5 Reasons Not to Delete Your Emails
Never deleting emails is a lazy way of keeping organized. By saving and archiving emails, I have information at my fingertips without having to figure out ahead of time precisely what I'll need and how I'll use these messages.
Recently, my emails saved me over $300. When signing up for a new service, I captured information relating to service features, pricing, and contract terms via email, beginning with sending the content of a live chat to my email address and continuing throughout my conversations with company representatives. When the company failed to deliver as promised, I was able to reference emails with their commitments, address billing issues, and even get compensation for my troubles. (See also: How to Get What You Want on Customer Service Calls)
But even when the emails don't save money, they help me to deal with situations like these below.
1. Finding Important Documents
Are you looking for a certain version of your resumé? Can you remember the date of your child's band concert or end-of-year picnic? Can you put your hands on presentation guidelines for an upcoming speaking engagement?
Very often, these files are attached to an email that you sent or received.
If you saved your emails, you can easily find the cover letter and resumé that you sent three months ago when the HR person finally calls and requests an interview. Instead of frantically searching on your computer for the precise version you prepared to apply for this job, you can spend your energy researching the company and getting ready to talk to the hiring manager. (Alternatively, limit the versions of your resumés as described in The Case for Not Tweaking Your Resumé.)
Likewise, you may be able to locate guidelines for a contract assignment, calendars of events for professional groups, dates of your child's school activities, etc.
2. Remembering Promises Made
Are you trying to remember exactly what you committed to for a project, presentation, special event, or meeting? Did a coworker, boss, or friend assure you that she'd give you some information or handle a detail for that project? Can you spontaneously recall the details of these promises? Is there a conflict because you remember a conversation differently than your colleagues?
The details of the commitments may be contained in one or several of your emails. You may be able to quickly find the following information:
- Description of the project, presentation, event, or meeting
- Requirements and suggestions of project components, venues, and agenda items
- Specific assignments of team members and groups
- Dates of planning sessions and project updates
- Important deadlines along with timelines for accomplishing certain tasks
Just as importantly, you'll be able to recall conditions on promises. For example, I may state that I will be glad to edit your proposal by April 30 if you can forward the script to me by April 15. This record helps me to honor commitments without being taken advantage of, particularly when weeks or months pass between the time that the agreement was made and an action is required.
When I have received a commitment, I feel more confident prompting someone to complete a task, send me a report, etc. — basically, adhere to her promises — if I can recall the details of our conversations.
Having this information doesn't guarantee that others (or I) will behave in the precise manner promised. But it does help to remember what is expected, untangle any misunderstandings, and gain insight into who is reliable among friends, coworkers, bosses, etc.
3. Finding Documentation of Past Events
Do you need to prepare a report with a recap of events and activities? Do you want to pull up records of interactions with sales prospects, committee members, program participants, or volunteers? Are you looking for a receipt for the purchase of conference passes, theater tickets, school yearbooks, or something else?
You can pull together all the information you need by looking at multiple email conversations that have occurred over time.
For example, recently I learned that I needed to compile information about scout service projects. Sure, I could make several phone calls and extract this information from the organizers, who may then have to dig through their files before getting back to me. I could supplement this activity with a search of my own records, stored in a file folder labeled "scouts" and perhaps scattered amongst my son's school records and a few other places in my house or office. However, pertinent information about the projects are also stored in a few emails.
Just as easily, you can access information about conferences, trade shows, business dinners, out-of-town trips, fund-raisers, etc. Typically, you will be able to find these details:
- Event and travel dates
- Names and contact information of clients visited, event hosts, and administrators
- Vendors you met at business meetings
- Guests at dinners that you'd like to meet again
And you should be able to easily find receipts for purchases along with any warranties, return policies, and guarantees.
4. Locate Contact Information
Are you scrambling to find the phone number for a new friend who hasn't made your phone contact list yet, a client you are meeting for the first time, a recently signed-on volunteer, a contractor who is traveling to your home soon, or anyone else? Your acquaintances, prospects, etc. contact information (email addresses, phone numbers, Twitter handles, LinkedIn pages, etc.) are often stored on a email message. Sometimes, you may find what you need in a conversation directly with that person. At other times, this info resides on an attached roster or directory.
5. Give Yourself a Clue
Do you need some tidbit of info that you are absolutely sure is NOT in your email box?
Much of my day-to-day life is captured in some way in my email box: conversations with clients and vendors; messages from scout leaders, youth leaders, coaches, and band directors; dinner plans with friends; or compilations of notes and files for a year-long project. But not everything is contained there. However, I can get clues to where a file, invoice, etc. is located based on information gleaned from an email.
For example, you may not be able to remember the year in which you completed a certain financial transaction, so you can't easily locate a confidential document that you need. But you may recall that the transaction took place about the same time that you went to your cousin's wedding. You still have messages about the wedding, which then gives you the information you need to easily find the document offline.
Dealing With Inbox Clutter
One way that I deal with email clutter is to limit the emails landing directly in my inbox. I set up filters to send sale alerts, certain newsletters, etc. to "Trash" and then check my trash folder on a regular basis; in this way, these items are purged automatically every 30 days.
The emails that I like to keep are the ones that deal with personal or work-related conversations. I delete emails that contain confidential or sensitive information.
Do you keep all of your emails? Or do you have a better system for keeping up with loads of information? Share in the comments.