If an e-mail doesn''t exist, do you have to reply to it?

Jan 22, 2006
2 minutes

A lot of people have the problem of an overflowing inbox, I know I do (except it has all been automatically filtered into N folders all neatly, still unanswered). But not like Charles Petzold. I remember him from the early 90s when his book “Programming Windows 95” was a text during my college years, I still use it as a reference once in a while if I have to do Win32 programming in C :)

His solution is every New Year’s he dumps the previous year’s e-mails into a folder, say “Inbox 2005” (I wonder does he have “Inbox 2004”, “Inbox 2003”… yikes, that’s a lot of e-mails not answered!). He says he has read a lot of articles about e-mail handling – and all of them don’t register with him, and he needs a “guilt-free” way of dealing with his e-mail problem.

Mr. Petzold, I have a solution for your problem. Delete your e-mails. Yes, delete them. No, you do not have to personally delete them, that will probably overwhelm you with guilt. Let your e-mail client delete them automatically. If the e-mail message has been sitting in your inbox for 3 months, my guess is, it can’t have been that important. Besides, the person that e-mailed you probably has forgotten all about it (and you probably have as well).

Here’s how to do it in Mozilla Thunderbird (I’m sure there is an equivalent in Outlook, but I don’t use it):

  1. Right-click on a folder in Thunderbird, and choose "Properties..."
  2. Select the "Retention Policy" tab
  3. Select the radiobutton "Delete messages more than X days old"
  4. Enter the number of days in the textbox from the radiobutton above, say 90 days

And there you go, in 90 days, those e-mails will automatically vanish, and no one can prove that it ever existed in the first place.

I was going to e-mail Charles Petzold about this recommendation, but then I probably won’t get a reply until early 2009, I reckon.