5 Reasons Not to Delete Your Emails

by Julie Rains on 15 March 2012 18 comments
Photo: Ed Yourdon

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.

3.75
Average: 3.8 (4 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

18 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture

Like you, I almost never delete an email unless it's spam. I have email labels I call "z2011 archive", "z2012 archive", etc. which are automatically applied to anything that comes into my inbox with my address in the "To:" or "CC:" fields. This is also a good way of immediately telling spam from genuine emails, as many spam emails won't have my email address in them and thus won't be labelled.

When I am finished with an email, I don't delete it, I just archive it. That way I don't even have to think about which labels to apply to it (I have labels "Home issues", "Mortgage", "Social organising" and so on) if it's not immediately obvious, but I also don't just delete it. One click, and it's safe but out of sight until I need it.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the organizational tip. I do apply labels but hadn't thought of the date label.

Guest's picture
Guest

Whether you delete them or not, you still get pestered.

Guest's picture
Bryan

I also almost never delete an email. Since I got gmail several years ago (and with it, the ability to easily search through emails), I use my email address basically as a filing system for important documents and information.

Erin C. O'Neil's picture

Great post, and so very true. Filters are a godsend when it comes to e-mail organization.

Guest's picture
grannygoodstuff

I move the emails I want to save into folders I have created in my Outlook; such as Humor, Holidays, A Waiting Arrival (for things I have purchased via the web), Recipes, etc, etc. By naming each folder and moving my emails to them, I can look up things quickly.

Guest's picture
Sean H

I delete emails all the time :-/ Yeah this article is so right I just need to do it. LOL.

Guest's picture
Guest

SEAN H

Me Too!

Guest's picture
Guest

I save all pertinent messages in a number of folders. IE: education, business, family and jokes. Some messages have been saved for 5 or more years.

Julie Rains's picture

I never thought about saving jokes, even though I probably have some jokes and inspiration notes saved -- just never thought about retrieving them. Thanks for sharing your method of organization.

Guest's picture

The wonderful thing about not deleting email in your inbox is that if you do need to find something, the 'search' function can find it in a heartbeat! Sure wish I had that with my paper storage! Haha!

Guest's picture
Matt Tewes

This is so true, great article. I am resolved to longer delete e-mails. Too many times I've accidently deleted something important while trying to delete things I think are unimportant. Thanks for the post.

Guest's picture
Guest

I can say amen to this email because I have saved emails for all or at least most of these reasons. These are important reasons to save emails.

It is important to create folders to store important information. There's nothing worse than simply hoarding all emails and having a massive list in the Inbox. It will help to have an email account organized, but keeping those important messages will help.

Guest's picture
Judy May

I have an iPhone and I use the free "Evernote" app to file all my emails by files or categories that I set up. They are then out of my inbox and stored outside of my phone but instantly available to me by just pressing this app. The files are organized alphabetically. It has been terrific for me as I collect a lot of important news articles and videos that I need for researching a book I'm writing and for talks I give. When I find an article or video that's important for future reference I just email it to both myself and Evernote and them go to the app and put them in the right files (or create new ones). Then after I look at them in my inbox (or not) I can erase them knowing that I can access them easily by category whenever I want. Since all of these emails do not contain the actual article or video, but only the link to them, none of these take up barely any space at all. Hope this helps someone as much as it helped me.

Guest's picture
J Harn

Keeping e-mails is a great idea. When I was going through my divorce and my ex had been cheating on me he felt a bit guilty and he promised to pay for certain things. Now years later he simply does not want to pay. The judge said the e-mails are a binding contract.

Guest's picture
Guest

That is also why it's so important to be careful about what you write in your emails! Everybody keeps them, and they can come back to bite you years later. A professor in college told us that everything written in an email (or text message for that matter), should be something you wouldn't be ashamed of or in trouble for if it was read on the 6 o'clock news!

Guest's picture
Guest

How about an article on the opposite? "5 Reasons Why You Should Delete Your E-mails." I'm sure there are as many good reasons to delete as there are NOT to delete.

Guest's picture
Guest

I buy/sell stuff on Amazon/ebay and get as many as 75 emails a day. Between my two main accounts, I have about 1,000 messages saved. With so many similar messages, search pretty much is useless after about that point. I get billing notices (but without amounts, are pretty much pointless) shipping information (after the item is delivered, I really don't need to know that anymore...and if I really do...can look it up elsewhere). Getting maybe 20,000 emails a year... and after a week, maybe 70% are still relevant, 2 weeks, 30% and maybe 0.5% after a year. I don't willy-nilly delete emails...and after 16 years haven't really wished I hadn't deleted something that I did.