Darwinian email management: Delete or die

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dvortygirl

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Advice abounds about how to manage your email, from etiquette tips to advice on nuking your inbox and declaring email bankruptcy. If you sometimes have trouble staying on top of your incoming mail, here's an approach that might work wonders for you.

Developer Matt Gemmell blogs about his "realistic" email management technique in which he lays out a roadmap for how he replies to email. Family, for example, he responds to immediately. Clients get a reply within 24 hours. He deletes a broad swath of email right away, including social network notifications, newsletters, and press releases.

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Interestingly, he advocates an approach which he likens to a Darwinian adaptation: If an email doesn't immediately seem useful or something you need to respond to, simply delete it. Don't keep it around. If it turns out to have been important enough to warrant a response anyway, fear not. You'll see it a second time. Specifically, he says:

"If it doesn't immediately and obviously make you feel you should reply to it within the next day or two, it's not that important to you. Archive or delete it. If it's sufficiently important to someone else, that person will expend effort to make it come back to you. If the email does not come back to you, you would have wasted your time replying to it. Win-win."

This is an interesting approach, but clearly it won't work for everyone or for all kinds of careers. For example, as a writer I obviously can't delete press releases; they're critical to my job. And the Darwinian advice to delete emails which aren't obviously important might require some fine-tuning, since you don't want to develop a reputation as someone who is unresponsive or uncommunicative. But in principle, it's a sound strategy. What do you think? Sounds off in the comments.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dvortygirl

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