Lost all your emails? what's the worst that could happen?

23/1/2013 |

At our email training workshops, we often find some resistance to the idea of deleting emails. 

In this post, we challenge this resistance – and ask, what’s the worst that could happen?

(Not quite ready for this? Try our easy steps to inbox zero (Part 1 and Part 2))


ScreamIf your entire email inbox crashed tomorrow, what would you lose?

I’m not asking how many emails would you lose, but how many opportunities to get a leg up or prevent a screw up would be missed?

How would the world be different?

We place such an importance on each and every email but it’s the actions and information outside of our inboxes that really matter.


There’s a definite fear around the way we think about email – a fear of screwing up, a fear of acting without permission and a fear of being reckless in deleting emails that might later be needed.

All of these fears are understandable but they are getting in the way of our ability to be productive, focussed, measured and relaxed.

Emails are almost always retrievable.

It might cost your IT department a few quid to go searching through old back ups, but in effect once an email is written, there’s always a way to get it back somehow. It really depends on the relative value of what’s in the email versus the actual cost of retrieving it.

And therein lies my point. It’s not the email that is creating value, it’s the information, commitments or actions held inside the email.

> Could the sender resend it?

> Does anyone else have a copy?

> Could you get that same information or commitment some other way?

Usually, yes. I hate to demean your sense of status and importance, but those emails probably aren’t going to bring down your company, nor are they going to bring about world peace.

They’re just little bunches of electronic information that we love to get obsessed about and addicted to.

Scared to Delete?

If you’re really worried about deleting things, here are two simple things you can do.

> change your deleted items folder settings so that it empties not every time you close your mailbox, but maybe once every two weeks or once a month. That way, you’ve got an automatic safety net.

> Use filing into reference folders as a substitute for deleting. Don’t worry about overloading your reference folders: most people use their folders much less than they think anyway, but with programs like Outlook you can so easily sort by date, subject and sender, or of course perform a search function, that the chances of actually losing stuff in there – even if those folders had a lot more items in – are slim to none.


Like this? Try these

Book one of our email training workshops

Try our easy steps to inbox zero (Part 1 and Part 2)

How I Cleaned 1,328 Emails Out of My Inbox in an Hour Lifehacker



  1. John Ellery

    I had what I thought at the time was a scary episode when my 12 month old (at that time) daughter bashed my laptop leaning on the delete button and about 25 emails disappeared before my very eyes.
    I never managed to work out what was deleted but it didn’t make a jot of difference and I think it just meant those emails that were always at the bottom of my inbox and never replied to were just deleted rather than ignored for even longer.

    • think

      We all need a 12 month old intervention from time to time :)


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