Declare ‘Email Amnesty’ to Achieve Inbox Zero

The idea of declaring “email bankruptcy”—just deleting all the emails in your inbox past a certain date—is so popular, it has its own Wikipedia entry. And it goes beyond email: Declaring a personal bankruptcy and mass-deleting games, movies, and e-books you fear you’ll never play, watch, or read is a common practice with proponents far and wide (including some right here at Lifehacker). But declaring bankruptcy is such a drastic step. What if you tried inbox amnesty instead?

What is inbox amnesty?

The idea for inbox amnesty comes from Lifehacker’s health editor, Beth Skwarecki, who advocates for achieving inbox zero by selecting all your emails and archiving them, instead of deleting them. “BOOM,” she says. “You have inbox zero and will do better in the future.”

While there are tricks you can employ to manage your inbox in real time and keep the number of unread messages down (like the “one touch” rule), there will still be times when your inbox gets unruly. That doesn’t bother some people, but the ever-increasing number in the notifications badge makes others feel like they’re losing their minds. If that’s you, declare inbox amnesty and just start over.

Why inbox amnesty is better than inbox bankruptcy

While inbox amnesty and bankruptcy both rely on the same idea—nuking all the emails and starting again, determined not to let the unreads get out of hand—there is one key difference: Amnesty doesn’t destroy the emails forever, it just marks them as read and tucks them away, out of sight.

This means you can go back into that archive if you need to, finding contact information or threads that you might actually need to follow up on in the future. If you go bankrupt and nuke them all, you won’t be able to refer to anything from the past—and you just know something will come up that requires you to look at an older email you no longer have.

You can set a reminder for yourself to fully delete your archived messages after six months if they don’t become necessary, but as long as they’re not clogging up too much of your storage, feel free to hold onto them in case of emergency.


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