office. Save, since it contains important instructions. About eight Facebook messages, many about my posting about Inbox zero. I’ll get back to those later. A set of questions from the Dean. Those are important, and will take about an hour to go through. Stay tuned. Okay, it only took fifty minutes, including sending a few emails related to his questions, reading through some background information, updating a spreadsheet, and so on and so forth. I also have a message from the Dean left over from last night. How long will that take? Surprisingly, even though I thought it was going to be a long and complicated response, it only took me fifteen minutes. That’s probably because parts of my planned response went into the other message.

Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right, I was looking through the messages I got this morning to see which ones were important. I dealt with two messages from the Dean. I have some Facebook comments about the Inbox zero project and about Make. I should incorporate those in essays, but I think that still needs to wait a bit. Maybe I should do a bit of cleaning instead.

First, we’ll start moving the old messages into individual folders (one for 2008, one for 2009, …). While that’s going on in the background, I can start going through the less important of today’s messages.

Let’s see. Ad from ThinkGeek. I haven’t bought anything from ThinkGeek in at least two years. Unsubscribe, delete, and look for old messages to delete (317 found; deleted). eWeek newsletter. Skim and delete. But stay subscribed. Delete old messages from eWeek (470). Note from the Mozilla foundation. Deleted. Whoops; I probably should have responded to that. Oh well. Spin newsletter. I didn’t realize I still got those. Unsubscribe. Look for old versions [6]. Delete those. Ooh! Bloodshot records is having a sale. That’s okay; I don’t need any more CDs at the moment. Deleted, but not unsubscribed. Deleted old messages from Bloodshot. Not too many of those. Fun fun fun. Ad from popmarket. Don’t need. But they occasionally have cool things. Don’t unsubscribe. Delete some more (didn’t keep track of how many). An ad from LivingSocial. Should probably unsubscribe. Too lazy. But delete all the old messages. (Hmmm … it looks like I did that already.) Random spam about internships. Delete. I wonder if that had an unsubscribe button? Oh well, too late. Why do I get this? Unsubscribe. Note that I really should have done more unsubscribing when this garbage first started arriving. Clean out another 195 old messages. Advertisement for Chronicle of Philanthropy. Why do I get those? Unsubscribe! Oh, I can’t unsubscribe; I get it because I get Chronicle of Higher Education. Damn.

As you might guess, this examine, delete, unsubscribe, delete related process continued for awhile. I won’t bore you with all of the different senders. It’s clear that twenty years of one mail address, a casual approach to unsubscribing, too much purchasing of things from random places, and similar activities have caught up to me. If I’m going to reach mailbox zero, I need to pay more attention to these kinds of issues [7]. Well, I’ve been deleting stuff, so we’ll see how many messages I get tomorrow morning.

Crap! It appears that my mail reader isn’t communicating fast enough with our mail server, so messages I know I’ve deleted are staying in my mailbox. Time to change tactics. I know, I’ll scan today’s list a bit more for the ones that are important. Hmmm … four add/drop messages from the Registrar. Yay! I’m down to 42 students in CSC 151 [8].

Cool! ended up consuming over 6 gig of RAM while it was dealing with all of the mail moves [9]. What fun! Let’s quit and restart.

Not so cool! I’ve started getting strange error messages. Could not move NNN [10] messages into folder 2013. Could not move NNN [11] messages into folder 2016. The message [Bulk Mail] Why Experimental Artist John Cage Was Obsessed with Mushrooms could not be moved to the mailbox [12]. But I don’t see my 2013 and 2016 messages anywhere. Where did they go? Bleh! Well, maybe I’ll come back to that issue later.

Hmmm … this is interesting. It appears any meeting invites that were in my inbox can’t be moved to other mailboxes. At least they seem to end up back in my inbox, and mail tells me about them [14]. I’m going to get rid of them, even though some of them bring back fond memories, such as the interviews for the Associate Director of Academic Technology.

Yay! I found all of the missing messages from 2013 and 2016 (and, perhaps, elsewhere). They are all moved to a folder called Recovered Messages, along with many others [14]. I suppose I’ll have to move fewer at a time next time. But that will be a task for tomorrow.

So, where do we stand after one day of working on this fun task? I have about 133K messages in Recovered Messages, which I’ll deal with later. The pain-in-the-neck part of that is that the Recovered Messages clearly include some that I know I deleted, so it won’t be a trivial task. I have under 200 messages in my inbox [15], and I can probably clear those out in a day. Things are looking promising [16]. Stay tuned!

[1] I don’t trust the Sent folder, so I cc myself a lot.

[2] If I can delete them that quickly, maybe I should be unsubscribing to whatever mailing list is sending them to me.

[3] The Proofpoint spam filter that the College uses wraps every incoming URL so that the URL first goes to It makes the URLs almost unreadable, and sometimes breaks them.

[4] Since there’s no way to communicate with the server, I don’t think I can even move that mail out of my inbox.

[5] A little cleanup means thinking things like Wow! I have lots of messages offering me free stuff on Google Play. I don’t need those.

[6] Hmmm … Why does Paul McCartney show up when I search for email from SPIN? Ah! He’s Delete those, too.

[7] That is, I should unsubscribe from any mailing list that I’m on that I don’t use regularly.

[8] No, I don’t really like losing students from my classes. But when a class is seriously over-enrolled, and I don’t know the students yet, it can almost be a positive, particularly since with fewer students, it will be a better experience for others. I can also assume that they’ve switched to the other section.

[9] For comparison, usually occupies about 600 meg of RAM on my machine.

[10] I didn’t write down the number.

[11] I didn’t write down this number, either.

[12] Yes, I seriously got that message in a dialog box. It was a message I received from Artsy today and immediately deleted. But maybe I should have read the message. It’s now in my Revisit mailbox, for the things that I can’t quite delete yet.

[14] There were about 120 invitations sitting around just form the past year or two.

[14] There are 133K messages in Recovered Messages. I’m doomed.

[15] That’s what’s left from the start of 2017.

[16] In fact, I’m almost feeling addicted to removing/moving messages.

Version 1.0 of 2017-01-11.