Introducing the one-month email rule

Here’s your get out of jail free card

You should archive – or even delete – any email that’s more than a month old suggests Donna McGeorge

Once upon a time I used to keep every email I got because I mistakenly thought I might need it again, usually to point out something someone said they’d do, and then they didn’t. If, like old me, you tend to hold on to all of your old emails thinking you might need them in the future, here are four reasons why you might want to reconsider:

  • You won’t need them
    Despite 11,000 odd emails in 250 folders, chances are you’ve only gone back two or three times to retrieve something. And when you do go looking, can you be sure you’ll find it anyway? These emails are using up a lot of mental and physical capacity.
  • Frees up space which improves computer performance
    If your IT department isn’t already onto you to reduce your saved emails, they soon will be. Many of us are given gigabytes or even terabytes of space to store our stuff, which feels huge but fills up quickly.
  • It’s overwhelming
    Some of you reading this might be old enough to remember in-trays on your desk – email was meant to emulate that. Something comes in, gets processed, and then moved on. Email was not meant to be a storage app so your inbox (and in-tray) should be sparse or empty. Otherwise, all the emails and folders will overload and overwhelm your brain.
  • It’s a security risk
    Hackers break into networks all the time. Chances are, particularly in HR, many of those emails contain sensitive and personal information about others.

What to do instead

  • Apply the 30-day rule
    Delete any email older than 30 days, including all those folders.  If that makes you feel uncomfortable, create an archive folder and dump the whole lot in there. That way, they aren’t gone – they’re just out of the way. Do it right now… Select and drag!
  • Scan incoming email
    In his book Smart Work, Dermot Crowley has some great advice for handling email. He explains there are three types:
    Action: Requires a planned and considered response (usually only 10 percent of incoming email)
    Information: Read and delete
    Junk: Unsubscribe and delete
  • Create a ‘Done’ folder
    You don’t need all those email folders.  They’re not helping when you need to find things, and are only clogging up the system. What you need is a short term (30 days) way to hang on to emails that you may need to recall for projects and such.

Here’s how it works:
Open the message
Attend to it accordingly
Drag it out of your inbox and into the ‘Done’ folder
Create a rule to automatically delete or archive emails when they’re more than 30 days old

Here’s your get out of jail free card
Working on a specific project? Create a short-term folder for messages related to it and once its finished – you guessed it – drag the folder into ‘Done’.

And finally…
Most of our email productivity problems come about because we don’t have a system for managing them. We operate out of a default setting that says we open emails first thing, spend most of our day dipping in and out of them and (because we’re tired, overwhelmed and suffering from decision fatigue) we hang on to everything.

It’s time to consciously decide on a system for managing your email.  Start with the 30-day rule and trust me, your future self will thank you.

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