An empty inbox, not entirely intentionally

This isn’t a photogenic post, although I’m tempted to take a picture.


As of this morning, my e-mail inbox is empty. This has been a goal of mine for a while, although getting it accomplished required a bit of serendipity, or error. Eudora has been slowing down for quite a while because both my inbox and my outbox are overloaded . . . despite a complex and well-tended array of filters that have quit functioning very well.

I think the complexities of my life have exceeded the capacity of Eudora’s filters.

Today, Margaret McDonald, who writes an excellent column on communication every Friday in our local paper, talked about empty inboxes. (Margaret’s column is one of the reasons I put up with the paper. Another reason is "For Better or For Worse," which I know I could read online but I’m old-fashioned about comics. I’m linking to Margaret’s website and the page where she has some of her past "Miss Communications" columns; the newspaper’s column for today won’t be available free for very long, so if you read this soon you can see what she said directly and if not you can see some of her past columns, if you’d like.)

Her discussion today reminded me of the reading I’ve been doing over the past several months in resources like Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst, Zen Habits, and 43 Folders (which I look over, although there’s no way I’m adding 43 folders to my life, even if they’re the ONLY 43 folders). Lots of the other suggestions from these sources were already part of my life or I’ve incorporated them over the past few months (for example, I’ve added Bit Literacy‘s to-do list process and the idea of filing e-mails in a handful of archive folders).

My e-mail in- and outboxes have been getting worse by the day (minute, actually). And I have known there were e-mails that I’ve been meaning to respond to and haven’t, because they got so far down the list I didn’t have a visible reminder.

I have whacked away at the messages: deleting, organizing, looking for zero. I use "delete" a lot. (I remember very clearly, and with some nostalgia, the Time Before E-mail; I also remember when computers were not everywhere and fax machines didn’t exist and telegrams did. I don’t remember dinosaurs.)

My pruning efforts haven’t been anywhere near adequate.

So this morning I was waiting for a message I wanted to read to display and it was taking a long time (as it does, because no inbox should have more than 500 messages in it and no outbox should have more than 1000, and I know that, but even with daily attention I haven’t been able to shovel the messages out fast enough). And then it appeared that everything in the inbox was suddenly, for no explicable reason, located in the trash folder.

And I thought, prodded in part by Margaret’s column, "Hmm. What if. . . ."

And I figured that if everything in my inbox suddenly vanished, the earth would probably continue to rotate, the sun would likely still rise and set, the stars would remain in the sky, and so on.

I did flip through and rescue less than a dozen messages that I knew I wanted to keep, maybe even finally respond to. I put those in an "archive" or "action" or "hold" folder (Bit Literacy’s suggestions), depending.

I right-clicked and selected "empty trash."


It took a few minutes, but they did all go away.

I still have to deal with the outbox, and by the time I get home from the library there will be messages in my inbox again, but I’ll be interested to see how much faster the mail program works. My brain feels lighter, perhaps better able to focus on the tasks at hand (cleaning the desk? nah). I do hope to keep my delete-key reflex operating quickly.

Electronic overload: it creeps up. Sometimes it makes the old
text-based, amber- or green-and-black displays seem appealing. It makes actual letters seem wonderful, if slow.

I wouldn’t want to give up access to the web. I’m spoiled by being able to find books that are out of print, and to check references online, and to communicate with folks I might not otherwise know. I like this blog, and I like the other blogs (more especially the bloggers and commenters) that are now part of my life.

But I am very grateful for that momentary BLANK inbox.

My little act of either rebellion or reassertion of control doesn’t change the number of tasks that I need to accomplish. I do feel like I’m hauling less clutter around while I do what I had to do anyway.

And the sun is still shining in the sky.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll figure out how to deal with my outbox.


4 thoughts on “An empty inbox, not entirely intentionally”

  1. And that is why I am on dial-up. G-mail has some good qualities – one of which I can use it as a stash for e-mails I don’t want to delete but don’t need right at hand. I forward those over to my g-mail account.

  2. Wow. I have over 800 messages in my inbox, and every time I try to get rid of some, well, I get it down to no less than 600. Your goals are inspirational. Maybe I should work on this…

  3. My Eudora inbox has 618 messages, out is 848. And I thinned them out last week.

    I used to do computer consulting. I know that Eudora does not want to go anywhere near 1000 messages, either In, Out or Trash. Those folders do not work the same as the other storage folders.

    I also find that a lot of open windows make Eudora crash and when I restart, all the windows have closed themselves. At least that’s true since I moved up from version 6.4 to 7.anything. I miss 6.4, it was the most stable Eudora I had and the features were fine.

    Need to clean the Out, and fast. Thanks for the reminder.


  4. I’m down to 600 in my inbox. Twice before I’ve done that kind of mass delete that you mentioned. Very freeing! I keep meaning to sort, put in the “action” or the “waiting for” folders, but what I’m really going to do is push the delete button and start fresh. It’s stressing me out!

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