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How Much Email Do You Store?
How Much Email Do You Store?

How Much Email Do You Store?

Marty Koenig pointed a number of us toward a short article, "Stop Organizing Emails. Start Living."  Simple post, quick to read. Short scoop, author has 30,000 email and feels there’s no need to manage an inbox. Just use Search to find what you need.

I agree with the general sentiment: Time spent achieving a zero-mail inbox can be better spent elsewhere.  Of course, one very obvious caveat is, with 30,000 email in your inbox, it’s awfully easy to miss ones you need be responding to (like that one from your boss).  Search doesn’t come with a "Tell me what I need to respond to" feature as yet.

Search doesn’t come with a "Tell me what I need to respond to" feature as yet.

Then, skimming the comment section briefly, I saw Marty Koenig’s response.  Marty also agreed with the sentiment, but largely because Outlook cannot effectively search his amassed collection of 108,000 email, dating back 10 years.

With later versions of Outlook, I have not had any issues whatsoever finding aged email. Part of the reason, admittedly, may be that I do not have 108,000 thousand email.

The flip side of the why create folders coin is, why keep all your email?

Once upon a time I kept all my email. Prime driver was simply CYA (cover your anterior). What I came to realize was, if I didn’t need to refer to an email in the next two weeks, odds were I probably would not; and, after a month almost never did.

jtpedersen_321-Ignite_emailYes, there are always exceptions, such as when keeping ‘reference material’ for long programs or sales cycles.

If you’re in business with potentially litigious situations though (and, who isn’t?) you do not—want—all your email hanging around. As much as it may help you, it can even more easily be turned against you. Same thing with instant messaging and other digital content.

Simple example. After releasing a former employee, we had cause to review the person’s instant messaging log. The log, printed out consumed an entire ream of paper, revealed a threatening discussing with a fellow employee.

That employee, with a prior history, discussed physically harming their manager one night after work.  For the company, finding the discussion was a positive: we could take direct and immediate action.  However had the employee not kept every message, the person might still have their job.\

How do you manage your email and other digital messaging, personal or professional? Does your employer enforce any rules? Do you follow a retention policy?


  1. I continue to keep too much. I am looking forward to the new Outlook update. I’ve switched to for online email, and it’s much improved (calendar is broken, but MSFT will probably get that right, eventually).

    A couple of ideas that I find valuable to save longer term.

    1. online receipts that are emailed to you.
    2. software registration codes that are emailed to you.
    3. ideas to save you send to yourself – because that was easier at the time than evernote…
    4. ideas to save you ask someone else to email you, while you were driving the other day…
    5. other things like this.

    The day to day correspondence is hard to justify, for sure.

    Anecdotally, I have much of my grandparents letters and postcards. They saved them all. They tell a very interesting story – but there are only a few hundred of them. We use email, not postcards today. Generations to follow will have less of the family nostalgia to share, at least of the written correspondence form.

    Any way you slice it, email is probably big data that’s not worth worrying too much about – I hope I learn to read less, and delete more of it.

  2. JT

    Hello Andrew,

    I like your list of 5, nearly identical to my own.

    With regard to past generations’ notes and written content, you’re right. The ‘feel’ isn’t the same once digitized.  My grandfather hand-wrote the instructions for making the Danish coffee cakes I do each year.

    For fear of food stains damaging the instructions, I digitized them.  Now, each year I print out a fresh set as reference.  It’s nice to see evidence of his printed word but it lacks any ‘soul.’  He didn’t actually touch the copies.

    The problem’s going to be a bit different for family that succeeds us.  Theirs will be the chore of wading through an abundance of digital content, none of which will have the value of, "Dad touched this…"  And, thousands upon thousands of pictures to look at because Mom or Dad never got around to deleting some.

    A totally different tangent on the story than I’d initially envisioned. Thanks.


  3. Jim M.

    I still manage Outlook folders synced with gmail. Email, calendar, todo, Works across phone-pc-laptop or later if I get an iPad. With email, I have channeled email at the cloud level (at gmail) and use IMAP in outlook so the folders are defined at the server. So too the filters at the server file the emails exactly as I tell them. The ones I haven’t set, file naturally in the inbox. Gmail archives everything. I set many folders for automatic deletion every 2 weeks during Outlook’s archiving routines. Gmail obeys naturally when the sync happens. (gSyncit)

    I have used this system for years. I have purchases I made in the 1990s archived where I can retrieve them in a moment’s notice. I know some day, Google will bill me for space in the cloud.

    My rule of thumb in deciding whether or not to spend the time organizing automation: I must save 4 minutes of time in the future for every 1 minute I spend organizing. So far, that investment paid off long ago. I am still getting dividends. It’s like a self-managing email system. I set it and forget it. Occasionally I update the filters on-line in gmail’s web site to include new subscriptions I am receiving or blocking some I hate. Badabing! updated!

    1. JT

      Hi Jim,

      Some constructive thinking there. I’m going do a bit of investigation myself and see how your approach might work.

      Thanks for the comment:)

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