When I initially began at my new job, I started making Rules to put "categories" (also know as tags) and "folders", but I was told by a senior member of the team that if I put things in folders, it's likely I won't see them.

I was also advised by my boss that I should look at things and then just delete them if they don't fall under my responsibilities or the teams' responsibilities.

Rules, while useful can get out of hand and cause you to miss things.

Additionally, I was told that "notification" type emails are a big deal if they apply to something important being down, I need to contact the person in charge of that to let them know.

Also notifications fall into two categories (not email categories):

  • Ones that trip a threshold
    • I was told I should delete these.
  • And ones that state that a threshold has returned to normal.
    • I was told I should keep these

I was also told that it's bad to have an inbox with a bunch of messages in it.

And I didn't know this, but you can archive emails in a filesystem folder.

I was also told that everybody handles their emails differently.

Forgive me if I've placed this question in the wrong site, I'd really just like some advice on how to handle IT emails...

  • Are all these "i was told"s said by your boss? Who or what person(s) have been telling you this?
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 19:05
  • 4
    "I was also told that everybody handles their emails differently." I'd go with that. My inbox would drive 90% of people nuts, but it works with my brain and what I know of searching and sorting. I can usually call up a conversation from nine months back in many seconds or a minute. There's a reason why there are many ways to flag/sort/manage email. Take suggestions. Try them out, then do what makes you most effective.
    – SemiGeek
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 19:12
  • @DarkSygnus No it's self referential.
    – leeand00
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 19:12
  • Most people I know have a few hundred to a few thousand items in their inbox. If you want to keep it clean, that's fine. But I wouldn't put a high priority on it. That's just one way to work. Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 9:06
  • Keep in mind that one root cause of the massive 2017 data breach at Equifax was an email message that did not reach the right people. If there's no penalty (like a too-full Microsoft Exchange mailbox) why not keep everything.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


You have to find a system that works for you.

What works for one person may not for another. There is no one "right way" to manage email.

Make changes to your system based on advice from different people, but feel free to discard those changes if they don't make sense for you.

You also may have different systems for different inboxes.

For work email, I practice a modified version of Inbox Zero. When an email comes in, if I need to keep it for reference, I move it to a sub-folder. If I don't need it I delete it. If it's something I need to follow up on relatively soon, I leave it in my inbox. That way my inbox serves as a to-do list. Once I follow up on the email, I either file it or delete it.

I also save my sent email automatically, and use this same method on the Sent Mail folder, so I have a record of what I've written.

I rarely empty my Deleted Items folder, so I can go back and find something I've deleted, in case I need it later. That way I can delete things and not have to agonize over the decision.

For personal email I don't delete or file anything, and use the search function to find what I need.

I only use rules for things that I don't need to look at immediately, but want to save in a separate folder for a specific period of time.


If you want to keep your inbox clean then set up folders for things you've dealt with. A common pattern would be to have a folder for each project/client, one for admin stuff and announcements (this is to remind everyone that the 23rd is a holiday and the offices will be closed), and possibly one for instructions or links or things that you might need to look for.

You get an email, you read it, and then you act in some way, including perhaps replying to the email. Then you're done with it so you put it in one of the folders. If you're not done with it, that's when things get tricky. Is it something that you need to reply to, but you can't until someone else replies to you? Or until you complete the thing they're asking about? Lots of people leave these in the inbox as "todo" items. In this universe, "inbox 0" means "all caught up on my todos." That's not my universe. I have all kinds of todos that are not in my inbox. I manage a separate list. So I don't care if stuff is in my inbox. If you care, then move things if you've dealt with them (including by adding an item to an external todo list), delete them if you're not going to deal with them, and leave them in your inbox -- well, never.

Using rules is a recipe for disaster. I did it for a while and missed a lot of important emails because I hadn't noticed a folder count go from 11 to 12 or whatever. At least look at the subject line of each email, and deal with it. But ideally, just deal with it once.


If you are in IT, use the mailbox (or text message service) to learn that something happened. Whatever raised the alert should also log the event to a file. This gives you history.

Generally if someone needs to be notified, set up your email filters to automatically forward a copy to that person. (Warn them that you are doing this.

You've got these neat toys to automate stuff. use them.

A good example of doing this systematically is a package called Big Brother. This was a set of scripts that could run at various times. A typical script:

  • Would write an event to syslogd on a local machine.
  • Would also log it to a network wide syslogd.
  • Would write a current status file to a folder on a network share.
  • Could send an email to a list.

One of the scripts would run every 2 minutes read all the status files, and from that construct a web page. This at a glance told you if a server or service was down, if a disk was close to full, if last night's backup had failed. The web page included the last time if was updated so you could tell if that script wasn't running.

One of the scripts would periodically ping anything that ran a service to verify that the machine was present, and would ping or test various ports on machines to detect that someone was down.

One of the scripts watched for arp flip-flops, usually an indicator of two machines using the same IP address. It would scan the switches and find which port each mac address was using, and do a lookup in the wiring table, and you would get a ARP red light on the status panel. Mouse over, and you see, "Linux laptop in Room 215 and Windows desktop in Room 314 both have IP"

Several of the scripts would certain numbers to a local file, then using ImageMagick or Netpbm construct a quick graph. You could set thresholds for change. This was useful for disk usage on the server.

We ran Multi Router Traffic Grapher watching all critical network interfaces.

The master Big Brother page was mostly status lights. Some were binary: Green, nominal, Red: problem. Some varied from green to red via yellow and orange -- space on disk would be that one.

I had Big Brother running on a ancient pc running linux, with the screen set to never sleep. It took a 1 second glance to see if my network (300 machines, 450 users) was healthy.

Certain things were emailed to me, but as I got more things hooked into BB I turned off the routine email stuff.

  • Welcome to the Workplace -- can you provide more details on what you are recommending? It's a little unclear to me what specific actions you are suggesting the OP take.
    – mcknz
    Commented Mar 29, 2019 at 23:40

It sounds like you are running into a problem that is way more common then it should be and that is you are receiving emails that you should not be in the first place. Lets break this down into different categories.

Emails that don't apply to you or your team. I would question why you are getting them in the first place as they just waste not only your time but the time of your team and everyone else who gets them when they do not apply to them. While I understand there will always be emails that you get that don't directly apply to you they may apply to your team or to you at a later date. In cases like those deleting them can be bad as you may lose the needed history when it does apply to you.

Notifications, this is where the biggest mistake is happening in my opinion. Those should only go to people who need to take action on them. If they are going to you and it is your responsibility to pass it on it makes it very easy for system problems to go unnoticed for longer and become a bigger problem. Those should always start by going to the people who need to be notified first and only later if there is an escalation policy in place should they go out to others.

In my opinion the only time to be worried about how much email you keep is if there are legal reasons, such as a company email retention period or limited email storage space there should be no reason to delete emails ever. Personally when I was using enterprise gmail at my work I would get useful information out of notification emails from years ago.

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