negative zero

Organizing my email

2022 January 19

[email] [organization] [tips]

I decided to clean out and reorganize my email today. I don't get that much email, but it does tend to pile up anyway.

First of all, it should be said that I like to take a very minimal approach to saving things. I don't want irrelevant emails just sitting around. I know some people treat email as a historical record, but I prefer to avoid keeping records I don't need.

This is to say, a lot of emails can just be deleted. To be fair, most of my emails are either notifications or negotiating plans. They're only relevant for a very short period of time, and I certainly don't need them afterwards.

One of the reasons my inbox fills up is because I don't delete these until they're no longer relevant. By that point, they're buried too far down, and I've forgotten about them.

Here's how I'm planning to organize my email in the future to keep it cleaner...

Don't leave emails on the server

First of all, I don't leave emails on the server at all, so all the future sections will just be about my local copies of my emails.

(While my primary email provider is not based in the USA, this decision was influenced by the fact that in the USA, police don't need a warrant to read people's emails if those emails are over 180 days old and stored on a third-party server.)

I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client, and I use POP3 to get my emails.

It's actually a little bit more complicated because I have multiple devices. Here's how I treat my email:

  1. I use POP3 to download emails to my primary device (a desktop computer) and delete them from the server as soon as they're downloaded. My GPG keys are only stored on this device.
  2. I use IMAP to sync the emails on the server with secondary devices (currently just my laptop) so I can get notifications of new emails when I'm out and away from my desktop, but I generally wait until I'm back at my desktop to deal with non-urgent emails. I do not read or send encrypted emails from secondary devices.

This way, emails show up on my laptop when I'm away from my desktop, but they disappear from my laptop once I download them on my desktop.

This model works for me right now. If at some point in the future I do need a record of recent emails on my laptop, I will still keep the same basic setup but set my desktop to leave the emails on the server for longer. 14 days' worth of history should be more than enough to have on my laptop at any given time.

Here's how I have my folders set up...


My inbox is for things that need to be addressed. Once I've responded to an email, I can move it to another folder.


This folder is for information people send me that I might want to be able to find later.


There aren't that many emails I want to keep for sentimental reasons (I mostly don't use email that way), but there are some, and this folder is for those.


One of my main uses for email is trying to make plans with people. This folder is for those emails. Once the planned event has happened, I don't need records of the planning process.

(Emails should only go into this folder when I'm waiting for the other person to respond or for the event to happen. If I need to respond to the email, it should still be in my inbox.)

This folder is sorted chronologically. My hope is that I will remember to periodically check it, and it should be easy to see and delete old, obsolete emails about plans that have since happened.

Ultimately, everything that enters this folder should be deleted eventually.


Similarly, this is a folder for ephemeral messages that don't require action. An example is receipts from online orders. I don't need to do anything about it, but I want to keep the receipt until the order is delivered, then delete it.

Other folders

There are some ongoing projects I'm working on that involve other people. These get their own folders for organizational reasons, and once a project is completely resolved, I will be able to delete the whole folder.

In the future, I'm going to try to keep my inbox sorted and cleaned out, according to these rules. Hopefully it works well!