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back to article It pays to study the habits of your email users

How many email messages do you receive in the average working day: 20? 30? 50? More? And what volume of email have you accumulated over the past year: half a gig, a gig, two gigs? Whatever the exact amount, it is safe to say that most of us have to deal with a lot of email traffic and that an increasing proportion of it comes …

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Proud to be a Piler

I get tons of mail and I know that most of them I will never need to read again. I also know for certain that there are a small proportion of them I certainly will need to refer back to in the future, and I don't know in advance which these will be. So I keep everything, but it doesn't make sense for me to waste energy diligently filing the useless 95 percent.

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Pint

Re: Proud to be a Piler

My solution to that is to have a folder labelled with the name of the company I'm working for. Anything not related to my immediate needs gets dumped in there. Re-org announcements, sales announcements, product news for products I'm not involved with, customer appreciation drives, financial results, any and all stuff not immediately relevant to what I'm doing now gets immediately dumped into the Company folder.

It's amazing how infrequently you need to go into that folder.

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Re: Proud to be a Piler

"Re-org announcements, sales announcements, product news for products I'm not involved with, customer appreciation drives, financial results"

I would have deleted all of these shortly after reading them.

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WTF?

Re: Proud to be a Piler

You read them? And not just as a sleep aid?

There weren't enough hours in the day for that sort of behaviour at my last employer. Far better to wait until the knowledge is needed and look it up then. 99.9% of them turn out to be completely unnecessary.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Proud to be a Piler

I have 200 rules, oh dear this is a bad start.

Well I run my 200 rules (Really should be 8 rules at the most but I'm lazy) every 6 months and dump everything older than a few months old into a folder with the year on.

Paris because I really should know better than having 200 seperate rules.

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K
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Pint

Meh..

After getting 300-400 emails a day, I gave up trying to organise it!

I now just have a clear our once every few months..

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filers, pilers and mass-deleters

An alternative strategy is to delete all outstanding mail at the end of each day / week / month - declare email bankruptcy.

Obviously it makes sense to have filing rules that drop email from your boss (and his/her/its boss) in some other space. However for the rest of the stuff, once another rule has scanned for keywords (like "beer", a sort of reverse SPAM filter) and acted appropriately, there's little value to keeping most of the stuff you get sent. If it is important, the sender will send it again and if it's REALLY important they may even lift a podgy finger and phone you.

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Re: filers, pilers and mass-deleters

My dad was a piler/deleter, when memos arrived on paper. He would ignore them until the phone rang. He had better things to do than paperwork.

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Personal email

I used to be a piler with a Yahoo account due to no (obvious?) way to download emails I want other than "save as" on the page. Then I set up POP3 access and I can keep what I want and ^X the rest.

Oh, and yes I have a private email address, and no, I don't give it out.

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Boffin

MS Outlook

If you're clever in Outlook you can pile (only have an Inbox and Sent Items) and file (use clever search folders*).

*You'll need to change the registry to turn on Query Builder though

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Thumb Up

Re: MS Outlook

Dale hasn't used outlook in a while has he.. - the 2gig limit that hasn't been there in nigh-on a decade when the file format was changed in Outlook 2003. New files from 2003 onwards are limited to 50gig (20gig defaults for 2003/7 but fixable by a registry tweak).

Piler AND Filer, me? Of course!

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Linux

Re: MS Outlook

"... You'll need to change the registry to turn on Query Builder though"

"... 20gig defaults for 2003/7 but fixable by a registry tweak"

I love the way Windows is so easy for the layman to use.

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Piler

For work email, I have one folder for stuff I need to keep (login details etc) and otherwise live in a state of blissful anarchy. I normally have about 25-30 messages in my inbox and delete anything I'm not sure about. I never empty deleted items until my mailbox fills up, then I just delete the oldest month's messages. Seems to work well as a trade off between time spent organising versus risk of losing emails as I can usually find things in deleted items if I need to.

Gmail, that's a different story. Pure, unadulterated piling. I delete obvious spam and leave everything else in there. The search works so well I don't even bother with tagging or flagging anything!

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Anonymous Coward

Mail Rules

I have a rule where if I'm CC'd then the email is automatically marked as read, put into its own folder and deleted after a week. This has cut down my inbox by thousands

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Got pleasantly surprised...

I've been using Outlook for most of the past year (both business / consumer usage) and I have to say that my opinion on the many features which I used to deem "useless for what I do" has changed dramatically over the past months. Needless to say that the business aspect is a big part of this; saving time is a good thing for me.

I've become somewhat of an in-between type of guy. I collect a fair amount of e-mails but Outlook makes sure that the e-mail piles don't get too big.

But I've become pleased with the option to tag messages. Basically all incoming messages get tagged (categorized) except mails from sources from which I receive less interesting stuff. Newsletters, updates, some mailinglists, etc. Those are kept for approx. 3 - 4 months then get automatically removed. The nice thing is that this happens while those messages basically sit in my main inbox; I don't have to specifically separate them or so nor do I have to worry about other stuff getting removed too (which happens if you remove based on date).

But what I consider to be nice is that you can mix your archiving or cleaning strategies. Other folders (think logwatch or software update messages) simply get purged after a few months. While others get automatically archived, sometimes also based on a category but usually based on their timestamp (meaning: their messages get copied to a somewhat static PST file).

So while I have to wade through quite a large amount of e-mails it doesn't grow over my head.

Needless to say; setting the whole scheme up took its time of course, but now that things are working as they should the whole thing actually manages to save me time & disk- / mailbox space.

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Anonymous Coward

F/Piler

We use MS Outlook on Exchange, I usually put project docs into folders and pile the rest. Our company has a handy Janitor service that pops round and deletes anything over a year old from your mailbox.

It's quite handy really as it removes the angst of trying to save stuff as one can say I'm sorry I don't seem to have that corporate memo anymore, it must have been janitored

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What email?

If it's a problem, it'll be on the Team Foundation Server.

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Thunderbird plus Copernic Desktop Search

I get good results from Thunderbird. I file everything that will need action (soon or later), or that I will need to refer to, in a fairly ambitious tree of folders and subfolders. (Miscellaneous->People->Bloggers, for instance. Or Clients->MegaCorp->ProjectMoolah). Everything else piles up in my inbox, and at New Year I archive it to a new file such as "2012" or "Sent-2012" (yes, I keep all the messages I send too - that can be vital).

Finally, Copernic Desktop Search (CDS) does a good job of keeping an index of all my emails, as well as files (it will tackle the Web too, if you want). Because it's indexed in real time, I can enter a complex search and get all the results *immediately*. There is a perfectly good free version of CDS, but it has a hard limit to the index size, so I invested $50 to get the Pro version.

It's amazing what you can dredge up from files and emails 10, 15, or 20 years ago. It can even be useful - YMMV.

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Archivers rule

Some time ago I wrote myself a PostgreSQL based archiver and a dedicated search tool.

Now I don't need to keep anything in my mail reader's folders: currently there are around 150,000 messages in the archive. I can find anything there in a few seconds, inspect it and, if its relevant, have it sent to my mail reader. Its also an automatic whitelister: anybody I've sent mail to gets whitelisted by a Spamassassin plugin that talks to the archive.

Feeding the archive is automatic. All mail, incoming or outgoing, passes through my mailserver. This passes a copy of anything that isn't spam to the archiver.

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Devil

I'm a filer

I hat a full inbox and have loads of folders. I dislike tagging and have never had a problem deciding which folder to filter something into.

My boss is a piler, his gmail inbox has 9000+ unread emails in it, he never deletes anything. I delete stuff all the time, and I get about 10 emails a day on a busy day. I find it funny that people brag about getting hundreds each day and how many gigabyte of mails they have archived.... you knwo your a nerd if you even think about how much email you have archived.

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Pint

Filing

A couple of years ago, I found out that a lot of the staff were deleting emails, but leaving them in the "Deleted Items" folder.

We had set-up a GPO to force Outlook to clear the contents of the deleted items when closing Outlook; it caused a major shit storm when people started complaining. They actually thought that this was sensible way to save emails.

Users; don't you just love them!

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Re: Filing

I had a very similar experience a few years back. Email was set to empty anything from the deleted items folder after 7 days (or something like that).

I had to demonstrate, physically, to the head of admin that storing stuff in the bin was a really stupid thing to do, naturally she wanted the purge process disabled just for her. I took physical paperwork from her desk, put it in her bin and asked her if she expected it to be there in the morning. She stopped filing mail in her deleted items folder very quickly.

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“which folder should I file this message in?” - Domino's allowed filing in multiple folders for as long as I've known it.

As for pilers, the record here is the user who had 57,000+ messages in his inbox and wondered why it took tow and a half days to finish activating a BlackBerry.

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Anonymous Coward

I used to keep everything for years but lately I delete everything in FB and Gmail.

I used to keep every email and even wrote Hotmail type down-loaders to archive when Outlook or other mail clients didn't work. But lately I've started to ask myself, why bother?

Occasionally, once or twice a year I need an old email from someone or for somebody or some thing. But maybe I need to let go and purge things and enjoy the feeling of rejuvenation and release from throwing out old junk like when you move house.

I probably will regret losing a few things, and beat myself up about it. But mostly it will be cathartic I hope, and allow me to move on from old relationships, business and personal, and life baggage that should be forgotten.

But, and its a big but, my change of heart recently is directly proportional to feelings of helplessness and lack of control with morphing Facebook and Gmail privacy realties, combined with UK / US etc Snoop charter plans...

Its quite unsettling! It has an Orwellian stench to it. But my fears overall stem from what I don't know, and from what I can't anticipate about how my data might be used in the future... possibly even against me. Whether to just buy stuff , or profile me in ways that I am staunchly against! I laugh at the Onion's CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program ... and yet, I can't help feeling the joke is on me!

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Anonymous Coward

ctrl+a delete

what email?

what's email?

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Devil

Pile much, File once

Piling is better if you need to find mail. Filing/foldering means memorizing a hierarchy and probably having multiple copies of emails in various topical folders. Pile until the mailbox reaches its limit, then archive oldest out of inbox (topical archives may be better than piled archives). Categories function is slicker in recent release, just not exactly better. Google improved theirs with a hierarchal tagxonomy (at least 2 levels nested). When outlook allowed text for categories, you could pseudo-nest. Now it seems you cant - only 1 level in Outlook.

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piling filer

i dont get masses of mail, but i have yearly folders, anything older than 6 months in my inbox gets filed into the relevant year where it piles up nicely!

mail relating to something in the future may get put into its own folder, then moved to the related year once complete.

i dont have a quota other than the size of the disk! and folks who delete mail downright scare me! sometimes you WILL need that 18 month old message, really! otherwise its one persons word over another.

i recently got asked at work to remove old/large emails from exchange to my desktop, which doesnt get backed up. the mind boggles

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Anonymous Coward

Time to clean house!

I used to keep every email and even wrote Hotmail type down-loaders to archive when Outlook or other mail clients didn't work. But lately I've started to ask myself, why bother?

Occasionally, once or twice a year I need an old email from someone or for somebody or some thing. But maybe I need to let go and purge things and enjoy the feeling of rejuvenation and release from throwing out old junk like when you move house.

I probably will regret losing a few things, and beat myself up about it. But mostly it will be cathartic I hope, and allow me to move on from old relationships, business and personal, and life baggage that should be forgotten.

What's laughable too is Facebook doesn't even have basic search never mind advanced email searching! So what's the use ins keeping old emails! But, and its a big but, my change of heart recently is directly proportional to feelings of helplessness and lack of control with morphing Facebook and Gmail privacy realties, combined with UK / US etc Snoop charter plans...

Its quite unsettling! It has an Orwellian stench to it. But my fears overall stem from what I don't know, and from what I can't anticipate about how my data might be used in the future... possibly even against me. Whether to just buy stuff , or profile me in ways that I am staunchly against! I laugh at the Onion's CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program ... and yet, I can't help feeling the joke is on me!

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Meh

When I was young I used to be a filer.. ........

now I basically leave the email in the inbox, if I can/need to deal with it, I do, otherwise it's left there.

If it's urgent they'll call back after being ignored for a few days.

At the end of the month, every email older that 60 days is deleted.

I've better things to be doing than sorting through and managing email ....

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Piles by date.

I just hoick the contents of my Inbox into a folder named YY-MM as the month rolls over. These are all held under a single local folder unimaginatively titled "Read" and as Outlook 2k3's advanced search option recurses (you didn't know this?), the whole shebang's searchable as one.

5 gigs of it takes all of 40 seconds to search.......and this 'ere work laptop is a sclerotic POS.

Once in blue moon I take a look at it, decide that n years is too much and nuke a year or two.

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P/Filer

My personal mail is piled up into years and the last six months is available anywhere via webmail/IMAP. My work e-mail is ruthlessly pruned into project folders and anything which doesn't relate directly to a project is just ruthlessly pruned, especially if it comes from HR.

Seems to work okay for me but lately as I use IM more (always on the cutting edge, I am), I've got no consistent way to pile the messages and this annoys me, shared as it is between three mobile clients and two desktop clients and none of them seem to cater for the obsessive compulsive piler.

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Filer, email quota hog

For work I have folders, sub-folders, sub-sub-folders, etc.. I keep everything. Having worked in several Fortune 50 firms (the financial firms being the worst) and surrounded by clueless idiots I have no choice. I keep getting notices about my email going over my quota, I keep ignoring them. I don't have to delete anything thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley. Sorry servers admins. Besides, it's not my fault clueless idiots keep sending me Word documents chock full of bloated graphics and their endless stream of constant subsequent revisions.

You might suggest, "Just keep the latest revision." Ahh but this is corporate IT and this environment does not allow for simple solutions.

"Why is this project taking so long?"

"Well the constant changes to the original plan kept changing the scope."

"What changes?"

"You were copied on all correspondence, check your email."

"Umm, I can't find them right now, I have so many emails, could you re-forward them along with the bloated attachments?"

"Give me a few minutes and you'll have them."

This scenario happens regularly throughout the course of the day. In all fairness we all are juggling more projects than we can handle so I don't blame them for amnesia, happens to me too. Another reason why I keep everything. Those emails I just forwarded? Yea, I'm keeping them too along with their bloated attachments as proof this conversation happened. Oops, another email quota notification. Ignore.

In an environment where when something goes wrong the first priority is placing blame email is your CYA armor.

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Hmm a mix of a lot...

Anything automated gets filed under automation and deleted after 3 days or so, similar for spam, mailing lists get presorted into relevant folders, anything I can classify through a filter gets presorted. What's left I manually manage either as I go along(tends to be like half a year at work and then the volume increases exponentially 'tll december).

And I delete stuff at mostly random.

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RAFT

I use RAFT

read it and then decide to

action it <-- if it needs something from me and is quick I do it there and then otherwise schedule some time and mark it for follow-up

file it <-- needs no action but is useful, use auto-filing to put things where they should be

trash it <-- more than 90% goes here

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Archive to CD

I am a home user, and a filer. Family, various societies, semi-junk. Every two months I archive my files to a CD. Sometimes I do need that old stuff; I can usually find it in an appropriate folder. With my latest computer, vintage 2010, I can keep copies of the CDs online.

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Coat

Volume? Where?

I get maybe 5-10 emails per day. I'm not quite sure how I manage it, but it does make dealing with individual messages easier.

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Linux

piling and filing software

I notice from reading through these comments that everyone seems to have an ad hoc home grown solution to managing their email. Nobody has recommended a piece of software (of any religious affiliation - see on the left for mine) to do it.

I would like to have my email in both directions filed by (year and) the name of the other person, so that I can see a coherent account of my conversation with them.

I have my own code to do this, but don't trust it, despite years of development. I have tried searching for other people's (open source) software to do it but have drawn a blank. Any recommendations?

Recoll is the only useful thing that I have found.

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Anonymous Coward

Keep piling

With gmail, I don't have to sort because I have rapid, powerful search facilities that can quickly find whatever I am looking for. Also, it's nice having an audit trail that stretches back years, and is stored off-site. In fact, before I started using Google Drive I would often email things to myself as a backup. Do I worry about Google sniffing through all my code/documents/email/etc. so they can better target their ads? No. Not at all. I am getting much more out of the relationship than they are.

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Anonymous Coward

I hate exchange - no procmail

At home, I have a proper email setup up, with procmail dutifully sorting the various mailing lists I follow into folders, so that when I am pressed for time, I can check just the critical items and dump the rest.

At work, I am forced to use Exchange, so instead of that all-too-valuable presort happening on the server where it belongs, it has to happen on my workstation. I can always tell when we've had a power outage that took down my workstation, even when out of office, due to all the messages piling up in my inbox.

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I aim at an empty inbox. It's what works. Deal with it _now_ and throw it away. If there's more than about a dozen attention-needing messages waiting, that's a concern. But I also copy every incoming message to another mailbox and archive that, alongside sent mail, weekly. Been doing that for 16 years now. Several gigabytes of archive searchable by script, and if I can remember some notion of when the thing I'm looking for happened I can narrow the scope of the search.

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Unhappy

Force of Habit

I moved from LotusNotes to Outlook last year.

I like to know how many emails I have in my inbox, so in LotusNotes I would press Control +A to select all.

Then D to deselect all.

Unfortunately in Outlook that doesn't have the same effect...

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