Tuesday Feb 05, 2008

Faster Email Deletion

Cook unloading a very large pumpkin from a truckA while ago I wrote about email efficiency, which turned out to be a fairly popular article. During the recent holidays, I had about 4 weeks of vacation. The pile of email that accumulated during this period was humongous! Hundreds of emails in my Inbox, after server-side filtering (Which means that I need to pay real attention to all of them) and over 7000 emails in my "To read" folder (Which means finding a few needles in a large haystack).

It became apparent, that the speed at which one can delete emails is a survival factor in the information age.

During "normal" days, I would scan my Inbox (usually 20-30 mails a day, after server-side filtering) in the right order (My emails are sorted by priority thanks to the Thunderbird mail client). Then file away the good ones (into a single folder, since Thunderbird's search capabilities are real good) and delete the rest. After that, I would scan the "To read" folder for anything interesting and only occasionally file away something. Most of the time, I would just hit the delete key.

Thunderbird's threading ability is a great help: I can view email discussions on popular aliases with dozens of emails each as a single thread, then delete the whole thread (Shift-Ctrl-A to select, then Del) at once. Two keystrokes, dozens of emails gone. But this doesn't help with 7000 emails in your "To read" list while scanning them for a few dozen that might be interesting.

The numbers add up: While I'm pretty good at scanning email subjects and senders for keep/delete decisions, every "delete" action takes about a second or two for the transaction to complete with the email server. I simply didn't have 7000-14000 seconds (That's 2-4 hours!) for deleting only.

Then it struck me: Why not just scan, file away the good ones, and at the end select all that's left and do one huge delete action. Most of the 7000 emails gone in just 2 seconds, after scanning them for about an hour or so.

I didn't bother thinking about this earlier, because deleting 200-300 emails a day in smaller batches doesn't feel like much. Only after they added up over the holiday, it became apparent to me what a huge time-sink the simple act of deleting emails can be. Now, I'm always doing it this way: Scan first, file away the good ones, then hit Ctrl-A, then DEL and everything else is gone. This gives me about half a day of time back per month. Half. A. Day. Per. Month. 

Sometimes, it's just those little things that can make a huge difference.

P.S.: If you want me to read your email, don't put me on BCC only.

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