Keeping too much email? You’re part of the problem

Most of us keep far too much email and spend far too long looking for messages we need. In addition, we keep copies of documents that our Information Technology departments already archive. It is widely accepted that keeping email too long may put a company at risk by leaving so much email discoverable. And, even as storage gets cheaper, managing that much data is overhead that may be unnecessary.

Clean UpIf your company adheres to good re­­­­­tention and acceptable use policies, then whatever you keep deserves some degree of scrutiny. Bottom line: If you keep too much email, too long, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Most of us choose to consciously de­­lete a few messages and unconsciously keep the lion’s share. In other words, you rarely challenge yourself to delete an email by default rather than keeping it. If for just one day, you commit to deleting a message unless you could find a really good reason to keep it, you would likely keep far less email.

Clean Up

Outlook has tools that can give you a head start.

First, clear your Deleted Items folder by right-clicking on it and choosing Empty Folder. Next, if you’re using Outlook 2010 or 2013, you have something called Clean Up. Select your Inbox. Click the Clean Up button on the Home tab, Delete group. Choose Clean Up Folder and Subfolders. By cleaning up the Inbox and subfolders, you will remove any redundant messages. These are messages included in their entirety inside another email.

Now, each time you get an email, decide right then if this is something you will act on today or something you will need to refer to later for its content (important links or attachments), or it represents important evidence of another’s action (approval, consent, acknowledgment). If it’s not any of these, decide if it is a subscription email that you no longer want to receive. If this is the case (and you trust the sender’s identity), click the unsubscribe link. Start unsubscribing to everything you’re not actually reading. If it’s “internal spam,” i.e., messages that come from colleagues about things you are not interested in, then in Outlook 2010 and 2013, right-click and choose Ignore. Those messages will continue to be routed to Deleted Items.

Messages that don’t fall into one of these categories can probably be deleted, such as email messages, which once read and responded to, aren’t really of any value. For example: Where should we go to lunch? Are you going to the meeting? Did you receive my email about such and such? Many of those messages might be best routed through IM (instant messaging system), or even a phone call. You can at least cut the problem in half by clicking Reply & Delete in Quick Steps. This will only leave the sent message with the original message text and your reply.

Develop a system of categorizing messages that indicates its importance, such as reference information, issue closure, customer transaction. If you can’t categorize it, challenge yourself about keeping it. Create rules to automatically file email that only has reference value, either short or long term. For example, have all meeting accepts and declines go to a folder, and then clean that folder out once a day.

Contributor: Melissa P. Esquibel, Microsoft® ­Certified Trainer