A Self Cleaning Inbox

Maybe someone has already thought of this, but it was new to me…

I was talking with Myk Melez at the Mozilla Summit and as he described for me how he manages his mail, I realized that one of the problems with mail systems today is that we treat them the same way we treat regular mail. When I receive snail mail, I go through the mail, quickly throw away the junk and then probably leave the rest in a stack on the counter where bills are forgotten or coupons expire. Basically I’m picking out the easy stuff to throw away and keeping the rest. This is how most people treat email as well. Junk mail is easy to get rid of, but a lot of stuff just sits in our inbox for no reason. What if we turned this process on its head?

Imagine an inbox where mail that you’ve read disappears from your inbox after say three days. It could be archived or deleted. The only way to keep it from disappearing is to flag it or file it after you read it. You would be forced to make a decision on mail when you receive it (or within three days) and mail you don’t really care about would simply disappear. And your inbox would only contain very new stuff or stuff you deliberately flagged.

This would probably be a fairly straightforward arrangement to setup in gmail, so I think I am going to try it. Once I empty my inbox of course :).

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “A Self Cleaning Inbox

  1. Come back in a month, and tell us how many important emails you lost that way. I’d place them into a folder called “auto-archived” or something.

  2. I like it. And it would be do-able with filters in Thunderbird… if only filters + IMAP didn’t suck so much.

  3. I don’t have anything to automatically clear out my inbox, but my inbox is almost permanently empty. If a mail requires no work (junk, or just info) then I move it to the appropriate folder. If it requires work then I generally take care of it there and then and move it out, it stays in my inbox as a permanent reminder that something needs to be done. My urge to keep the inbox clean makes me do that.

  4. What’s wrong with just having a couple of thousand emails in your inbox? Filters move mailinglist mails into separate folders, but my inbox contains all my personal mail and goes pretty far back…

  5. I’ve had that exact same idea too. It occurred to me when noticing that my Gmail said ‘Inbox (1008)’ – when actually it’s be more useful if the number in parenthesis was the number of new and unread e-mails since the last time I logged in – ie, discounting all the e-mails which I’d already ignored.

    How are you setting up your Gmail rules?

  6. With thunderbird:

    View -> Threads -> Threads -> Threads with Unread (this way you don’t lose context)

    Anything that becomes important I tag.

    Then I also have search folders for tagged messages.

  7. This is a fantastic idea, but is unfortunately not support in Gmail, currently. The only time-based filtering Gmail allows you to do is with the ‘before’ and ‘after’ filters, which take static dates as arguments, i.e. no way to filter say all messages older than 3 days.

    I’m not overly familiar with mail clients, since I’ve almost exclusively used Gmail’s online interface for years, but there’s probably a way to filter messages this way in something like Outlook, Thunderbird or Apple Mail. And, with Gmail’s IMAP, you should be able to sync it back into the actual Gmail interface.

  8. Some mail providers do this, too. Like with Dreamhost, if you use IMAP (or their IMAP-based webmail client), after a while old messages are automatically moved to a folder called old-messages. This is done more to keep your inbox small & server loads light than for organizational purposes.