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Talking Point - Confessions of a (Former) Email Hoarder

If you’ve ever watched any of the reality TV shows about hoarders, you’ll know that hoarding is usually related to a personality disorder or a mental health issue. The hoarders featured are people who keep everything they come across, regardless of the condition, or whether the items are needed, or even wanted. The items are usually piled on top of each other and stacked up to the ceilings in the hoarders’ homes, leaving no room for the hoarders to walk, bathe, eat or sleep.

Disposing of the junk is usually met with huge resistance and is a terrible experience for everyone involved, including the hoarders. It’s also incredibly expensive to clean up the mess hoarding creates and the few TV programmes that I’ve reluctantly watched, as I’m at the other end of the spectrum (bordering on being a carbon-copy of Marie Kondo), have made me wish for a bulldozer or Molotov cocktail to be used instead of teams of people in hazmat suits filling mountains of skip bins.

There’s a distinction between hoarders and people who just like to ‘collect’ specific stuff such as stamps, teaspoons, teddy bears and ornamental objects (think elephants, birds, frogs, wood carvings - the list goes on forever). The main difference is that these ‘collections’ are usually kept in an orderly manner and sometimes even displayed tastefully for others to see and enjoy.

At Expert we have to deal with email hoarders.

We have clients who seem to have kept every email they’ve ever received, as well as every email they’ve ever sent. Unfortunately, we have to provide storage for all these emails on our servers and that comes at a cost. The servers have a relatively short life span and are really expensive to replace. The harder they have to work, the sooner they have to be replaced.

As well as purchasing the servers’ hardware and software components, there is also a significant amount of staff time taken in setting them up and transferring the data. The other problem is that e-waste is created, though Expert goes to great lengths to recycle almost every part of the server, but again this takes time.

A limit is placed on the amount of email storage Expert provides to clients and once the limit is reached an additional charge is added, though this is still pretty low. From a client’s perspective, when their allocated storage is all used up they can no longer receive or send emails, so they usually act pretty quickly and start cleaning out folders and emails they no longer need. Generally speaking, this is too little and too late.

I have to confess that I was once an email hoarder.

It was really easy to justify – I had a very demanding job and there were never enough hours in the day to do the job, despite working 80 hours most weeks, so my emails just piled up. Most of my work was done by email and I worked with committees, branches and a board, so all emails were in multiples. I literally had tens of thousands of them sitting in my inbox and the only time they got any attention from me was when I upgraded my computer, though they were transferred onto the new PC, so they never actually got cleaned out, they just moved homes.

When I came to work at Expert, I quickly learned how important it is to manage emails properly and the first thing I did was set up a proper email filing system. I’ve learned to save just the last email in an ongoing conversation and I delete the rest – how many copies of the same thing do I actually need? Anything that arrives in my inbox that’s unsolicited gets a quick glance before I consign it to the bin. I’m pleased to say that my inbox is always empty at the end of the day, save for anything that I’m still working on.

I don’t mean to sound smug - the only reason I mention this is to point out that old habits can be broken. I no longer dread logging into my email account, and searching for a previous email has never been easier. I wish I’d done it years ago.

I try to help others by not overloading their inbox – I don’t copy in the world when I email them; I only copy in those people who need to know. As well as keeping my emails under control, I find this also saves time for everyone as it takes time to read through emails before deciding whether you need to be involved or not.

You can do it.

Yes, it is possible to declutter your email folders and it’s not that hard once you have a plan. The following might help you to get started – it worked for me

  1. Instead of starting from the very first email you received, try starting with today’s emails. Read them, action them, file or delete them
  2. Move onto yesterday’s emails and do the same
  3. As time permits, continue working backwards, doing the same as above
  4. Aim to sort a month’s worth of emails each week

While you’re doing this, keep managing each new day’s emails the same way. You’ll eventually reach a point where the emails are so old, they are no longer relevant. Some email systems automatically archive old emails, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they no longer exist – they’ll still be sitting on servers taking up valuable space and reducing the amount of available space allocated to your email account.

In terms of clearing out the really old emails you’ve been collecting en masse, there are several ways to do this, so depending on what you want to keep and what you want to discard, you might want to check out the various options offered by a Google search. Before you start though, just double-check what you need to keep – if you use email to keep a record of anything contentious, legal, or to do with compliance, or that is on-going and might be revisited, it’s best to keep it, but create a folder for it so that it can be easily retrieved in the future.

If you’re an email hoarder and would like to change your ways, while it might seem too daunting to tackle, every journey begins with the first footstep, so go on and take the plunge. What have you got to lose?

If you’d like some moral support, feel free to contact us@expert.services

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