Is Hoarding E-mail and Tasks Okay?

March 5, 2012

Recently a friend of mine was telling me about another friend who hoards things in her house—old no-longer-used items were everywhere—and it was becoming a real problem. There were entire rooms that were filled and not-usable for their intended purpose; bedrooms could not be slept in, offices could not be used. It made me think about e-mail and task hoarding—something I know I do and many other people do. Is that a comparable problem?

Well, if you’re hoarding everything in your main in-box or in your main task list then, then yes it is a problem. That’s because when the clutter is in your face like that, it degrades your ability to decide what needs focus. And it causes you to rehash items over and over again as you hunt for buried high priority items; and that wastes time. Instead, use good 1MTD and MYN approaches to triage quickly, and to then move those items on.

But what if you are “hoarding” years’ worth of old e-mails and tasks out of sight (say in a folder for e-mail, or in a designated low-priority area for tasks)? Well, I strongly feel it’s an acceptable thing to do; perhaps even something that you should be encouraged to do.

Why? Well, I don’t know how many times I’ve solved a major business problem by searching for and finding a two-year-old e-mail that then settled a disputed agreement or that enabled me to find a lost contact. And I don’t think it’s fair to call this hoarding; it’s document archiving plain and simple. IT administrators may disagree with me if the storage is overflowing their servers, but to me that’s a technical and policy problem that can be mitigated by off-line or near-line solutions. (Also be sure to follow your corporate retention or records management policies if they supersede my perspective on this; legal considerations always trump in these matters).

The important point is to get items out of your main management area quickly, once their action-ready status has passed. So that means get mail out of your in-box quickly either by converting to tasks or moving into the MYN/1MTD Processed Mail folder. And in the case of your tasks list, that means reducing and maintaining your main list—the one you look at daily—down to a nice manageable size, putting the rest in the MYN Defer-to-Do or Defer-to-Review status (or the Low Priority section in 1MTD).

So does that mean you should be saving everything? No, of course not. If an e-mail is obviously junk, then delete it immediately. And if a task is obviously no longer needed, then delete it as well. But if the item is in a gray area, I say save it. Your time is much more valuable than the cost of electronic storage; if it takes you more than a second or two to decide to delete an item, then just transfer it to the appropriate out-of-sight storage location (per MYN and 1MTD), and move on. You have better things to do than waste time on decisions like that.

In fact, if you are not in the daily habit of storing action-deferred items in ready out-of-sight locations, then, out of self-defense, you’ll tend to keep such items in your main management areas, which leads to the major problems I described above. So it’s good practice to have a fluid method, and habit, of deep-storing lots of things—it makes you a better manager! Study MYN to find out how; and again, follow your company’s retention policies if you have them.

So what do you think about this? I’d like to hear. Feel free to challenge me on this, or add to it—use the comments below.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is Hoarding E-mail and Tasks Okay?

  1. Asmat says:


    Thanks for sharing your valuable experience.

    I have already started that and enjoying it.

    Many Thanks

  2. Gerry says:

    Great article, Michael. I’m just doing some “spring cleaning” in my archives. Deciding the value of a 2-year old blog article vs. a 2-year old email from a business associate should be a no-brainer. The gist of your article is spot on, though. Keep the clutter out of your main work area.

  3. Louise says:

    What should I do about old mail that I have left in my inbox, not deleated or moved to processed mail folder. Now that I want to start your suggested procedures, do I move all this old mail into processed mail folder. Could take a while to do this; may need a day set aside to spend time cleaning out so I can start fresh with your system.
    Is there another way??

  4. I think moving the “not sure if I need to keep it or not so therefore put it into the processed mail folder” was the single most valuable thing I learned when I read your book – previously my inbox was unbelievably full (probably over 100 pages full) because I would be “afraid” to delete emails but wasn’t sure whether to file them or keep them. Now it is simple….either delete or task or put into processed mail folder (sometimes putting a category on it, eg to read or listen to, etc). Thank you a million, you have changed my life and I am just so much more organised now and no longer have that nagging in the back of my head that I might have missed something !!!!

  5. Michael Linenberger says:

    Yes, I would say an 2-yr old newsletter is junk on first blush, and immediately delete it.
    Thanks for comment! Michael

  6. Michael Linenberger says:

    Thanks Margi!

  7. Michael Linenberger says:

    I have tackled just that question on pgs 99 and 170 in the Outlook book (3rd Ed). Also in the Outlook video course. In the books, look up the word Transitioning if using older versions or if in an ebook. In brief though, the idea is this: retain for a moment the most recent 1 or 2 weeks of mail in the Inbox and move the rest into the Processed Mail folder immediately. Then in one sitting process the 1-2 weeks left in the Inbox till it’s empty–get that fantastic experience quickly. And now in the days and weeks ahead, 1) keep up with the empty inbox and 2) as you have time, dip into the newest old mail in the Processed Mail folder and process it as much as you can. If you cannot do it all, no worries, it’s right there in that one folder. And you weren’t going to get to it anyway in the bottom of your Inbox. This strategy is a good way to get started quickly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.