Technology Hits
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Technology Hits

The Painful and Dramatic Saga of Erasing Unopened Emails!

Serendipitous finds and miscellaneous time wasters lead to an author’s self-reckoning. Curious? You’ve been there too, I bet.

Photo by Jayant Dassz

The Unboxing of a Dark Secret

Thinking I might actually write a Medium story in one day — a goal I rarely set for myself — I sit down to ponder the notion of undoing bad habits. One of mine is procrastination. Today, it won.

It wasn’t because I don’t want to write or don’t have anything to say. Au contraire, I have decades of ideas floating in my head, just screaming to get out.

Instead, of writing, I decided to not-write — a strategy I’ve honed over the years. Today that meant tackling some 16,000 emails I haven’t erased.

I don’t know how other email servers work, but like others who can’t quit AOL — you know who you are — I am allowed to delete a thousand emails at once. Theoretically, it should take only 16 rounds to polish them all off. Easy, a few clicks, right?

Not for me. I am a curious eavesdropper who loves a good story. I can’t just hit Delete until I’m sure that I haven’t missed something important or interesting among the 16,000 random communiqués from strangers vying for my attention.

It’s an occupational hazard. (Admittedly, I’m also a snoop.)

How I Got Here

I’ve attempted email purges in the past — for example, when I only had 8,000 or so. It’s an unfolding process — so far, eluding success. My unread messages continue to mount.

I go page by page to conduct a digital triage. Most of the messages earn earn an X —marked for mass deletion, or at least in flanks of 16 displayed per page. They range from the uninteresting to the faintly scammish to the outright frauds.

It is a tedious and easily botched task. I tend to scold myself while doing it. You have to get rid of those damned emails. Why do you wait so long? You can’t keep doing this. Make better use of your time.

Ultimately, after I have deleted a few hundred, I channel Scarlett O’Hara. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

So now you know how I ended up with 16,000 mostly unread emails.

Today’s Purge

A slightly new tactic: start with the oldest. They’re so long ago, I definitely won’t want them.

Wait! You can be even more efficient. With total abandon, I hit the X at the top, next to Subject, marking the first 1000 emails. I can delete them all at once. I should. But…well… I can’t.

I rationalize by thinking that I’ll take an opposite approach: put an X next to each good one, transfer it to my Ideas folder, and read it later.

If you think that’s a great idea, consider the wisdom of the queen of my old ladies, Marge. When I was selling my house in Massachusetts and musing about storing my stuff, she asked, “Store it? What are you going to do, visit it?”

Marge’s sage perspective also applies to bytes of thought in cyberspace. Long ago, I set up that Ideas folder, but I always forgot I have it. Like a commercial storage facility, I never visit it.

Lucky, my inner sage came up with a more sensible and seemingly workable solution:

Take a few minutes, scroll. If these emails are worth reading later because of who sent them or what’s inside, they’re worth reading them now!

Messages gone missing for months!

The truth is, most of what I found was unimportant, if not a total waste of my reading time. But the process at least yielded new insights. Among the unread emails (a few that went back as far as 2008!), I found…

  • Links to scores of articles that once piqued my interest: why “generational profiling” is bad, what a student loses by being perfect, why speaking the truth is so powerful. Their links expired long ago, but that’s beside the point. Who cares — and aren’t the answers obvious?

Note to self: Be more discriminating — and don’t wait so long. Weed them out as they come in.

Note to self: Get in touch with Susan again. Make a lunch date with someone else. Get up and get moving and away from this laptop. It’s good for your writing, you fool!

  • A Bogey story from 2014: Now this, a story written for and at my grandsons’ request, was worth saving. I finally started “The Bogey Chronicles” after a decade of making up stories for them about a heroic six-pound poodle. I downloaded it to my computer, imagining that someday I might get back to it.

Note to self: You probably won’t actually write that book, but if you do, at least you know where to find Chapter 1.

  • A seven-month-old response from Bella de Paulo, a psychologist whom I quoted in a February 25 story about relationships. Yes, she remembered me, and yes, she’d check out the piece. It felt like an unfinished exchange. Maybe because I didn’t read it when it arrived?

Note to self: Get your act together. What kind of communicator do you call yourself?

The Email Dilemma Takeaway (if this happens to be your problem, too!)

Read your emails.

Read them as they come in.

Read and erase.

Repeat cycle.

Now… if you, dear reader, have a better method of email purging, would you be so kind as to tell me how I might start to chip away at the rest of the 15,964 emails that remain in my inbox?

If you like to read me, thanks. You also might want to…

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Melinda Blau

Melinda Blau

Writer/speaker/observer of relationships, I'm a hip old lady at large. I cover the dramas we all play out. Writing's a bitch but it, mostly, makes me happy.