Add to your news feed

RSS Feed

Instapaper requires you to authenticate to add a feed.

Please use the form above to enter your username and password

We do not store this information in any way

An email’s lifecycle: Do all emails go to heaven?

Ideally, every email we touch should have a standard lifecycle: they are born into our inbox, they grow replies and after passing from our attention they find a final resting place that marks them as processed.

We’re born, we live, and and after we die we get put in either a casket or an urn. It seems like a neat arrangement that makes sure the world holds only the cleanest memories of our time here. Our emails do not seem to share such an arrangement, though: most of them are left in limbo, condemned to spend bit-ternity as half-finished tasks or forgotten carcasses in the depths of our inbox.

Granted, thinking of an email as something that has a lifecycle is not immediate. Its very nature as a transitory message seems to contradict the perspective of a continuous narrative with a logical end. But every email has an intent, and every intent will eventually reach its satisfaction. Take a simple request for information, for example. Once that information is gathered and delivered, that email thread has served its purpose.

So far so good, right? The problem comes when it's time to retrieve that information at a later date. Search bars and “manual” browsing are underperforming techniques when every email thread sits in the inbox whether they reached their conclusion or not.

The best method that presents itself for preventing this mass grave is to use folders. The criteria for their naming, content and structure is best left to each user, but some natural occurrences can be exemplified:

“Data exchange” - for email threads where parcels of information are exchanged, either as text or annexed files.

“To be continued” - email threads that have yet to reach their end, and demand response form either party.

“Terminus” - email threads that have served their purpose and have ended.

More than simply flagging/tagging emails, this system allows for much easier information retrieval at a later date, and frees up the inbox for the new generation of emails. This way we can also instantly know whether an email has safely moved on to its afterlife or whether it sits in purgatory.