Email inbox management in a new job (or how I learned to stop worrying and love 5100+ messages)

My blog has been fairly silent over the past several days because in addition to my usual job, I’m spending a lot of time getting things organized. In the past two years, I’ve had a lot going on in both my personal and professional lives, and it was time to take a breath and tie up some loose ends. I decided to join the Getting Things Done (or GTD) cult, so I bought the book last weekend, read it, and starting organizing things based on those general principles. More on my larger GTD experience in a later post — it’s in my “defer” folder (inside GTD geek joke, and not a very funny one at that).

Among many other things, this means cleaning out my e-mail inbox, and it’s a mess. Only 22 weeks into my job at Yahoo!, I’m looking at an inbox with 5100+ e-mails, since I have deleted absolutely nothing since I started — and that leads to the point I want to make about getting organized in a new job. It might be GTD heresy, but in a new job, I think you should let your inbox fill up for the first 4-6 months. You should probably set up a filing system that is just enough to keep you from going insane, but don’t delete anything. Then, 4-6 months later, when you’ve really begun to make sense of your role, the organization, and how it all works, spend a few days churning through that old inbox and doing some filing.

That’s what I’m doing, and I’m finding e-mails on topics that were inscrutable to me in my first couple of months, but are now immensely valuable. I’m finding e-mails from people who I’ve gotten to know, but didn’t know when I received the e-mails. I’m finding informational e-mails from HR and Finance that didn’t make sense when I got them, and now do. I’m finding e-mail threads about projects that were just one in an overall soup of projects, but are now very specifically pertinent to what I’m doing now.

Bottom line: it’s very tempting to walk into a new job with a fresh start and use it as an opportunity to keep your inbox clean and manageable from Day One. Don’t do it. Any job worth having is messy and unclear in the first few months, so embrace the mess and let your inbox fill up without guilt. Just be sure to schedule a massive inbox cleanup 4-6 months into the new gig.

Update: My inbox is now empty. Zero messages in my inbox. That doesn’t mean I’ve followed up on everything, but now I know exactly what to follow up on and I’ve got an absolutely killer filing system in place.

6 thoughts on “Email inbox management in a new job (or how I learned to stop worrying and love 5100+ messages)

  1. More on that in a later post. I’m going to do the hard work of going through the book and relating specific sections to my experiences (with page number references, etc.) in a more detailed way.

    I’m worn out for now. 🙂

    Stay tuned. . . .

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