Declaring email bankruptcy


There’s something distinctly unfunny about writing a whole blog post on managing emails, only to make a monumental error and lose the whole post. That just happened to me!

So, this feels a bit like having to re-do a piece of homework, but I hope that – on reading this post – you’ll feel it was worthwhile topic of conversation.

Simplifying your inbox

So much of our working lives revolve around composing, reviewing, reading, forwarding, saving, filing, retrieving – or even recalling – those little electronic postcards we call email.

Like me, if you have already been successful in simplifying other aspects of your life, applying some organisational principles to electronic mail is another step towards minimalism.

Emails falling like raindrops

On Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day to my lovely US readers), I spent some time that morning sitting at my breakfast bar, catching up on work emails.

Whilst it could be argued that I shouldn’t be doing this, the reality was that I’d had a very full diary during the preceding week, so there were quite a few emails that needed even just a little attention. This quiet couple of hours, with a lovely cup of coffee at my side, meant that I could regain a sense of overall control and feel positive about resuming work the following day knowing that I was on top of things.

Is email ‘real’ work?

If you listen to Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast, you may have heard the episode in which Laura suggests allotting specific time slots during the day for handling email correspondence.

This is a good idea, as you can then close your mailbox when undertaking other focused activities and avoid the lure of dealing with a quick message as soon as it arrives. In my case, I have switched off notifications and I try to make sure I’ve retrieved anything I need from my mailbox, before embarking on a non-email task.

Interruptions are sometimes welcome, but the reality is that they are such a distraction that we can take some time to recover and re-focus on the task in hand.

That said, email isn’t just ‘noise’. In my organisation, it is “real work” so we can’t ignore it.

Managing the inbox

I’ve written about this before, but when I’m having a proper sprint through my inbox, I’ll intentionally sort received items by Subject. This way, if there’s been a conversation on a particular topic, I can delete all but the very latest message and see the whole trail in one email.

I’m now also much more inclined to press ‘delete’ on as many messages as possible and don’t need to file anything that’s just a casual ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement.

Surely, there are other ways to communicate?

I work in Higher Education, so some of my colleagues with teaching-focussed roles find that handling email becomes even more of a challenge for them, as they aren’t seated at a desk all of the time. Recently, we’ve been discussing how we can improve internal communications to this group of staff, so that they perhaps receive a digest of items on a regular basis, rather than a drip-drip-drip of regular emails.

For my own part, wherever possible, I pick up the phone to speak to someone, rather than sending yet another message.

What do you do in your workplace?

What about personal emails?

I use gmail for personal mail, but I want to avoid it becoming ‘grrr-mail’. I want to read ‘good-mail’!

So, I have deliberately and very intentionally unsubscribed from practically all the marketing emails that I used to receive. This way, the only mail that comes through my virtual letterbox is genuinely useful, informative or necessary.

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently, I was struck by a suggestion that a great happiness hack would be to ‘declare bankruptcy’ on a mailbox that had simply got out of hand. Surely, this is the ultimate digital declutter?!  I find the financial analogy amusing but could we (dare we) go that far?

Have you ever done that? However tempting that may be, I don’t think I’d delete an account (or walk away from it), unless I’d really wound it down properly.


Of course, the irony of this is not lost on me; I know this post is likely to be coming to you via your own inbox (and I’m glad you’re there!). So drop me a line via email (ha ha!) or reply to this post by clicking on ‘reply’ below. I’d love to hear from you.

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4 thoughts on “Declaring email bankruptcy

  1. Didn’t realise you could actually delete an email account. For one glorious moment, I thought “wouldn’t it be lovely!” but I rely too much on it. I have however cleared it up considerably and am getting ruthless about deleting newsletters and items which no longer serve me. I gave up a volunteer job earlier in the year and with it went a whole slew of endless email correspondence. I am loving having a practically empty in-box which can be dealt with quickly. I used to love email but am not so keen on it now. Another chore that has to be dealt with!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, so I should not have been readying your email this morning, when I should have been getting on with some real work, but my PC went ‘ping’ and I had to look. I am by nature a hoarder and keep everything ‘just in case it might be useful’. This is even more true with email. I have tried to compartmentalise my virtual life, so that I can ignore emails when they are not a priority, but managing 14 different email accounts for the different hats I wear does make it feel if I am dealing with more email than I should. I am also actively unsubscribing from most unwanted email. GDPR does not seem to have sunk in with some people yet, as I seem to be getting more unsolicited email than before asking me to subscribe, many such emails don’t provide an unsubscribe option and for some of those that do, it does not work.

    At a GDPR lecture the other week (most meetings about GDPR feel like you are being lectured), we were told not to use your email box like a filing system. Email is not secure. So important files should be sent as links to secure locations and any attachments should be saved to a secure location before then deleting the email. So really we should be reading and processing what we have in our inbox and then DELETING IT. My inbox on this account as more that 3000 emails, various work email accounts have 10k-15k emails in them.

    I never have managed to get my head around an INBOX, even when it sat on my desk. It would get filled with paper, and occasionally get moved into an IMPORTANT box in the stacker, but never seem to find its way to the OUTBOX / BIN. It is so hard to get rid of things that might be useful one day. But once you get to the amount of clutter real and virtual that I have accumulated it is hard to know where to start.


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