You’ve Got … $!#*@!

About 5 years ago, I stumbled upon the perfect way to deal with email: I simply let my inbox fill up, then once every three months I take all my messages, sent and received, and drop them into an archive folder corresponding to whatever the current year is. It’s wonderful. No managing folders, no worrying about read or unread, nothing. In an instant, my Inbox is transformed from a rather daunting morass of items both urgent and irrelevent into a pristine field of emptiness. If it felt any better, I’d be giggling.

I could of course just delete my email, but that is far too stressful. “Did I delete something important?”, “What if I need that some day?” Instead I’m an email packrat; I keep everything and if something really is important, I go track it down. This scheme has proven it’s worth on numerous occasions. I’m able to go back and dredge up various snippets of conversations and information that prove surprisingly useful. Or, like today, I can do something completely trivial yet mildly entertaining with it.

When I sat down at my computer this morning and realized that, yes, it was that time again, I got to wondering about how much email I’d received over the years. For whatever reason the notion of a nifty little graph showing how much email I’d received tickled my fancy. So I set about hacking my mailbox archives. One rather complex Sed script later, plus a couple minor shell commands, and I had what I was after – the graph above, showing exactly when I’d received the ~41,000 emails I’ve dealt with over the last 12 years.

*yawn* Hell, I’m boring even myself to tears.

But wait, there is one interesting thing – that giant spike around 10/03. The high point (I guess) of my career at AOL. Around the time we were releasing AIM Express, and I was on all sorts of mailing lists and riding herd over developers, QA, and operations folks (… or perhaps they were riding me. whatever.)

“Hmm… what about the giant dip right after that”, you ask? Well, that… *ahem*… that’s when AOL laid me off. Almost overnight 95% of my email dried up. It left a palpable void in my life that was rather terrifying. I had become so accustomed to dealing with email every moment of the day that I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. It was sobering to realize how much of my social network came from not just work, but that little glowing Inbox.

Time passes, and we all adjust however. I am back to a somewhat more reasonable lifestyle, although now that I’m consulting for AOL (Ha!) things are starting to heat up again. But, for the moment, my Inbox is blisfully empty. I am free to relax.

Until I hear those three horrid little words, that is… “You’ve Got Mail”

3 responses to “You’ve Got … $!#*@!”

  1. So in your scheme, do you mix your work and personal email? I’ve always tried to keep them separate, although the separation isn’t clean at all. As soon as my mom mails me at my work address, or as soon as I accidentally send work email from home or vice versa, I have to reshuffle to get things back where they’re supposed to be.

    Or not. Starts to seem pointless, except I know that spike you’re talking about and would rather lop it off than let it clutter up my mail box.

    But these new searching tools (Google Desktop, Apple’s Spotlight) are simplifying things.

  2. Yeah, personal, work, spam, cvs notifications… everything goes in to one “Inbox” bucket. The only other folder in my archive 2005 is the “Sent” folder. I rely on the search capabilities of Firefox if I need to find something.

    That said, I don’t really have the work .vs. home email address problem that you do. I use my email address for pretty much everything (that said, I do still pull email from any old accounts I happen to have active). But mostly I have everyone trained to use that address.

  3. Rob – Very interesting. my graph probably looks similar, though for me what I would really like to see is a graph of my cellphone usage while at AOL and afterwards. The dropoff was slow but dramatic, down to where I hardly get any cellphone calls now. Kind of distancing on one hand, but freeing on the other.

    As far as email organization, I, too, am an email packrat. I pretty much have every piece of mail ever (except junk, though I even save some of that). Years ago I was really good about filing everything. Then I’d let it pile up for some months and then go through and manage it. Then, a few years into iAmaze, the backlog got so big I just gave up and most everything now just goes into “inbox”. If an email doesn’t catch my eye it will disappear higher up (or lower down, depending on your sort direction) in my queue, only possible retrieval method being months later after doing a search when someone says “did you ever get that email about…”. I haven’t yet done the saving away yearly .pst files (I use Outlook) because a) I just haven’t done it yet and b) it means that doing searches accross years becomes more cumbersome. On the other hand, Outlook is really starting to choke on my 2GB .pst file. I use Dave Moore’s “Qurb” anti-spam software which also has a great indexed search feature (Outlook’s built-in search has always been pathetically slow). I tried Google’s Desktop searching but the index files it builds are too big and it starts re-indexing when *it* wants to, dragging my computer to its knees.