my boss has 10,000 unread emails

A reader writes:

Is it ever normal to have 10,000+ unread emails in your professional inbox?

Yesterday I inadvertently saw that my boss had 10,965 unread emails. She is a general counsel of a medium-sized company and does not seem to be overloaded with work. The majority of her team (around six people) are very autonomous in their work and do not often need her insight. Her working hours are equivalent to mine, around 50 hours per week, which is considered to be normal working hours in my field. Nor do we have automatic software notifications that tend to inundate our inboxes.

I have heard colleagues saying that she rarely answers emails. And I generally don’t send her email if I need her insight or feedback, as I know I will not get a quick answer (unless I chase her up face to face regarding the message). If I need something from her, I will go directly to her office or text message her, and in those those cases she is responsive. However, I work in the same building as she does, so I can step into her office anytime. Some of my colleagues who are not based in the same city struggle a little more to get answers from her.

Last month, I needed to obtain an information about a file I am working on, and she told me to contact someone in an other department for the info. Once I contacted did, that person told me that they already sent an analysis of the situation to my boss. I went to my boss’s office to ask her whether she has received the analysis. She checked her emails and found it. She then sent it to me and apologized.

This morning, we were in a meeting with an other department, and she mentioned something about an email that we all received. But I think that she read it so quickly that she misunderstood it (it was a very simple message), and she was corrected by the sender, who was in the meeting.

I haven’t worked for her that long and, given my autonomy, I do not closely work with her, so I cannot truly evaluate her competence or workload. And to be fair, she is always available whenever I step into her office. I was simply taken aback by her huge amount of unread emails.

There are a surprising number of people like your boss with literally thousands of unread emails in their inboxes. Even tens of thousands.

I don’t get it, but they’re out there.

With some people who do this, it’s not that they’re intentionally ignoring messages. They’re on mailing lists that send tons of messages and rather than deleting them, they for some reason leave them in their inboxes and just keep an eye out for anything else. But of course, when you do that, it’s easy to miss messages you actually need to see. It’s not a good system, although clearly some people feel it works for them.

With other people, the unread count is deceiving. They’ve filtered mailing list messages into subfolders, so they’re not cluttering up their inboxes — but in some email programs, the unread count in subfolders still shows up in your overall unread messages count. (Personally, I wouldn’t be able to take that stress and would be deleting every day — or at least marking as read — but some people aren’t bothered by it, or at least learn to live with it.)

All of this means: Don’t draw conclusions about your boss’s competence based on her unread email count. Draw your conclusions based on what you see of her actual work.

You’ve seen enough to know that email isn’t a good way to get her attention and that she has missed important messages … so that’s a data point in favor of her being disorganized, at least.

It makes sense to adjust for the email issue the way you’ve been doing — calling, texting, or dropping by her office. Your remote coworkers probably need to do the same thing (minus the dropping by).

There are people out there who are good enough at the core of what they do that people are willing to accept this kind of deficit in them. There are also people whose work doesn’t justify having to work around them in this way — but you’re probably not in a position to do anything about that. All you can really do is file this away as useful info about how your boss operates, and adapt accordingly.

{ 317 comments… read them below }

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I could never have that many unread messages in my work email – that would stress me all the way out, lol. One of the product gurus at my software company said he has around your number of emails because he gets up to 1,000 emails a day and can’t get through them all – my manager was horrified. And no, his emails weren’t spam or emails from mailing lists he just never deleted; these emails are from product users and internal project managers/contacts who are looking for his input on some of our implementations.

      On another note, my personal, non-professional email has 74,938 unread emails. And yes, many of these emails go back a decade and are from retailers or restaurants. My current, professional Gmail account only has 19 unread messages, so I’ve gotten better in recent years.

      1. sacados*

        Noooooo that gives me hives just thinking about it.
        My last job was in the “hundreds of emails a day” camp. (I frequently had to go back and delete old ones to stay under Gmail’s 30 gig cap– I think one time I deleted 3 months worth of emails and it was literally 40,000 some.)
        It was the sort of thing where I was receiving hundreds of automated alerts from our production pipeline, as well as our organizational culture where project management team members were CC-ed on all internal project communications to keep everyone in the loop. (And I was high-level managing 2-4 different projects at a time.)
        But even then– I used filters to catch all the automated emails, mark them as read, and skip the inbox and send them to a separate folder where they were always available to search through if needed.
        And then for the rest of the project emails I set up filters to automatically label them by project/department etc and then had all emails still come through my inbox. That made it a pretty simple matter to open each email, glance through it to know if it’s something I needed to read throughly and/or follow up on, and then archive. Any email that stayed in my inbox meant it was something that required some sort of follow up or monitoring from me; and any unread email meant it was something I had not looked at and categorized yet.

        Soooooooo long story short, having that many unread emails is a horrific thought!!! ;-p
        Even for my personal email, “unread = you haven’t read this yet” so yeah… no way.

      2. kittymommy*

        LOL, I just looked at my yahoo mail (1 of 2 yahoo and 1 of 4 personal email accounts) and I currently have 188,392 unread emails.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Ha! Mine is a Yahoo account as well. I figured I’d direct all the spammy stuff/clutter there and keep my Gmail account clean.

          1. kittymommy*

            Same. the 2 yahoo accounts are what I put down for all those promotional/store sign up stuff. My gmails are for personal and personal-professional respectively. I have some of these accounts since grad school (+10 years).

      3. Shad*

        I’m a little stressed having 11 *read* messages in my work inbox that aren’t sorted and resolved yet! And most of those I’m waiting for a response from someone else for (I use my inbox as a to do list).

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I also use my inbox as a to-do list. If it’s marked unread I haven’t read it, and if it’s in my inbox I need to take some kind of action on it. Meanwhile both my boss and my boyfriend are people who filter everything to folders without marking it as read and have 5-figure unread counts and I DON’T KNOW HOW THEY LIVE.

          My boss is also triple-booked in meetings a lot of the time and I don’t know how she lives with that either.

    2. t*

      I’m at 2276, but that’s only because my email auto-archives after 2 months. I’ve tried inbox zero and it’s not for me. A lot of time wasted wading through stuff I don’t care about. It works for me – I do miss the occasional message, but the inbox zero people I know sometimes forget a response too. Email generally sucks.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I have a new coworker and we were chatting at her desk. She said she had to delete some emails while we talked. I was standing next to her. She cleaned out her inbox. It blew my mind. How can you have no emails? But it made me think about things I was hanging on to and now clear mine down to below fifty at the end of each day.

        1. Miss Fisher*

          I have to keep my inbox clean. I work various deals by clients and I have separate personal folders for each client. So I read through the inbox doing what I need and deleted the junk. I move everything over to the client folders to keep until our projects with them finish out.

        2. Random tech co*

          I get anywhere from 150-500 relevant-to-me work related emails a day depending on what phases my projects are in. Probably an additional 50-100 that are auto filed into folders or trash. My inbox is the holding pen for any emails that have action items for me and at the end of a given day there may be 0-20 in there. I have a folder for things I need to keep an eye on but don’t require my input or action.

          Everything else goes into “in progress” (for my own projects I’m working on) “complete” (every project I’ve ever launched) or “general messages” (stuff that’s not project related). I can’t imagine having unread emails – I use email as my to do list. It would be like just filling a notebook with list after list and never crossing anything out!

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        This was exactly my experience! I got all jazzed up for “inbox zero” and then realized it meant I was spending too long wading through emails that I didn’t even need to read, just so that i could sort them or feel comfortable deleting them. I’m cc-d on a lot of things that aren’t really requiring any input from me (at this time), more of just an FYI situation that might come back later. And I do get added to lots of mailing lists, which generally get filtered, unread, into a “mailing lists” folder. My going in to that folder and playing around with those emails is not a productive use of my time.

        That said, I can’t deny that I have missed important emails before amidst the clutter, so I’m not saying my current system is great either.

        1. S*

          Wait so do you not read those???? Or just, you don’t want to delete them? I was taught once to create a “completed” folder and move everything there after reading. (Except spam/list serve stuff which I delete.) That has been a game changer for me! But I couldn’t handle having unread stuff.

      3. Wendy Darling*

        I’m an inbox zero person and I definitely still miss things.

        I honestly think of it more as a personality trait than an organizational method. There are inbox-zero people and there are 20,000-unread-emails people and it’s not a value judgement, it’s just sort of how they work. It’s not like I’m a highly organized person or anything, the unread counter just stresses me out!

    3. irene adler*

      Aren’t you worried about your mailbox being full to the point where it rejects any new, incoming emails?

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I had a coworker who came back from leave and had so many unread emails she declared email bankruptcy and deleted her entire inbox. She then emailed her team and said she had done so and told them to resend it if it had been important.

          It worked REALLY well. Like real bankruptcy you definitely shouldn’t make a habit of it, but if your inbox has genuinely gotten away from you it definitely works.

          1. Gatomon*

            I knew someone who used to do this after every vacation! I fantasize about it at times, but I don’t dare try it. Management didn’t care, they were just waiting for him to retire and didn’t want to bother with his performance any longer. (Not a great management team there….)

            Most of my emails today are automated systems. I filter them out, but I do wish Outlook would let me make a rule to auto-delete after 2 weeks. I don’t need them to be archived permanently. I do make use of the ignore conversation button whenever I can though!

            1. J*

              I do have an Outlook folder that auto-deletes after 30 days. I have it set up to only auto-delete *that* folder, though (daily reports that are stored elsewhere if I ever needed revisit). Nearly everything else gets archived.

          2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            I can see this being effective if you have given a perfectly clear OOO message, but people *continue to email you as if you are in the office* (the exception being if you have to receive multiple legally required email from the same person in a week)
            I get that people only receive OOO’s once, but at least if I’m emailing internally, I get a little message above the To box telling me who is sending an OOO (without actually sending it the 2nd+ time – I don’t deliberately ignore the OOO; I have the legally required email caveat above). There should be no excuse.

      1. WellRed*

        That happened to me last week at the worst possible time! The issue, though, was I had all kinds of archived messages many containing large image files. I dumped a bunch of those and am now sitting pretty. still have thousands of email messages in my inbox.

      2. On Hold*

        That happened to me two hours before the end of my last day at my last job. We had very poor documentation practices, so email archives were necessary for reference, plus I was on some very busy email lists. I had been outrunning the rockslide for a week by deleting formerly-essential reference folders, and when it caught up to me it was just like – ok! Time to go!

    4. Door Guy*

      My last job I could get hundreds of emails a day, of which maybe 10 were actually relevant or in need of immediate attention. Almost every report that our analytics department sent out were just batch sent to everyone – while most had some info relevant to my office, none of it was something I needed on a day-to-day basis. I also got emails from our fleet system about what our work trucks were doing, emails from HR about employee recognition letters that were all handled by our office PA, email copies every time one of us in the office filled out a digital form (and we could fill out 15+ per day each), every time a tech filled out their on site digital form, and numerous other things that were either as info or just company wide bulletins.

      At one point we were getting set up with a new contract and I got an email every time anyone in our company NATION WIDE submitted a work order. Another contract sent all correspondence to everyone instead of just the office needed (and we had 26 offices).

      I had thousands of unread emails, but thanks to filters and “Rules” everything I actually needed to see was front and center.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        This is my situation. There will be threads 14 emails long and I’m cc’d on every one of them when I only really need the last one, if I need any of them. I also get a notifications about things int he work queue that have nothing to do with me, but is part of my group. So, I have those send to various folders and go through when I can, but a lot of them are really out of sight, out of mind for me and I have bigger things to do than clean out folders that aren’t bothering me.

        Every once in a great while an important email will end up somewhere it doesn’t belong, but it is definitely a rare occurrence. I’m more likely to miss something thanks to a cryptic Subject line or something like that, which the number of unread emails wouldn’t really change.

      2. Avasarala*

        This is definitely the case for higher-ups, who often get CCd on tons of things to “keep them in the loop”. They get every part of the email chain and never have to weigh in, but it’s there if they need it.

      1. Darsynia*

        Am not letter writer or OP but they’re all marketing or mailing list emails. I unsubscribe from things sometimes and they don’t stop sending me messages—Ann Taylor Loft, I’m looking at you!

        1. Gatomon*

          Mailing lists aggravate me, someone out there is reselling my work email so I’m always getting new ones. I use my spam filter to block them in addition to unsubscribe, but there’s a particular fishing lodge that keeps changing their email address/domain so they can keep using their spam list. I don’t fish!!! I don’t understand why the spam filter company hasn’t figured it out, all the emails have the same format inside.

          1. MsSolo*

            Considered telling them you’re an EU citizen, which means GDPR applies, and if they don’t respond to your erasure request in 30 days they will be hit with a massive fine?

            (as an actual EU citizen, for now, I’ve been repeatedly stunned by the extent to which US companies really don’t get that yes, it applies to them to if they want to spam EU citizens)

      2. Missy*

        I have a similarly large number of unread emails. The unread ones aren’t from people, but are mass emails about job opportunities in the office (we get one for every new job opening), notices for training that I already know about from the other 10 emails, or some automatic ones I get when certain things happen. For example, the person in the letter is a GC and if her court’s e-filing system is like mine there is about 6 emails that are generated when you file a document for a case. There’s no need to actually open and read them since the header has all the information (“Your response in case number 123 has been filed”). In fact a lot of the emails I don’t read fall into the “header has all the info” camp.

    5. Darsynia*

      I try to go through and filter out all of the bullshit mailing list selling stuff emails that I get but I only put about a 500 email dent in the overall number and I only get enough time to do that every couple of weeks and that is overcome quite easily in the meantime. Unfortunately those programs that are designed to make this process easier or too much money for someone who doesn’t have an actual job that is greatly affected by this!

    6. MommyMD*

      I have about 2000. I get TOO MUCH from TOO MANY departments. I don’t manage anyone. If you want to talk to me, call me, text me, walk over and talk to me, or send to my personal email which they have. But this won’t work for a manager. If anything is important in there I’m always eventually told.

    7. Blisskrieg*

      Yes. I have thousands and thousands of unread emails. I also never delete or file read emails. For me, it is actually a workable organization system. I have found I can find whatever I need with the search function, at a fraction of the time that it would take me to file everything each day. I know this wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve tried other filing systems and it is the only way for me. Just checked and I have 103,000+ items in my inbox (read and unread).

    8. LGC*

      I didn’t think I could see anything on the internet this week that made me more uncomfortable than the iPhone 11 camera array and then you went and found a way.

  1. CTT*

    I’m with Alison on this, both in the “I don’t get it” and “but it’s not a huge red flag” positions. Also, fwiw, the way email is set up at my office, you have to manually mark a message as read rather than it happening after a certain amount of time, so there’s also the possibility that she doesn’t like taking the extra step of marking it as read.

    1. Amber T*

      Count me in too. I’ll purposely mark emails unread to remind myself to deal with it later – I currently have ~25 unread that I need to get to. But that means I’ve read them and purposely marked them unread. Both my colleague on my team and my boss have thousands of unread. A lot of them are emails that they’ve been cc’ed on that they don’t need to respond to, or that they need to be tangentially aware of but don’t need to keep a close eye on. Stuff falls through the cracks, but stuff falls through the cracks on my end too (the problem when you’re receiving a ton of emails in general).

      My boss, on the other hand, has no idea why I keep everything in my inbox. I have ~30k not organized in folders, whereas he organizes all the read ones into folders and has less than 100 sitting in his inbox.

      1. DMK*

        I DO THIS TOO. It is like a to-do list for me; I can filter by “unread” messages to see what issues are still open, what still needs to be responded to, what I need to read in detail (but that I may have responded to already in brief), etc.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          This is exactly my method as well, and I came home from work tonight with 12 unread emails (it was <5 right up until 5 o'clock, so I know at least 5 I genuinely haven't read and 2 were automated emails that I just didn't get around to deleting – I don't have a filter to autodelete these because I need to confirm that what they are emailling about has genuinely updated)
          In reality, I would be getting 200+ emails a day, but I know most of these are company wide "market reports" or notification emails that someone else on my team looks after (but gets sent to the whole team because of reasons). And this is why Microsoft invented automatic email rules! Incidentally, since I do use Outlook in the office (not much choice really), there is a feature called Insights which I'm quite enjoying – it highlights emails from important people (I get to specify who qualifies as important too), and shows emails which may or may not contain an actual task, or one that I've sent that may require a follow up. So even using "unread" as a to do list is no longer my only way of task management.

          I have 3 personal email accounts, with 4 unread emails, all of which relate to outstanding orders from Amazon. When the parcels turn up, the emails will be marked as read.
          Having more than 20 unread emails in *any* of my inboxes makes me twitchy.

        2. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

          Yep! I am really bad at consistently using systems, so I need to have as few as possible. Using the inbox as a to-do list just works well for me because it’s so much easier than transferring information to another list or something.

        3. Carlie*

          I now use gmail’s new snooze feature for those- that way I read them, then set them to snooze until a specific time when I know I can deal with them. That pops them to the top of the Inbox with a big orange label, hopefully at a convenient time.

    2. Dana B.S.*

      Yes, manually marking an email as read is so annoying, but probably accounts for a large percentage in most inbox collectors.

    3. Cobol*

      That’s me. I read it in the preview window. I’ve references too many emails from years ago to delete a relevant email, and putting something in a folder means I won’t find it.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right. And a search won’t find it either, at least not right away. And, if I want to see all emails from Fergus and sort by sender’s name to find them, the ones I’ve moved to other folders won’t show up. I pretty much have everything sitting in the inbox and don’t care if it shows as read or unread. Even if we somehow had an extra hour every day to clean up our inbox and make sure everything is showing as read and is in its own folder, it’d be counterproductive.

        Only exception I make is for emails with humongous attachments (why do people do that?) Those are deleted as soon as possible.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          They do it because 1) they don’t know how big it is or 2) they don’t have a good on-line repository where they can store it and point people to it. To be fair, #2 has only become really viable in the last few years, and a lot of people aren’t used to the new potential yet.

          I got real excited when we didn’t have to use a dedicated team server to share docs with an external vendor…

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Weirdly, most of ours are not even work-related. With a large work document, it’s almost always an email with the doc’s location on a share. Last time I purged my largest-size emails, 9 out of 10 were something like “Food truck today!”, “Halloween party!”, “Teambuilding event!”, all with a lot of cute graphics. I agree that most of the time people simply do not know how big they are. It is what it is, I’ll keep purging.

        2. Cobol*

          Exactly. In-between my first post and this one I had to find an email from last October. The only way I was able to find it was too sort by sender.
          I have started archiving my mails that are 4+ months old, but they all go on the same folder.

          1. Anomalous*

            We use Gmail at work, and the web interface (which we are forced to use) doesn’t allow us to do that. Finding old emails with Gmail is a royal pain. There was great rejoicing when it was announced that we would be switching to Office 365 this fall.

            FWIW, I have about 10 unread emails at work (I had to leave early today for an appointment) and 5,239 at home. Almost all of those are from various email lists I have signed up for. I was up to over 30,000, but did a purge a couple months back. I triage my personal email two or three times a day, so the important stuff does get seen and (often) acted upon.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Gmail search sucks. I have an account that I use for all my bills, etc and it’s a pain. I just try to put stars on what’s important, and file the most important ones (e.g. plane tickets to Big Event for next April) into their own folders (“Big Event April 2020”). I’d go batty if I had to use gmail for work, to be honest.

      2. Eschmail*

        Yes. I read emails in preview and it doesn’t mark them as read. If they are important I will open them and then they will be “read”. If an email requires some effort to reply to I will print it out so the dead tree ghost screams at me until I action it. Also email filing is a waste of time,I just use search.

        1. chipMunkey*

          I file everything in a folder called “FILE”. Can’t remember where I read that suggestion, but it occurred to me as soon as I read it that my biggest time waster was trying to sort out which folder to file something in, and when something fit in multiple places I would forget where the last one went or have analysis paralysis and couldn’t decide. So cue the creation of one folder called FILE, and that’s where everything that needs to be kept goes. Makes filing and searching very easy ;)

    4. Emma*

      For a General Counsel of a company, I don’t think this is unusual. I know one and I recently saw she had a similar number of unread emails. (Maybe it’s your boss?!) That’s a pretty high level position so it doesn’t surprise me. She probably gets cc’d on tons of emails all the time.

    5. Door Guy*

      My email automatically marks it as “Read” if I open the email and then leave the message. However, if I read it, and it isn’t something I’m going to need and I delete it while still in the message the first time, it shows as unread in my trash folder. My current email has 400 unread emails in the trash (which will auto-delete them after so long) but I’ve actually read and decided I didn’t need almost all of them.

  2. Accounting IsFun*

    This is totally my boss. I’m an in-box zero person – I get my inbox to zero at the end of the week since it calms me, but my boss is also really bad at e-mail. You do have to hunt him down and give multiple reminders to get things done.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      I can’t always get to zero, but I assign a category to every email that comes in (FYI, To Do/Done, For Later). Even if I can’t get everything out of my inbox, I make sure it has been assigned a category for easy sorting.

    2. Adlib*

      Same. I usually have 5 or less at the end of the week. Conversation view is also my friend so at least the visual clutter can’t get to me, and I don’t have to view separate messages from the same conversation.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        I didn’t realize that people didn’t inbox zero until at least 10 years of having email. I just thought it was the proper (only) way to manage an email inbox.

        1. RobotWithHumanHair*

          Same here. When I discovered there are non-inbox zero people, it made me anxious on their behalf.

    3. Alli525*

      YEP. I currently have 4 emails in my inbox, all of them read and pending someone else’s action before I can file it.

      My former boss once gave me full access to his emails, and made monitoring his email part of my job (I was an assistant so it made a certain amount of sense) because he got so many client emails – along with industry news, internal messages, etc. – that he could not keep up. He also traveled a lot.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I have a number of colleagues who do this, leave hundreds or thousands of emails unread, but I haven’t really noticed an issue getting responses from them so I have to imagine they cherry-pick the ones they know will require some response or they’re skimming using preview and not tripping the “read” designation. I have to process new emails immediately, either by reading or deleting unread (spam, ads), but I also get a very manageable daily amount of email in all of my accounts, both work and personal. Even after sorting to folders my work inbox still has usually about 150 emails in it, with maybe 20 flagged for specific actions or follow up, but every last one of them has been read.

      1. Door Guy*

        I had a “Rule” in outlook that automatically filtered out any messages from my managers and sent it to labeled folders (by manager) while playing a different sound than my normal ‘got mail’ chime. I could tell from across the room if my boss needed something.

        The same with any other important people, or even just reports. Filter them out and you can see right when Very Important Person/Office needs something, or just having all your reports in one place was helpful when I needed to see if I had actually gotten a report I needed to reference.

    5. Mary Richards*

      When I see that little red bubble in the upper right hand corner of the email icon on my phone, I have to check it and either deal with it or delete it immediately. That said, I can’t seem to get to full inbox zero and seriously applaud those who can.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    There are also email clients that show you a snippet of the body as you scroll through your messages – enough in most cases to determine whether you need to read the whole thing or not. If you don’t open the full message, it stays marked as unread.

    And there still systems that don’t do a good job of synching two email clients – desktop and phone, for example, or work computer and home computer – so what’s marked as “read” on one machine could be marked as “unread” on another.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Ours shows the whole email chain in the preview pane, but the email itself stays flagged as unread.

    2. goducks*

      Yep. So often the entirety of what I need from the email is in the preview that flashes across my screen that I don’t even need to open the email.
      Additionally, I tend to be cc’d on anything and everything regardless of whether I am actively involved. Because of my role (the director overseeing accounting, HR, and IT) people tend to loop my into things as a sort of CYA policy.
      Add to that the robo-generated email reports that various business portals send and the solicitations from every company that hopes to become my ERP/banking/insurance/staffing/IT vendor, and it’s super common for me to be at 1000+ unread.
      I use outlook rules to at least filter the robot ones into a separate folder and delete those periodically.
      Email is a plague!

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I have several coworkers who put the message in the subject line so the body is just their auto sig: “Subject: Final proof approved. We need 500 of the programs for the lecture by September 30.” I don’t even need to scroll down to the message. I silently rage at people who don’t put anything in the subject line.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        At the Air Force base I used to work at, the convention was to add EOM (end of message) to the end of the subject line to ensure that people knew that was it.

  4. CallofDewey*

    This would give me so much anxiety- I’m a clean inbox person. But my boss has a ton of unread emails and is generally on top of things.

  5. Tessa Ryan*

    My boss does this. The first time I had to update her computer, my jaw literally dropped when I saw how many unread emails she had in her inbox. That would drive me crazy! In her case it was a lack of knowledge on how to use folders and organize stuff. Emails would get “lost” and important stuff was frequently overlooked. We eventually set up filters for her and it helped… somewhat. For me it’s so much easier to print something off and leave it on her desk next to her tea so I know time sensitive stuff will be reviewed.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A former co-worker of mine was like that. She never deleted anything from her inbox – ever – and said it was overwhelming to check email when she saw thousands of unread emails. She finally just stopped checking, and the rest of us got in the habit of leaving hard copy documents for her, or texting her for quick answers.

      A brave help desk person helped her set up folders and filters, and that worked for about 2 weeks.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It does take time to maintain organization. You really have to be willing to put in the project management overhead.

        1. Emmy*

          Absolutely. I was the queen of email organisation for ages, but came into a busy period of 3 motnhs where my inbox was obliterated. Even now, months down the road, I haven’t recovered because the thought of going through is too daunting. I’m really good with searching in outlook, which is a big help, but I do look forward to being on top of it again one day.

    2. BadWolf*

      I have tried to do folders, but for some reason my brain doesn’t like to sort like that. Just leave everything in the inbox and search for what I’m looking for. Either I remember the date, who sent it, or something about the subject.

      I do not remember where I sorted something into a folder.

      I do delete some stuff that I don’t need (notifications, newsletters, etc).

      1. BadWolf*

        Although the key is not being lost or ignored. Obviously you need a system that works. I just have no need to have an “empty” inbox. It never seems empty to me because your email is somewhere (unless you delete everything?). It’s where you decided to put it. Or leave it.

      2. Mimmy*

        Oh good, I thought I was the only one who rarely makes use of email folders!! I think it bit me in the behind at one job, but at my current job, it’s been pretty easy to stay on top of my email.

      3. These Old Wings*

        This is me too. I just started a new job and thought I would set up email folders, but nope! I would just rather sort through my inbox for what I need.

      4. tired anon*

        YUP. I have 18,000 emails in my inbox (they’re all read, though!) and any time I need to find something I can just type “from:coworkername” and once I’ve got that I can view all messages in the conversation. For me, that’s so much easier than trying to sort things into folders.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          hunh – my email client, which gets a lot of crap for being bad, has a couple of top level views (All; All by Person) I can do this with, or just Search All Mail in the upper right corner of my client. I use my inbox as my To Do list, and folders for archiving, and those top level views / search bar if I need to.

          It’s all personal preference / needs of the job / tools available, as long as you can find what you need.

      5. Filosofickle*

        For me, folders were useful until search functions became really sophisticated. They made sense to my analog brain, too — I used to file paper by client & project, so same on a computer. But then searching got so good even some of the organizational experts were saying it was more efficient to simply search for what you need. That works for me best now, one giant inbox.

        There is something to be said for rules / smart mailboxes, though, if your email is high volume or you have anxiety. I have a friend who had massive anxiety about unread and unpleasant emails and consequently avoided even looking at email. Which meant she was missing important things plus emails she did want to see. Setting up some automatic filters got the stuff that panicked her separated out so she could see what mattered.

  6. Changing it up*

    It can also be that the email doesn’t count as read until you’ve reviewed it for, say, 8 seconds, and it takes her 2 or 3 to figure out if this is something she cares enough about. With very busy people, most emails won’t get their full attention and that’s the way it probably should be.

  7. Lygeia*

    My last job, I got so many emails that didn’t matter. Email was not the main form of communication for me in that role either. So I had a lot of unread messages. I hated that method though. I hated how I “had” to be on so many distribution lists where maybe one in ten emails was relevant to me.

    Now I’m at a much smaller company, and we have our email set up as our “to-do” list so your inbox should never be out of control. It definitely keeps me more on track and helps me prioritize. As soon as I finish an item, it gets deleted or put into a different folder as necessary. My number of unread emails is generally no higher than 10 (unless I’ve been on vacation).

  8. London Calling*

    That would send my anxiety soaring as I wondered what I had missed. I really admire the insouciance of someone who can look at ‘Messages unread 10,000’ and not go into a complete spin. Mind you, I have colleagues with large number of emails and they do miss stuff – mostly the things they should be sending to me.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’m at about 80 unread at the moment. I have my Outlook account set up so things from different people come through in different colors, so it’s a handy way to tell when it’s an email I need to look at rather than a newsletter or promotional message. And our system shows the subject and the first couple lines of every email in the list, so some of those unread messages are actually super short messages that I’ve read most of just from my inbox list and I just didn’t take the time to manually mark them as read. Every couple of weeks I’ll do a cleanup, but I don’t always have the available time or mental bandwidth in the moment.

  9. Kara*

    I’m currently at 5,585 unread emails, and I’m actually one of the most responsive team members at our firm. A lot of what sits in my inbox is spam mail (my inbox captures email for more than one address at our firm, so sometimes I get duplicates of the same spam message). Otherwise, I’ve often noticed that if I open an email on my phone app, it will still show unread in my browser inbox. So some of that number can be accounted for as technically having been read. I just get so much email it never really made sense for me to sit back and sort through everything. Certainly not to worry about “opening” that many messages just so my number will read 0.

    1. Kara*

      As for my personal email, the one I use for “junk” mail is sitting at 51,764 unread emails. I will never, ever, not in a million years bother to clean that one out. I only check it when I’m expecting a confirmation email. Otherwise, it exists purely as a junk mail filter and record keeper for things like automated receipts for bill pay.

    2. Kimmybear*

      I’m just over 3700…95% of those are vendor emails that automatically go to the “Other” box rather than “Focused” emails. These are not listservs I signed up for but rather vendors that think I have the authority to buy their products. Given my experience, I agree with Alison to focus on the work rather than the count.

    3. Samwise*

      Oh yeah, I hate the dup emails! We get an email from the chancellor (it’s sent to everyone at the university), my grandboss forwards the same email to us.

      We’re the llama grooming dept, we are all on the university everything llamas and llama grooming listservs. Grandboss forwards all messages from the listservs.

      Yeah, it’s a grandboss problem…but not a hill anyone cares to die on, so we just delete or ignore the dups. They add up over the year/s…

      1. Kara*

        Yes! Those too. For example, I get an email from Google Analytics about our website every so often. My boss gets the same email. He has an automatic rule set up to forward that email to me. So I get two of those, every time. Same with some of the vendors we use. I can’t block them or send them to spam, because I need them to be able to contact the vendors for things we’re actually purchasing. It’s frustrating, especially when I get their marketing emails (which I don’t need to receive, because they’re already using them) to three different email addresses in our organization. Triplicate spam. Joy!

  10. FormerExpat*

    I have close to 7,000 unread emails in my personal email. The little red bubble with a four digit number does not bother me at all. All things considered, I am pretty organized. Life would be boring if we were all the same.

    1. De Minimis*

      This is where I’m at too. I get too many e-mails, even when obvious spam/promotional e-mails are cordoned off. Not worth the time it takes to delete.

      At work, I use the preview pane a lot, but read most of my e-mails. I’m hesitant to delete anything other than obviously unimportant stuff [last month’s announcement about cookies in the break room.] I keep anything that could possibly be needed later on, especially as a CYA. There have been many times when I needed an e-mail from years ago that provided needed documentation.

  11. I am Tom*

    There’s that meme that says “there are 2 types of people in the world” and one type is represented by an inbox with no red circle and the other has “53,742” or whatever in the circle.

    Pretty much that. I’m in a mixed marriage (me inbox zero, husband inbox thousands), so I not only know that both types exist, but also that it’s possible for them to coexist peacefully ;)

    1. in a fog*

      Ha, I’m both at the same time. Work email? Always at Inbox Zero. Personal email? Something like 40K unread. I’ll get on a kick every now and again and unsubscribe from a bunch of things, but I’ve had the account for nearly 20 years now, so it builds up!

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I’m the other way. Work email? 28,000. Lots of mailing lists where I can tell by the subject that I don’t need to read it now or possibly ever, but it’s there to be searched for if I do.

        Home doesn’t get mailing lists. If it’s there it needs to be read.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I’m a no red bubble person. The red bubble gives me anxiety. Now, I have lots of emails in my inbox, but none of them are “unread.”

    3. Parenthetically*

      Hahaha, I’m in a mixed marriage too. My inbox is strictly for things that are pending some action on my part and nothing else. My husband, as far as I know, has never used the archive function in his email which just makes me *primal scream*

  12. LilySparrow*

    When I was an admin, I supported two execs I can think of offhand who had me pre-screen all their email. They only read stuff that got flagged by me or someone else. Those emails showed up as “read” on my computer but may not have on theirs.

    They were routinely cc’ed on distribution lists for projects that their direct reports were handling, that really didn’t require their input on a day-to-day basis. It was more of a reference archive in case anything went wrong, they had all the history and documentation available.

    If they’d spent their time reading all those emails, they would have had zero time to do work at their own level.

    I sounds like the boss in this scenario is doing something similar-letting people flag things that do need her direct involvement by contacting her another way.

    1. Marissa*

      Also, even when I was a low level attorney, getting 10,000+ emails wouldn’t take more than a couple weeks. I bet for OP’s boss it could be even faster.

  13. Raine*

    My husband was once let go from a job where one of the main cited reasons was that he wasn’t reading his emails – evidenced by the unread emails in his work mailbox, which his boss checked and was livid about. What was *actually* happening was that he was checking said email on a different client, which didn’t mark the original emails as read. His boss only saw the ‘unread’ count, without seeing that many of those ‘unread’ emails had been replied to and had full conversation threads.

    1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Wow. Was your husband able to do anything about that silliness? It might have been a case of “better off out of here” by then, I’d bet. Seems like a symptom of a deeper problem (especially if they didn’t ask before writing him up!)

      1. Raine*

        It was definitely a “better off out of here” situation by that point. It was a small local business that wasn’t the best to work for anyway (dubious ‘independent contractor’ designations, not taking out taxes, etc). He ended up applying for a job at a national company opening a local branch and has been doing great there ever since. :)

  14. Elenia*

    I have my outlook sent to “mark as read” in the shortest time possible – 3 seconds. I use my inbox to keep “active” emails. Once the email has been dealt with it shuffles off to another folder.

    My husband never marks anything as unread and as far as I know, never deletes anything until they make him.

    We are both excellent workers with great work ethic. I just try to never look at his email box .:0

      1. emmelemm*

        Yeah, I think this is where some people are diverging. They may have 10,000 unread emails, but they at least glanced at them in the preview pane, so they “know” that the emails are “read” to the extent that they need to be aware of them. If my email required me to actually MARK something as read, or click it to open, then click it to close, then yeah, that might take more time than I want to spend if I had hundreds of emails. Because I have a preview pane and my “read” setting at one second (I think?), if I’ve so much as glanced in its direction, it’s read.

  15. mkt*

    This is every boss I have had (including the current one!). I’m definitely an inbox zero type of person, but I can understand that not everyone is like this. I am rather old school however, and remember the days of much smaller Outlook mailbox sizes. :)

    1. ACDC*

      I think this is an important piece of the letter that isn’t being addressed. At my company, anyone with the title manager and higher does not respond to any emails unless they are from someone of an equal rank or higher. Anything below manager, you have to hunt them down for input. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I think it’s pretty rude. I get that they are busy people, but it seems like the company culture deters managers from responding to emails.

  16. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It really depends on how people manage their inbox, that’s for sure! I am a “clean and quiet inbox” person. I will delete spam immediately, check my junk folder and delete it when it’s deemed nothing got trapped in there, etc. Then everything gets deleted, responded to and filed as needed.

    Others are non-stop clutter but they keep up with things in their own way. Most of those are probably chains that they’re just CC’ed on as well. They don’t need to respond or read it any time soon it’s just a conversation between each team for different things, then they may read the latest one when they decide to check in on that project or something like that.

    Owners and bosses tend to have more because they’re CC’ed on so many GD things. I know my boss is CC’ed on all our bank correspondence just so that he’s looped in but never responds, that kind of thing.

  17. Bee Eye Ill*

    There is actually a push in some circles of IT to do away with email altogther. The burden of it far outweighs the usefulness, and the misuse of it by people who never delete – or read – anything makes that worse. Consider that email is the primary distribution method for most ransomware, phishing scams, etc, and it represents a major security risk, too. Much of it could be replaced internally with Skype or some other instant messaging application. Just requires a culture change, and that’s hard to do when people still insist on using fax machines, you know?

    1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The usefulness for them, maybe. I’d much rather look for a saved email than try to find things in an IM log of everything I discussed between times I shut the app down).

      “Just requires a culture change” can mean “we just need to convince everyone else that what we like best, will be best for them.” And maybe it is better, but they’ll need a better argument than “email is old-fashioned, like fax machines.”

      My main security exposure isn’t email–Thunderbird not opening attachments or loading images unless I tell it to helps–it’s every business I’ve ordered from online, or that keeps my credit card info for other reasons. Plus the hospital network that my doctor is affiliated with and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        What might you be looking for in that email? A lot of data that gets shared and saved via email really should not be.
        I do so agree with places saving (and selling) all your info. Happens all the time. We yield a lot of personal security to convenience.

        1. hbc*

          Here’s what I search for in my email:
          -What’s the latest draft of the employee handbook and who was assigned the next steps?
          -Did I actually tell the customer that he had to pay 50% up front on this order?
          -How long has this item been hanging out on the action item list?
          -What was the name of that other company that the supplier referred me to that one time?
          -What records do I have of communication with Ex-Employee that shows I had non-discriminatory reasons for not giving him all the raises he asked for?

          Maybe there are companies that do a better job of archiving this kind of information in other formats, but none that I’ve worked on. I also think a lot of the concerns about keeping things off the record are a bit overblown, or at least not applicable in the industries in which I worked.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            I went to a talk once on “Document Storage Best Practices”. That sounded super-useful! However, they spent 100% of the time talking about how you can make sure every single document is completely wiped out of existence the nanosecond you are no longer required by law to keep it. Nothing on how to, you know, FIND DOCUMENTS YOU NEED TO DO YOUR JOB. Which is what I was there for. It was like they thought documents only existed to be security and legal risks, and no one ever had a legitimate need for them.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          In my emails, I am primarily looking for ‘what is the history on that teapot handle that we need to order.’ The information in the emails is usually too complex to try to capture in other formats (eg, PN changes, config changes, checking with / comparing four different vendor responses, who was the right contact, etc) or would take significant time to transfer to another format.

          We do capture bits and pieces of this in various current tools (eg, a CRM database for contacts, Inventory database for PN alts and changes, Sales record db for config changes / alt configs, Catalog from vendors), but the stuff comes up together so often that email ends up being the fastest place where I can see, ‘Config 1 needs BluHandle2, but BlueHndl2 is a valid alternate, which Vendor 2 can ship to use in half the time that Vendor 1 can ship BluHandle2, and my Vendor 2 contact is‘ .

      2. Al*

        I rely on archived email threads for SO much context, reference of important data, etc. I sort and archive emails really consistently, and they’re an important resource. Thinking about trying to replace that with Skype is nauseating to me.

      3. Name of Requirement*

        Yes! This is why I hate group chat info dissemination- not searchable, have to remember which thread it was, doesn’t translate to a calendar smoothly, and doesn’t batch those who reply singly.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve seen a push in the larger mega corps that use portals for their billables instead of email. But it’s going to take a long time for it to fully change over, since it’s a huge cost right now and smaller operations would never be able to put up that kind of capital until things are much less expensive to obtain. It’s also an issue because of having to shift yet again in pushing the people all over to deal with that method, when it took us 20+ years just to get everyone to at least use email in some way in most setups!

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        Oh yeah it won’t happen any time soon. It would be a slow process, but some good alternative could be the next killer app. You never know.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Oh for real, they’ve changed entire business structures over the years with new technology, it just has to be something powerful enough to stick.

          But it will have to be some kind of app setup in the end since we’d have to build in the fact we all are attached to our smartphones/mini-computers.

          This is so fitting since I got a phishing email that looked almost legit while this thread has been going.

    3. Manders*

      That’s an interesting concept, but my experience with companies’ internal portals has been pretty lousy. I haven’t seen one yet that’s not clunky or buggy, and if your client or vendor uses a different system than you, good luck getting information from one to the other without emailing back and forth. And of course, if you deal with customers, you’ve got to reach them where they are instead of forcing them to learn to use your system.

      Instant messaging is cutting down on “Hey, there’s cake in the break room!” type messages, but I don’t think it’s going to be a complete replacement for the way people use email. Sometimes you do need a format that can be saved and sorted.

      I do think we do get way too many pointless emails–but I don’t think we’ve got a better system to replace it right now, and I haven’t seen any particularly compelling developments on that front.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, until someone comes out with a banger user friendly, interface for an internal and external company portal, email will certainly be around. Especially since it’ll have to have an app attached to it, since so many people depend on remote access with a laptop or cellphone to get their communications that come through email channels.

        So until they work out all those quirks, it will be a long uphill battle. Which I’m not totally against but I will say that some of the portals I’ve been forced to use by very important very huge entities are so bad that their internal workforce actually commiserate with me about how awful the dang thing is! Someone kept me on the phone for almost an hour about how bad their portal was and I’m just like “Yeah…it stinks a big old stinker but what can you do…” [literally nothing since they don’t care on the upper levels, it works for them when they don’t need to ever touch it. Much like the oldest POS machines and such that were finicky and awful, now we all are conditioned to slide our own cards and go through the motions, when the cashier always had to do it.]

      2. Alice*

        “And of course, if you deal with customers, you’ve got to reach them where they are instead of forcing them to learn to use your system”

        Ah, but if you (like an IT department) have internal customers, you don’t have to work so hard to reach them where they are.

    4. Alice*

      Do you think people use fax machines because they love fax machines so much? I think there is more going on there.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think I’m missing something here? Is this a joke? Since faxes were once heavily depended on but have been phased out over the years? But you say “use” like faxes are still a heavily used operation tool?

        People keep emailing me their GD credit card information because they don’t see that as a risk when I say “either fax this back to us or call us with the information.” =(

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I think Alice is referencing Bee Eye’s ” Just requires a culture change, and that’s hard to do when people still insist on using fax machines, you know?”, and, like him, equating fax machine to email.

  18. Auburn*

    11,416 here! And yet sometimes I feel like all I do is answer emails. Got a good long laugh from this one.

    1. Barefoot Librarian*

      Same lol. 6,621 in my work email and almost 10,000 in my personal account. I dedicate a chunk of my morning to answering emails, but I’m copied on so many company wide emails and vendor communications. Also I frequently reference older emails in my line of work (part of which is sys admin for the library), so I don’t delete things unless they are CLEARLY junk. I’m sure I could probably do a better job of keeping the old inbox organized, but my responsiveness is good and I am already so busy that it’s not worth the time or energy. Honestly it doesn’t bother me too much.

  19. LadyByTheLake*

    I’m at 8236 and I don’t give it a second thought, and I am pretty zealous about keeping up with my emails. A lot of the unread emails are newsletters or conference confirmations or middle emails in long threads. A lot of them I already read on my phone or other device, but that doesn’t show on my main computer. I also have a preview feature, so if someone is just saying “thanks” I don’t have to open that. I get about 100 emails per day, so I prioritize the ones I need to deal with and I really don’t have time to sit and clean out the ones that I don’t.

  20. Kat*

    I do this with my personal email (16,023 unread currently) but it would stress me out at work! For my personal inbox I have important people (family, kid’s school and activities) flagged to be sorted into a VIP folder. Everything else I check once or twice a day and mark anything I want to follow up on or keep for reference as important so I can easily sort to find it. For me its quicker than deleting or marking everything as read. I used to strive for inbox zero but ultimately decided that wasn’t where I wanted to put my energy and was able to let it go.

  21. GimmeGimmeGimme*

    I’m more shocked by the fact that so many seem to think that zero inbox means excellent time management, organisation and competence. Ever thought of how much time you can waste on sorting into folders and deleting emails? Preview often gives good enough an idea of whether an email needs actioning. It is not like there is a shortage of storage and unread emails clog up anything.

    Said boss may not be the ideal person to communicate with per email, but then; is email always the most effective form of communication?

    I recommend A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson. He overturns the idea that organisation and neatness are key to success and efficiency.

    1. Elenia*

      I am more efficient when everything is stored properly. It’s the way my mind works. And it doesn’t take that long if you are that way from the start; that is, from Day 1 you are already sorting and organizing.
      Organization and neatness ARE the key to my efficiency. Maybe not everyone’s, I am willing to concede, but it doesn’t somehow mean I am wrong either!

      1. JediSquirrel*

        This. Outlook has a one-click button you can create to automatically file an email in the right folder. I have about 20 of those set up for important clients and suppliers.

    2. Kiki*

      Yes! Some of the least responsive/ worst communicators I’ve met are inbox zero types– they prioritize getting their email to zero over actually understanding and communicating. Some of the most on top of it people I know work from what appears to be chaos.

      It seems this boss works from chaos and is not on top of it, so someone above the boss probably has grounds to suggest boss try a more organized system, but in general I would hesitate to say the 10k unreads are the issue.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Ugh, this. I work with one guy who somehow is both fanatically inbox-zero and also doesn’t actually read and comprehend the e-mails before deleting them. In the last few months I have had to deal with him deleting multiple different flight confirmations because he just assumed they were all duplicates for one flight (what is a booking reference? We just don’t know), and also managing to delete all correspondence related to a visa application because he just thought the “YOU MUST NOTE THIS REFERENCE NUMBER TO ACCESS YOUR APPLICATION” thing was there for fun, I guess. But he *must* be so organised and on top of things because he has an empty inbox, right?

      2. LilySparrow*

        I question the characterization that the boss works from chaos and isn’t on top of it.

        All we know is that OP has opinions about Boss’s unread email count. That doesn’t mean Boss isn’t on top of her job.

        Some of OPs colleagues want Boss to be more responsive by email. But, in every job I’ve ever had, employees are expected to conform to the boss’ preferred mode of communication, not the other way around.

        There were a couple of very minor instances where Boss missed an attachment or misread something. These are normal things that happen all the time. Both of which were very easily sorted out by a brief conversation and had zero negative consequences for anyone.

        Overall, it sounds more to me like OP doesn’t know what Boss’s job actually consists of. A general counsel’s role is usually focused on long-range strategic thinking, not collating documents.

        1. Kiki*

          The LW expressed that a few coworkers who don’t work in the same city have difficulty keeping in contact with the boss because they don’t respond to email consistently and they can’t just go talk to her in person like LW can. Yes, it is up to employees to conform to boss’s preferred mode of communication, but the preferred method has to actually work for all parties. I don’t think this is really LW’s issue to bring up, but if I were an out-of-town employee, I think there’d be grounds to at least address how they should communicate, if not by email.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I feel like my system is a decent hybrid. I used to file everything into a million subfolders, but then I couldn’t search effectively (that was an older version of outlook, though). Now I just have one folder per project, so the time to drag it from the inbox to the file folder is minimal.

    4. Alianora*

      I’m closer to the inbox zero side of things, and it honestly doesn’t take me any extra time to delete/archive an email after I’ve read it. Either way, I need to decide what to do with it. Deleting or moving to a different folder just saves me time later, so that I can glance at my inbox and see what needs to be done immediately without sifting through a million irrelevant items.

      (Not saying your system is wrong, just replying to the part about “wasting time” sorting thing into folders.)

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      My best friend is a zero-inbox person and she’s crazy efficient. But my particular experience with ADHD is that if I let myself get distracted by the bright new shiny email that needs to be read and responded to and appropriately filed, I’m not able to pop back over to what I’m working on the the seamless way that my friend can. So I designate email checking times and turn off the notification pop ups so I don’t spend my whole day chasing email squirrels instead of finishing my projects. It means I frequently have a number of unread emails, but my work is getting done.

      1. Pommette!*

        Similar story here. I’ve seen awesome communicators who are also zero-inbox people, so I know that it’s possible!
        But I also know that it’s not for me. Filing email ends up being a big distraction for me, and a way to waste time while feeling good about my neat inbox. So instead, I block out email checking times every day, and preview everything. I send out the quick and easy replies immediately. The complex emails get a generic “I’ll look into that and write back later today/this week/after X”, and then get marked as unread; responding gets added to my (physical) to-do list. The spammy things and the things that require no action on my part usually just sit there, unread, forever. So my inbox is a giant mess with many thousands of unread emails. It’s inelegant but it works for me.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Every now and then I’ll have a spare 45 minutes, and sometimes I’ll use that time to delete old newsletters and marketing emails. But not often. Mostly they just sit there because I have other things that take priority.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I’m sure you are! But I think the point is that carefully reading and filing every single email you receive isn’t the only way to be organised or efficient. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean it’s inherently better or works for everyone.

    6. Important Moi*

      I agree with you, GimmeGimmeGimme (cute name, by the way).

      The comments are definitely leaning the other way today.

    7. smoke tree*

      I think it really depends on the content of the emails! I need to use a sorting system for mine because I receive a lot of very similar requests that require lengthy follow-up and I need a way to see which ones are completed, which ones are in progress, which ones need to be started, and so on.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It most certainly is a “person to person” thing when it comes to organization techniques. Just like dieting to be honest.

      I have had a lot of generally disorganized bosses over the years, none of them have actually been inefficient or anything of the sort. Whereas I work best when things are neat and orderly, it keeps my other mental quirks to a dull roar.

      So I never really bother with that kind of surface stuff, it just doesn’t matter.

      Also my bosses and I really vibe off each other because they’re kind of a “put this wherever it fits” and I’m the “put it in it’s designated home” person. Their piles make sense, my filing systems make sense, it all works out in the end, no harm no foul.

  22. CardCarryingMember*

    It might just be that he checks all or most of his email on another device, and his office inbox is configured to show anything that he doesn’t open on that device as unopened. My email is set up that way – so almost all my email in my office inbox shows as unopened – sometimes more unopened emails than this boss has – but I’ve read them all on my phone or iPad or whatever.
    It shouldn’t be any sort of flag whatsoever.

  23. emmelemm*

    Wow! That would stress me out so hard.

    In my professional capacity, I don’t receive a ton of emails, so they’re all read, and, you know, sort of responded to, mostly.

    In my personal email box, I never have a ton of *unread* messages, but I have read emails sitting in my inbox because I haven’t taken action or fully processed or otherwise been done with them so as to file them away somewhere or delete them. Sometimes that means responding, but it also just means like, someone sent me a link to an article I really do want to read, but I haven’t yet. As of right now, that’s a few hundred and *that’s* stressing me out.

    Ten thousand unread emails! I think I need to lie down.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Ah, but the will.

      Though, I would never count on something technical that is supposed to be easy, and was before the last update, continuing to be easy.

      1. The OP*

        Well, by reading all the comments, I guess there are two types of people, the i-need-to-clear-my-inbox type and the leave-it-as-unread-and-carry-on. I guess, after reading Alison’s answer, and the comments, this has nothing to do with being good at your job. I for instance NEVER organize my e-mails in folders, but it would stress the hell put of me to have more than 20 unread mails!!! Theb again, I guess it s psychological!

        1. hbc*

          I think there are a bunch of us who live in the grey zone. I pretty much have no unread emails, and I move them to folders when I’m pretty much done with them (minus the “revisit” folder, where I know it’ll be important but I can’t do anything yet.) There are still 500 or so emails in my main inbox that I planned on addressing relatively soon, some of which are guaranteed to be obsolete at this point. I’ll move them eventually.

  24. Falling Diphthong*

    I think you should consider the possibility of an outright contest to see which manager can accumulate the most unread emails in a set time period.

  25. usuallyi'mjustalurker*

    OP, this is unusual, but not unheard of for lawyers. In-house counsel walk a careful path when it comes to attorney-client privilege. If you are working for a firm, generally every client communication that you write is protected from discoverability (discoverable means that the other side in a court case could compel you to turn it over to them for review). When you are in-house, it’s more difficult than that, because some of your emails will be legal advice and some will be ordinary business. Some attorneys protect themselves from exposing a company’s business by limiting their use of email. There are obvious pros and cons to this, but I would guess that she does read email by scrolling through the preview pane and then she chooses what she’s going to handle, most of it in meetings rather than via email.

    1. i forget the name I usually use*

      Oh, good point! Ye olde attorney client confidentiality would be a definite incentive for some people to include their attorney on certain emails as best practice. Meaning a flood of emails that are not necessarily something that needs their full attention or action, but that they need to be included on.

  26. Samwise*

    Right now I have about 2400 emails in my inbox.

    I get emails from my calendar and from our appointments / notes software: an email when a student makes an appt. An email when I make an appointment. An email when the system sends a text message to remind the student about the appt. An email that tells me what my appts are for today. I cannot turn these off. I also get emails from departments all over campus, some of which I need to respond to, some of which I just need to see, and some of which I can safely ignore. It’s faster to just ignore those last ones. I get a bit of spam, not too much because the university is zealous in stopping it before it gets to us.

    And then there are things like today, when I signed in to get a flu shot on campus: email about the flu shot clinic, email when I logged into the system, email when I changed my password (required), email that I had accessed the registration system, email with my flu shot appt. From previous experience I know that I will get email reminders every week until I get the shot, at which point I will get an email that thanks me for getting my shot. (An argument for getting the shot as early as possible — if my appt were in November there’d be that many more emails.)

    I filter a lot of this crap into separate folders, but I very rarely go clean out those folders, because they’re just full of crap and it’s a waste of my time to look.

  27. C Average*

    Back in my corporate days, I had thousands of “unread” emails, despite being regarded as highly responsive. My email program showed me a preview of messages that, in most cases, displayed the entire message.

    I never deleted anything because I found through experience that it was nearly impossible to predict what information I’d need in the future. This led to me becoming the de facto archivist for my team. (“Hey, C, do you remember where we landed in that back-and-forth about preferred syntax?” “Hey, C, do you have the login for the test environment three versions ago?” “Hey, C, you wouldn’t by chance have the PowerPoint deck from that vendor’s guest presentation last January?”)

    I know there are arguments in favor of lots of different email organization systems, but I’ve found that if you have decent search kungfu, no organizational approach at all works fine . . . at least until you bump up against the storage limits.

    1. Brownie*

      My company just rolled out a change where our email program will only search the emails which have been locally indexed for searching and then only displays the most recent 200 emails found. As another de facto archivist of email this change has left me twitching in frustration as what used to be putting keywords into the search field is now 3 steps of run search, run advanced search, run advanced search on all not-locally-stored email and takes at least 3 times as long. My coworker with 60,000+ unread emails has given up at this point since search is now worthless to him and is asking other team members to resend critical information emails so he can file them instead of searching for them.

  28. Not Cal*

    I’d encourage everyone to reduce their attachment to email. It increases productivity, gives you freedom over your time, and encourages people to actually work better together. link in moderation.

      1. auburn*

        This comment on this article really resonated with me:

        ” I recently worked with a person that pretty much lived off the email grid. It took me a while to realize he did not respond to 90% of the emails I sent so I learned to batch my questions, etc., for when he and I would meet. Two things happened: 1) I learned to dig for my own answers (something that actually helped me), and 2) most things I thought were “STOP the presses” issues fizzled into little molehills when deprived of email oxygen.”

        this is so, so, so my experience! Especially the “email oxygen” piece. So many people have a tendency to send off a quick email because some thought pops into their head or some small issue materializes and what they really need is to get it out of their brain and dump it into yours! Then all of a sudden they are off the hook since it’s off their mind and you are on the hook since it’s now sitting in your inbox. When you let your email set your priorities you often end up prioritizing someone else’s to-do list rather than your own. Now that makes sense if you are like frontline customer service or something. But for many, many management jobs it’s a very poor use of your time to spend all day replying to your colleague’s emails. Deprive them of oxygen and often a pretty high percentage of those things go away!

        1. Agnes*

          Maybe it’s a reading thing? I read super-fast, and it’s much faster for me to glance at an email than have a phone call or just about anything else. I could imagine it would be more of an issue for someone who’s a slow reader (or typer).
          I also turn off my email when I’m working on something that requires focus, and set aside regular times to address it.

          1. auburn*

            It’s not just the time it takes to read through. It’s that people use email in really annoying ways. Overwhelmingly! A recent email I got from Jodi on my team as a good example. I manage a big team so I could find hundreds of emails like this in my overflowing inbox! No matter how many times I ask people to put stuff like this on our one on one agenda I still get hundreds of emails like this. Believe me, I have tried to stem this tide.

            “I’m thinking we should consider reviewing our testing on teapot handle strength after the latest story about that teapot factory in Kansas City. Thoughts?”

            Ok. So it’s Jodi’s job to care about teapot handle strength. It’s not my day to day concern. I have no idea what the story out of Kansas City is so now I can either go searching for more info on google which is unlikely to result in much or dig out one of our industry trades I know she subscribes to and see if I can figure out what she means. Or I can email her back and start a chain about it and then get involved in a back and forth but then I’ve just created more email for myself. Or I could pick up the phone. But from this email, I have no idea if any of this is actually urgent or a great use of my time today when I have a lot of other priorities.

            Now it’s Jodi’s job to keep this policy and if she thinks it should be revied she should probably review it! Then make recommendations to me at our one on one. Jodi and I have a meeting every Wed with a running agenda.

            From Jodi’s perspective, I don’t think this is intentional but she’s basically saying…Hey boss, I had this thought. I want you to know I’m thinking about this thing because it’s proactive to be thinking about this. But until you respond I can forget about it cause now it’s in your court until I hear back from you but I still get points for seeming proactive! So off my list and on to yours! And if it never gets reviewed well that’s now your fault because remember, I sent you an email and put the burden on you to push it forward.

            Ok, Jodi may be annoying me a little this week. lol.

            1. juliebulie*

              Maybe it’s more like “I want to do this thing and I need to know if it’s okay because I want to start right away like right now, okay??” worrying that she will be criticized if she runs with it before getting your agreement.

              I had a boss who seemed to think the way you do (that I was mentioning something so that I could pretend to be proactive but was really a lazy slob who didn’t want to do anything); but when I “showed initiative” instead, that was a problem too.

              You know Jodi better than I do, but it seems that you’re expecting the worst from her.

              1. auburn*

                I happen to like real Jodi (not her real name) a lot and she’s a newish manager so I am actually pretty forgiving of her. And I definitely don’t punish people for initiative. But If she wants to know if she should reprioritize her work to jump on something urgent then she should say that! This email is more like…here’s this thing. It may be important or it may not, I didn’t give you enough information to possibly make that judgment call I just vaguely want your thoughts. K bye thanks! now it’s on your plate. I’ll see you at next weeks one on one, possibly with no agenda and if y0u don’t reply I may never mention this again! (ok that last part is totally expecting the worst but it actually does seem to happen a lot)

                If Jodi wants to act she can say “hey boss. this thing happened in Kansas City. Here’s a link to get more context. I propose we push our TPS report due date so I can investigate and review our policy. Let me know if you have any concerns about that approach otherwise I’ll proceed tomorrow.” Well, that is a damn fine actionable email and an excellent use of my time. If I do need more info I’ll call you to discuss it knowing that you feel it’s urgent enough to push our other major deadline. Jodi, congrats, you are now my favorite employee!

                But I actually agree with the comment below that’s a communication issue more than an email issue. Email is just the most annoying way to have this particular communication issue manifest. But when you have 10-20 direct reports and 40-50 clients and a boss and a grand boss and a family and all of those people are emailing you about shit well…it’s really frustrating! In a back and forth conversation or even a chat I can at least pull the info out of you without having to email back and forth and craft thoughtful responses that people will read too much into and have this annoying exchange spread out over several days. I manage between 10-20 people depending on the time of year and maybe I suck at it but I’ve tried coaching for this behavior over and over, modeling alternatives, sharing my communication preferences and it’s just really hard to get this behavior to change. People just really, really seem to want to email dump! Basically I’m in the down with email camp I guess.

                1. juliebulie*

                  Thanks for explaining!

                  Even though email is my preferred communication style (I’m more text-oriented in general), I agree there are people who really don’t think about the way they use it, and the difference between what they want to tell you vs what you actually need to know. I had a half-dozen emails from one person today who truly is capable enough not to need cookbook-style instructions for every thing she does, but will never make a move without asking me first… one… email… at… a… time.

                  But I will save the rest of my venting on this topic for Friday!

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I think that can happen with all forms of communication, it reminds me of the people who IM all patchwork wise.

              “Cancel order 30234.”

              [Fingers ready to ask wtf we’re canceling this order for since I need a reason to know if charges apply, etc]

              “It’s a duplicate.”

              And I’m like “Dude…say it all at once. Spit it out, Jodi!”

              When the most efficient way is one big old line of. “Hi! Cancel order 30234, it’s a duplicate! Thanks.”

              Just like when someone shows up at your door and are like “Sooooooo. Heeeeeey, hows that cup of tea you’ve got there? You like Earl Grey too, eh? Sooooooooooo. That TPS report. About that. Can we discuss it like I think there’s some errors on it, you know.” *starts to climb out the window*

            3. LilySparrow*

              You could set up an autoreply to your team that says, “Does this question belong on our weekly agenda?”

      1. juliebulie*

        Sorry I missed the meeting. I guess Outlook ate my invite. Why don’t you put all that useful info up on the company portal that I never look at instead?

  29. AppleStan*

    For both work and for home, I have my system set so that unless I actually open the email, it remains as unread, no matter how long I “preview” the message. I have things color-coded and flagged for purposes of sorting and prioritizing, but the number of unread emails doesn’t necessarily bother me.

    Mostly because if I let it bother me, I would go insane, because I get way too many emails, but paradoxically, don’t want to be out of the loop.

    At one point, I did become overwhelmed with the number of “newsletter” type things in my personal inbox…that is when became my very best friend.

  30. Sharkie*

    I’m at 141 emails and it’s driving me mad.
    I once had a boss that made us clear our inbox every day before we left. It was madding because I use my inbox as one of my to-do lists.

  31. MOAS*

    I get annoyed at seeing 1 unread email (during work hours), I have so many coworkers at all levels with hundreds, even thousands of unread emails. Idk how anyone does it. drives me nuts.

  32. Samwise*

    Oh, and also email from students in which they send me a message every time they have another thought about an issue, and then an email from the student saying, never mind, I figured it out. LOL.

    And email from coworkers that does not need to be email, could go thru our chats or in person (can someone take my shift at llama grooming, cookies in the breakroom, who has the three-hole punch, do you have a minute to discuss llama teapots, no more cookies in the break room sorry I’ll bring more next time, congrats to Beezus for a great job on the teapot grooming workshop, does anyone know how to make the llama inventory app print a monthly report…).

  33. Bella*

    Oh man, I am also a (near) zero-inboxer and keep all my email inboxes tidy. I literally don’t know how people keep so many in their inbox. In general I find that those who have a ton of emails (especially unreads) are not as good as prioritizing, finding, or remembering emails as those who address them… but I have a small sample size that I have in mind.

  34. AnotherAlison*

    Does anyone with a massive number of emails in their inbox do project based work? I file everything into one project folder, but one of my engineers said he just leaves everything in his inbox even once it’s read. To me, that’s insane. It seems like Outlook’s search is fine if I’m looking for “llamas” but results are hit or miss if I want “Green llamas sweater contract”. If I limit each project to its own folder, I’m okay with being able to do only simple searches. . .I know the “llamas” are the “llamas” I want, not the “llamas” from an old project. I don’t know how he digs out something from a 2-years ago project.

  35. ThinMint*

    I desire to be a zero inbox person but I am just not. The amount of changes I would need to make for this to happen are way more than the moderate stress of dealing with my current inbox, which sits at a measley 6000 unread.

  36. TimeTravlR*

    My personal email has thousands of unread, but they are mostly junk that I just never delete. I skim the list each day and open the ones that matter.
    My work email OTOH … when I finish my day, I try to have less than 100 in my in box. All have been read or at least tagged for follow up later. I use the Hamster Wheel method for sorting things so I can find them, but I can’t keep them in my in box. I would lose my mind!

  37. Inbox 100k*

    Currently, I have 95,523 “unread” messages (a mix of personal and professional that feed into one email app). Why bother with the extra step of deleting them when I can scroll through the preview pane and quickly see which need further action? I turned off the notification bubble displaying the Unread count after several Inbox Zero friends gasped audibly at the sight of the number.

  38. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    You’ve seen my husband’s shopping email inbox? He has tens of thousands of unread emails in it. He gets on all sorts of sales mailing lists and then, rather than unsubscribing or deleting them, just ignores them.

  39. vanillacookies*

    I had a professor in college who was in the 100,000s. At some point when he was the department head he was added to every email list that could even remotely tangentially relate to him, and he never figured out how to unsubscribe.

  40. just a small town girl*

    I had a boss once who had 64,000 unread emails. Yes. That’s sixty four THOUSAND. I don’t know how. She’d worked there well over 20 years and had had to take leave a few times for up to a month at a time for family issues, but still. It was insane to me.

    Currently I work with a lady who reads her emails more but is a skimmer and has a ton incoming so stuff does get lost, and thankfully I’m already in the habit of letting people know if I’ve sent them an urgent/important email.

  41. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is also reminding me of the fact that so many places will send you an email for every-little-thing as well.

    I had one vendor who sent an order confirmation [good I want that one]. Then they send a notice when the status changes…”it’s been changed from pending to processed!” “now it’s been sent to the warehouse for picking!” “Now the label is cut!” “Now it’s on the truck!” then they signed me up for frigging UPS updates. I DONT CARE *screams and punches air* I just want the tracking number and I can do what I want with it, including signing up for updates but not for that copier paper I just ordered, I’m not that invested in that copier paper!

  42. ugh*

    I used to get 800+ emails per day. At an unrealistic pace of 20 seconds each that is about 4 hours of non-productive time per day. Filters, systems, etc do no good for that volume of email. Quit after 18 years of this and find although I still get more emails than I like (may 30 / day) it is much more manageable.

  43. ArtK*

    My company uses Outlook managed folders and they’re managed to have automatic deletion after a period. If you want to keep something outside of those limits, you have to move it to your own un-managed folder. I haven’t been here long enough to experience it, but it sounds like a good plan to me. I tend to keep read e-mails around far longer than necessary.

  44. Xandria*

    I think 10,000 unread emails would give me a heart attack. My inbox is currently at 7, and thats read but not sorted and/or dealt with yet. And I use the same email for personal and work (all about that freelance life).

    I did used to have a project manager who was frequently at 10k+ though, it gave me palpitations, but we were cc’d on pretty much all the same emails so we used to race to see who could find the info fastest, my carefully sorted files vs. his hedonistic free for all. We never really had a clear winner, so it just goes to show to each their own.

  45. Peaches*

    Just the thought of leaving my office in the afternoon with ONE unread email makes me stressed an anxious. LOL.

  46. in the file room*

    This thread is stressing me out! I’m an inbox-zero type with my work email – because of the nature of my job, my inbox is essentially my to-do list, so unread messages mean “angry client incoming” if they stick around too long. Whatever works for you, obviously, the though of more than a day’s worth of email in my inbox makes me want to run away screaming!

    When I was in my first couple of years of college my personal inbox had about 2000 junk emails in it, and that stressed me out until I cleared them all – definitely points to it being personality rather than productivity, as it’s not like those were impeding any of my actual work or life, just stressing me out!

  47. Shiny alolan raichu*

    I did see a colleague’s inbox once and he had a similar number of unread emails. It did not do my anxiety any good. FWIW, some of them he’s read but then re-marked as unread.

    A couple of months later he showed me his inbox and he’d marked everything as read. But last I heard he was 4000+ unread again.

    Stressed me out even thinking about it.

  48. Tableau Wizard*

    I guess I don’t understand how an organization doesn’t hold people accountable for reading emails. It seems like such a fundamental, basic, professionally-functioning-human task that I do not understand why it is acceptable to just not read your email.

    If you system is to leave stuff unread or whatever, that doesn’t bother me, but the expectation is that if you receive professional communication through email, you are responsible for the content of that email. This drives me crazy.

    1. Ella*

      About 90% of my work is email based, and I think my boss would fire me if I spent four hours a day opening and reading all the newsletter/advertisement/donation appeal/etc. emails I get. (And that’s what it would take if I were to individually open and read each of those emails.) I read and respond to every email that requires reading and responding to for work purposes, and leave the ones that aren’t relevant to my daily work unread but available if I want to find them later. I suppose I could mark that type of email as read without opening them, but they’re already filtered into a separate folder so it just doesn’t seem worth the effort to me.

      1. Tableau Wizard*

        See that’s just a matter of a weird “unread” count – if it’s in a separate filtered folder, that’s totally acceptable by my standards. I have my extra external distributions filtered like this too, but it doesn’t count towards my unread count.

        But when an important email DOES come along, it should be read and addressed which is so often not the case and gets so frustrating.

        1. Ella*

          Ah, fair enough. I also have no patience for people who won’t respond to important email. That said, all the “I can’t believe anyone could have so many unread emails!!” folks are odd to me, as though the number in a little red bubble is more important than actual responsiveness.

    2. Clementine*

      Like was mentioned, some people get enough email to read it nonstop for four hours per day, and they have actual deliverables they have to achieve that are not reading email. So what they are measured on are the deliverables, not whether they have read their emails.

  49. FortyTwo*

    I saw the title “My boss has 10,000 unread emails,” and thought-answered, Why do you care? If they’re doing a good job, why should you worry about something as trivial and personal as email maintenance? Everyone does it differently, and they have a system that works for them, so just move on as though you hadn’t seen it.

    1. Triumphant Fox*

      I think the main issue here is that they’re not doing a good job with email and are missing things from other departments, etc.

    2. Samwise*

      Yaaaaaasssss. I don’t get why folks in the commentariat feel anxiety when they see *their colleagues’* giant email inboxes. I don’t mean that in an unkind why — I’m genuinely puzzled as to why someone else’s inbox makes them anxious.

      I have to say, not feeling the need to have a zero inbox seems to me a plus — incoming email is not something I can control, as soon as I clear stuff up there’s more (so much more), so I just don’t worry about it. It seems stressful to me to need an empty inbox. But then, I’m one of those messy desk people…

  50. Ella*

    I’m at a collective 59,327 unread emails across three email inboxes. They’re 100% mailing lists/spam/etc that I have no desire to spend time marking as read or deleting. Gmail’s filter for important mail vs mailing lists/advertisements works quite well, so only difference marking those as read or deleting them would make is that I’d not see that 59K number anymore, which isn’t worth the time to me.

    1. Mainely Professional*

      Oh my god. I am an inbox zero person (well, inbox 17 is my magic number) and I am tabbing over to delete stuff right now just to calm down.

    2. Watry*

      Oh my goodness yes. I’m not exactly inbox zero, but still. There are a LOT of emails I have to keep because state/federal law, so I just use folders. My boss on the other hand, gets about 4x the emails I do and doesn’t always have the time to deal with them, so her inbox is about 10k. I’ve had to help her with things at her computer before and I can’t even look at the number when she leaves it up.

    3. Ella*

      Hilariously, I’m very zen about unread email counts but everyone here talking about cavalierly deleting emails is giving *me* hives of anxiety. I don’t delete anything from my inbox because inevitably the moment I do I’ll need that email for auditing/accounting/troubleshooting/etc purposes.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        When you say you don’t delete anything…does that mean you don’t even delete spam or a “thank you” email? The ones I’m deleting are never ever going to be needed again.

        I do save OOO messages or automated “we received your email” though because I’ve had to throw those automated emails in faces at times because people still swear they never got them and use it as a reason not to pay their GD bills on time. So those are necessary but yeah, there’s still actual emails in there with literally no purpose other than taking up space!

        1. Ella*

          We use gmail in my office, so thank you or confirmation of receipt emails are generally threaded, so it doesn’t take up any additional real estate, and I’d actually prefer to keep them either way as I often do need to go back and remind myself or others that they did in fact see something. Things like newsletters and ads are automatically sorted into a different folder so I’m not looking at them all the time, but no I don’t delete those either (other than actual spam which I believe is automatically deleted after 30 days, but I never see because it’s routed to the spam folder.) Honestly, I occasionally do dig back for an old advertisement email to see if there are useful coupon codes, and gmail gives enough storage that I’m not at risk of running out of space. Even if I didn’t, it just doesn’t feel worth the time it would take to decide if I might one day want to access an email and then delete it, and I’ve been surprised before by what seemingly insignificant messages ended up being useful down the line. Even just “I know Tom Smith was still at X organization on August 5th because he authored the newsletter they sent that day.”

    4. Mimmy*

      Same here!!!

      My personal inbox is at *only* 1,784 but all are read. I cannot imagine having so many UN-read emails! My eyes bugged out at the post’s title and then bugged out even more at reading everyone’s replies!

      I do save emails, either “just in case” or out of laziness, but I’m also good about immediately deleting emails–work and personal–that I have no use for. I know that it won’t always be this easy: when I’m with my internship supervisor, her email arrival notification goes off every couple of minutes – that would drive me insane.

    5. Mockingjay*

      I can handle a crowded inbox because I will whittle it down by Friday, even though I have two email accounts for work. One is my main working account; the other is corporate stuff. What I can’t stand is people sending random subject lines so I can’t filter or put in the correct folder.

      We’ll have an email string on Project X, then someone will reply all and start an entire new thread on Project Y, using the Project X subject line. Ugh.

      I also loathe repeat emails. We have several people who, if I don’t respond immediately, will send another email to my corporate account. If I still don’t respond, they call, then text, then email again. Repeat sequence. Fergodsakes, I’ll get to you. Your stuff isn’t due until Friday and it’s only Tuesday.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it’s just vicarious. It would stress me out so much if it were my inbox; I wouldn’t be able to relax until I’d dealt with it all.

        Beyond that, I can be prone to feeling overly invested in other people’s situations. There’s a reason I write an advice column…

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Do you ever get a gut reaction to things like an overgrown messy lawn or garbage spilling everywhere from a trash can?

        It’s the same reaction as some have to the idea of an overflowing unread email account! Sure, it’s not our lawn but we now it exists and sometimes have to look at it out of the corner of our eye and yikes!

        1. Malty*

          I also find these things have a ‘weight’ to them that’s hard to explain, but now I know someone elses exists, I can feel that weight, and that many emails is heavy!

    6. The OP*

      I am really amused by all the comments, and seeing that we have two teams here (and maybe a third grey-zone team?). I do not understand how one can remain calm with so many unread e-mails, it would really really stress me out. I mean I can perhaps manage 100 unread e-mails (and yet again, I am not so sure that I can mentally accept the idea), but having thousands of them? But at least now I know that it is not unheard of, and many people function that way.

      Maybe when I’ll have 20 years of experience, I will reach that level!!! I will give you un update then ;)

  51. Triumphant Fox*

    I just looked at my total and noticed it was high, then realized I have a ton of emails from one of our programs that was set to notify via email for ever single thing. I’m about 2,000 emails lighter now, but still won’t every be at 0. So much of what I need is in the snippet and I don’t want to spend my time deleting emails.

  52. Ya'll*

    I work at a mid-sized nonprofit. The head of our finance department doesn’t check his emails. Period. The only way to get information from him is to speak in person or go straight to his office right after sending the email to ask him to check it and reply. Which he will do instantly.

    As a zero inbox kinda person this drives me up an absolute while.

  53. HailRobonia*

    This reminds me of all the over-stuffed physical mailboxes in my office. We all have small mailboxes outside our doors or cubicles. Even though we don’t get much mail (a lot of it is junk, flyers, etc.) half the people in my office don’t empty them at all; I see in one person’s box a “happy new year” postcard from a vendor… and I’m not even sure it’s referring to 2019…

    Why not just toss all this junk? Is is some power play like “I’m too important to bother with this”?

    1. Samwise*

      Nah, they really just don’t notice it. They don’t look at their mailbox or, they do look but it’s just that vendor postcard from 2012. Throwing it out is an extra step. I actually used to have a sticky note in my office to check my mailroom box — it’s habitual now, so I look and most times deal with whatever’s in there every morning. (Sometimes I leave stuff in there for awhile because I’m not ready to deal with it.)

  54. Sara*

    I had a sales manager that didn’t know how to mass delete old emails, so he just left them unread and they piled up. I expressed surprised at the thousands of email and he just said it was easier than trying to figure out how to delete them all at once (these were from when he started, years prior). I am slightly more tech savvy, so I archived everything in his inbox over six months old, and he was really appreciative. BUT I very much doubt he ever followed through, so I would guess its back up to the thousands again.

  55. Junior Assistant Peon*

    My boss is like this too. It’s really demoralizing to have at least half the questions I ask him go down a black hole. I’m never sure whether no response means no, or means he never saw the email.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Have you tried talking to him about how he prefers to communicate? Since it sounds like he’s not actively an email person, perhaps if you used IM or text or dropped by his office for chats it would work better?

      Email around here is something that is noted as “do it whenever you can” whereas an IM means “I need this quick answer, sooner rather than later.” and drop by means “I need your decision now.”

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        I had a boss and he and I handled operations-related issues. We were in different provinces. I would call and he would be too busy to handle it right now, so please email. So I would email and follow up with another email and nothing got done.

        “I’ve got a 1000 unread emails so please call!” His preferred method, right? Voice mails, “oh, right, remind me again”, etc. and stuff didn’t get done any faster.

        He just wasn’t organized and it was so frustrating. If I had been able to drop into his office, I would have, believe me, but I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have made a difference based on how he operated…

  56. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Alison is 100% right. I personally use my inbox as a to-do list. It’s there until I respond or do the work related to it, then it gets filed into a folder for reference or deleted. But I’ve known people with thousands of emails in their inbox who find no issue searching within it to find what they need. I think the main problem with your manager is that she’s not responsive when people email her. Now whether that’s due to having too many unread emails or being someone who works better with personal contact (phone/text/in person) is unclear, but that’s for those who can’t get an email response to address directly with her and figure out what works for both of them.

  57. Mop.*

    There is no way I could ever read all my email, even if I worked 24 hours a day. Basically I just flag things from my boss and direct reports to read with 48 hours. I scan for things that sound urgent and it’s worked ok, but if I read everything it’d be a full time job.

  58. Anonymous 52*

    I get hundreds of e-mails a day, many of which only need to be quickly scanned or filed…it would truly be a full time job to read all of my e-mail.

    1. Mazzy*

      My boss does too. I need to let it slide when he inadvertently ignores me. Unfortunately, he gets CC’d on a bunch of stuff he doesn’t need to be on, so sometimes messages get lost.

  59. Ophelia*

    I have my Outlook set to 0 seconds… the moment I click on it, it is marked as read. I also do NOT put subfolders in my Inbox. I have a separate “Saved” box that I have organized for emails. Then I have another box called “Filtered”. Subfolders in my Filtered box are obviously automatically moved via Outlook filters, whereas emails in my Saved folder have been manually moved by me for specific reasons. My Inbox is used as a working folder – if it is in there, it is in progress. Once it is completed, it is either deleted or moved out to be Saved as a reference for later, but even then, I save copies of all “Sent” emails.

    It really, really stresses me out that so many of you have unread emails. Filter that spam or distribution email to a specific folder so you don’t gave to stare at it. The anxiety is unreal.

    1. Ella*

      Newsletters and such pretty quickly fall out of view in my inbox, and even taking the time to filter them would add up in a big way over the course of a year. If I spend twenty minutes each work day filtering email (and with the amount I receive, it would likely be more time than that) that’s 86 hours a year spent sorting?

      1. Allonge*

        Does your email client not allow for auto-filtering (rules, moving+marked read)? In mine it takes about two minutes to set up for any newsletter max and no more involvement from me needed afterwards. I am not inbox zero at all, but this is very useful anyway.

  60. A Non E. Mouse*

    I have 1400 unread right now, with 10K in the inbox itself, and lots of rules to shuttle hundreds of automated emails I get a day to folders without ever hitting the inbox.

    It works for me in that I often do not need to wholly digest information the first time, I just need to know the information is available. I read very quickly, so if I see the subject line of an email and think it’s worth leaving for later, I leave it untouched. Then, if in several weeks something comes up that sounds like a subject line I briefly read, I search the keywords, find the email, and read it.

    I do actually have to stay on top of hundreds of actual emails a day (not counting the automated ones that filter down to rules I need to keep for later inquiry), but manage to do that even with the thousands sitting in the inbox.

    It baffles my coworkers but they are also the very first people to ask me to find something and I can usually produce it like magic.

    Also I sometimes have the extreme satisfaction of digging up an old email that proves I’m not only correct on something, *but I told them so in writing 10 years ago*, and that’s just DELICIOUS.

    different strokes for different folks.

    1. Restless Legs McNeill*

      “It works for me in that I often do not need to wholly digest information the first time, I just need to know the information is available.” Totally. I have the receipts, I don’t need to read them.

    2. Jennifer*

      I have the same system! I usually can tell from the subject line and the first sentence or so that pops up whether it’s something I need to deal with immediately.

      I also like having the receipts if I need them one day.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh I keep all emails as well. I have the emails from before I was even here that I can recall and do if necessary, since it’s a generic box for each department and everyone before me kept emails as well.

      An email archive is also why I’m able to jump in and do things when I have had no training for a position. Just let me read your documents and I’ll piece things together fine.

  61. Bend & Snap*

    I once fired someone with 31,000 unread emails. Not because of the emails, but they were a symptom of a larger problem with organization and performance.

    My inbox is always clean and I get twitchy if there’s anything unread in there.

  62. Jake*

    I usually keep mine below 200.

    I’ll go through a streak once in a while for a week or two where I won’t click on emails I know are useless, which will pt me up over 100, then I’ll go back and mark them all as read when I have some down time.

    If I didn’t do that, I could easily accumulate a thousand unread emails a year and none of them would make any difference whatsoever.

    And that’s without having any subscription type emails.

  63. QuinleyThorne*

    The title alone made my anxiety spike, but that’s more because I associate tons and tons of unread emails with being overwhelmed.

    The current place I work has a mandatory retention schedule set up on all our email accounts. There are ways around it obviously, but I work for the state, and a majority of the employees here have zero curiosity about anything computer-related–which is part of the reason the retention schedule was implemented in the first place. People would just hang on to an email, forget it’s there, and it would inevitably drown in the stream on other incoming emails. The thing that always gets me though (in my experience anyway) is how the reasoning is always “well I need it in case I need to refer back to it,” but never seem to consider that they could, I dunno, flag it? Or even copy-paste it into a word document of all the things they need to remember and save it to their desktop? But if you point that out, they’re all, “well I don’t know how to do that, this is easier,” so you offer to teach them, and they say “no,” even though they can never find The Email when they need it, and they end up emailing me to forward it to them instead, and…

    This got away from me. Anyway. 10k+ emails, that’s a yikes from me dawg

  64. goducks*

    What makes people more uncomfortable, a whole bunch of unread emails or a whole bunch of unlistened to voicemails? I recently had over 100 unheard voicemails. I deleted them without listening to them, but experience at my job told me that 98% of them were people trying to sell me something. And the other 2% were from people who followed up in other ways.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      I think it really depends on the norms of your position/industry. For instance, if you’re a position within an industry that is largely public-facing, or if you work extensively with clients or something, there’s typically an expectation that you will check your voicemails regularly and return calls, as they tend to come from customers, clients, the public, etc.

      For me personally, in a work context, both unlistened voicemails and unread emails cause me about the same level of discomfort (I used to be an intake coordinator in a call center for work-comp patients), but if I had to pick, I’d say emails–voicemail inboxes fill up quicker because the space allowed is typically pretty limited. Like yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s manageable. If there’s no retention schedule or other rules in place to sort incoming emails though, it can get really overwhelming really quickly. Not even that all of the unread emails are even work-related, but just hearing someone go “Hey, did you get my email about Big Important Thing You’re Working On?” and then having to scour a virtual mountain of emails is anxiety-inducing.

    2. juliebulie*

      If I had 100 unread emails and couldn’t easily tell whether they were important or not, I wouldn’t like that, and it would take me a while to plow through them just to weed out the garbage, but it’d be okay.

      If I had 100 unheard voicemails I would hyperventilate for a little while and then call IT and ask if they could give me a log of the caller IDs, so that I could check and see if there was anything worth listening to (or if I had a stalker or something). Failing that, I’d ask them what’s the quickest way to delete all of them at once. Because I had only one coworker who ever called me, and she retired last year. The rest of the calls I get are from telemarketers or wrong numbers. Anyone else who might need to call me, even coworkers, would be calling my cell.

      I don’t do a lot of voicemail anyway, but my instincts tell me that I can process 100 emails much faster than I can process 100 vms.

    3. Pilcrow*

      Lately I’m listening to voicemails to see how many lawsuits are filed against me, how much money I owe the IRS, and how many debt relief companies want to help me out of the financial hole I’m in from all my legal and tax trouble.

      But good news! I apparently have a year’s worth of vacation packages to help me relax from it all! :)

      (In other words, 99.99% of my voicemails are robo-call spam/scams. The other 0.01% is a wrong number.)

      1. juliebulie*

        Last time someone dialed me by mistake, she apologized profusely, and I told her it was nice just to talk to a real human being making a legitimate phone call for a change.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I always screen my calls, so if it went to voicemail it was probably on purpose [sales calls]. I also know that 98 of them are probably hangup calls.

      But I’d look at the call log because I’d want to know if it was one psycho hosebeast trying to track me down. I’ve had it happen where someone would call back every 5 minutes trying to get a response to their “urgent” request. Guess what, it’s never urgent. I don’t work in medical or regularly bail people out of jail, so it’s always always someone who wants to cancel an order, needs a copy of an invoice, needs a receipt, needs to track a package [oh surprise, we already sent you the tracking and BTW it’s been received…3 days ago…check your ef’ing receiving!] How may urgent calls have I had in almost 20 years of doing this stuff? Zero. Literally, nothing has ever been that dire. Since you know, if it’s important you hang up and try someone else. Even an audit doesn’t require an invoice/receipt that very moment or hell shall rain down and demolish the entire world around them!

      1. QuinleyThorne*

        Ahhh, “urgent” requests that are just thinly-veiled requests for status on a Thing they KNOW isn’t ready yet.

        The most annoying thing is when I’m working the front, and direct a call to someone who doesn’t answer, and instead of *leaving a voicemail* they just call back to say that person didn’t answer. Even though that’s literally what a voicemail is *for.*

  65. Goya de la Mancha*

    I’m currently at 2,033 total emails, all read and sorted. I can not even fathom having 10k unread. I start to sweat if I can’t clear off the (1) immediately after a new one comes.

    I also have 3 different emails that i use almost daily (work, personal, and junk), so I know everything in my work box is related to work and not store coupons/spam emails.

    1. Lindsey*

      Oh man. At work I get something like 40-50 emails a day at least. To have only 2033… in total… is a dream!

  66. StaceyIzMe*

    I like to label and archive, using filters. That way, it’s not showing up in my box, but I can find it if I need to.
    But your boss is a professional accident waiting to happen, as you saw by her lack of understanding of an email that she supposedly read and also by her lack of filtering/ grouping that caused her to miss an analysis of a file that was of at least some importance. Texting can’t replace email, since it’s not easily long-form. And- there’s no way to GET and KEEP important content and documents in most offices that doesn’t center around email (at least in part). I feel sorry for your boss because I think that one of these days, her good luck will run out and she’ll be dealing with an extreme mishap occasioned by this “no handle” email policy. If it impacts an important client or someone superior to her, it’s not going to be pretty…

  67. CM*

    As a fellow in-house lawyer, I bristled at the tone of your letter. Especially this line: “I haven’t worked for her that long and, given my autonomy, I do not closely work with her, so I cannot truly evaluate her competence or workload.” And how she “does not seem to be overloaded with work.”

    The GC is the decision-maker and a member of the executive team. You work for her. It is not in any way your job to evaluate her competence or workload. It’s not your job to monitor how many unread emails she has, or whether your colleagues have an issue with her, or how many hours she works compared to you.

    Every GC I have worked for or with has been extremely busy and has had to juggle lots of competing demands on his or her time and attention. You may not see this since you recently started this job. Your GC has shown that she’s responsive, but not to email. So learn a lesson from this and communicate with her in other ways.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      If the company has an email culture, as many do, it’s typically not acceptable in any position to be unresponsive to email.

      Some of the highest-ranking people I work with are incredibly responsive to email…because it’s part of their jobs.

    2. GetAGrip*

      Wow! Someone is testy. Have a snickers, dear. Your “outrage” is a bit ridiculous. Or is it just normal for someone in the field of law to be rude & obnoxious?

  68. RUKiddingMe*

    Oh this is making me itchy. I want to go to OP’s boss’s email account and do a mass delete. Is that wrong?

    1. juliebulie*

      Well… it’d be wrong to do it.
      But it’s not wrong to want to do it!
      (The heart wants what it wants!)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No! I just want to go in and right click “mark all as read”, don’t destroy it, just turn off the blinking light!!!

  69. Ellen N.*

    It sounds to me like the boss may have a learning disability associated with reading. The original poster seems to get better results talking with the boss than sending emails. Also, the letter writer stated that the boss misunderstood an email.

    1. Mop.*

      To me it just sounds like they’re slammed and the LW needs to worry less about the boss’s performance and more about her own.

      1. The OP*

        Well, I do worry about my own performance. This is not the question. It is just that I have never come accross someone with so many unread e-mails, but now thanks to Alison and all of the commentaters, I am aware that this can be quite common and has nothing to do with competence.

      2. GetAGrip*

        Wow! No need to be snippy with the OP. That many emails is considered a red flag in many industries. If that happened in my office, there’d be some serious discussions going on. Especially when the back up person logged in and had no idea what had been done when everything is in the same folder.

    2. auburn*

      I’d say most people who got through law school and then worked their way up to being general counsel at a medium-sized company with a team of 6 direct reports is likely a pretty competent reader. This is a stretch.

  70. Similar situation*

    I have a co worker who had at least 9000 emails. Drives me nuts, not because she has that many, but because she’s gets in my business before she tends to her own!

  71. Ruth (UK)*

    I repeatedly get my unread emails to 0 and frequently delete old or no longer needed emails, keeping my inbox typically under about 20-30 (read or unread). I rarely delete from my deleted items so on the odd occasion I want to look again at something I have deleted, I tend to find it quite easily with a search of my deleted items folder. I only keep messages in my inbox if I still need to do something with them.

    My boss is more like the 20,000 unread email type though. One reason, however, is that his role is actually a job share with another person. One of the things they do to help track what still needs doing is they have both set their settings so that emails will not automatically mark themselves as read once they’ve been opened/read. They have to do it manually. They only mark them as read when they’ve been dealt with, not just read. Once actioned, they’ll mark it as unread but it means that many informational emails that require no action, or things that don’t concern them but they were just on the mailing list, and so on are indefinitely just left as unread and in the inbox, so the unread numbers rack up. Both of them are actually fairly responsive to emails (and contact in general) but seeing their inbox numbers can really stress me out…

  72. ap*

    I usually have a couple hundred at any given time. If I get to an email conversation after a bunch of back and forth, I might just read the most recent ones and so the others aren’t marked as read even though I’ve seen the messages in a thread. Every now and then I’ll go to my unread email folder and mark some read.

  73. Pilcrow*

    We use JIRA for project tracking. So. Many. Emails.
    We have doc approval flows in emails and ping-backs from approvers. Soooo. Many. MORE. Emails.
    We have automatic notifications for docs published to SharePoint. Make it stop!

    We made the move to Teams this year; pretty good for reducing emails, UNTIL… you’re not at your desk. What does Teams do? Sends an email! (Although I think that can be configured.)

    I have rules set up to shunt off most of the automatic stuff, but still, soooooooooo many emails!

    1. juliebulie*

      I thought I liked filters in Outlook, but I didn’t realize just how much I liked them until we started using JIRA.

    2. Ellie*

      We use JIRA too… I have configured my notifications, I have many, many sub-folders with automatic rules for everything, many of them going straight to deleted items. And right now my unread messages count is at 422.

      I love JIRA, but you’ll never have an empty inbox again.

  74. Noah*

    Some people also just don’t have the setting on to mark their messages as “read,” so they’ve actually read their “unread” emails. This is surprisingly common, actually.

  75. Lindsey*

    My boss does this. It somewhat drives me nuts, but he manages. He also gets an absurd number of emails per day… While I do too, I acknowledge that I spend a lot of time going through them, and there are other things I could be doing that are arguably more important than reading all my emails. So I try not to judge, and I’ve just learned to chase if I need something, or if it’s really important I’ll sometimes put the question in the subject line or literally put “please read” as part of the subject line, or flag as “important” (although it’s important you don’t do this for every single email or it loses its impact).

    I had a previous coworker who would actually read all his emails but instead of putting them into folders or flagging them, he’d mark them unread again after reading them. This seemed horribly confusing to me, but it worked for him, even though he had thousands of unread emails. I guess when he scanned his inbox he knew the unread ones were the important ones (this is similar to how I use flags, and I flag a huge number of emails and never unflag).

    At the end of the day, people manage their inboxes differently and it’s somewhat personal. I know it drives me nuts when people try to tell me how to organize my own inbox or calendar rather than letting me do what works for me.

    When you see evidence that it ISN’T working for your manager, just give a gentle reminder or email again or go to her office. If she’s missing emails other than yours… for the most part, that’s her problem not yours, but it’s reasonable to give a gentle reminder if you know she should be expecting something in particular.

    Even if she doesn’t seem swamped, it’s possible that even if she’s worse than average at email, she’s far above average in something else she’s doing instead during that time. For example maybe all her projects are higher quality and delivered early because she’s spending less time reading/responding to every single email.

    But yeah, this would somewhat annoy me too.

  76. ggg*

    I have hundreds of thousands of unread emails.

    Some are spam. Many others are spam-adjacent (companies offering to sell or buy something that I might theoretically be interested in but not right now, notifications that some bureaucratic process has reached the next stage of review, seminars in other departments, etc.). For some of them I can tell what I need to do from the subject line alone (I like these).

    I don’t delete anything. They all stay in one big chronological queue for later searchability. I only ever file things that are useful for my performance review or my staff’s performance reviews. This is less than 50 emails per year. Every 5 years or so I move the whole thing to a folder called DMZ (date) and start over.

    Sometimes I want to write in about people with elaborate email filing systems and how weird they are. :)

    1. ggg*

      I should also admit, once in a while I miss an email. Inevitably the person will send another one, or call to remind me. I sincerely appreciate that, and endeavor to not have it happen too often.

  77. Amy cakes*

    I have about 10,000 unread because our outlook is web based and even if I don’t click on the email it shows up in the window to the right where I can read it. So I have already seen it and if I didn’t click it’s because it says “thanks! You too!” Or something else pointless. Hahah

  78. Aoifs*

    Glad Alison mentioned the filter thing. Can’t believe how many people have a hissy fit over my old phone’s email app in the top corner of my screen that had thousands of unread messages. For some reason when I synced my email to my phone it listed all the emails I’d ever received to that account as unread and I wasn’t about to go clicking every single email to mark them as read (even though they were all read on my computer). Your eyes seem to just adjust over time to not look at that particular notification count.

    Aside from all that, your boss is still really out of touch with office norms. Emails have been a staple since what, the 90s?

  79. Cat Meow*

    Is the exact email count real or has it been changed? It seems like the boss could easily be identified from putting the exact count.

  80. Green Arrow*

    I work for a school and my boss (the principal) is one of those people. I just choose to pretend that doesn’t exist and focus on wading through his computer desktop ENTIRELY full of files…

  81. Gary*

    I had a grandboss who only opened an email message if he read and then felt the subject was of relevance to him. Otherwise it stayed unread.

  82. WorkingGirl*

    I ran a music blog for seven years. Being on press release lists meant my inbox reached like…. 36,000 unread. If I read every press release I wouldn’t have time to write!

  83. Myrcallie*

    My manager just got a promotion, and she now gets 100-200 emails per day- and she’s still a long way off the most senior member of our department. The deputy head has unread emails from *November*, simply because she gets such a massive rush of them constantly that there’s no way for her to get to them all (especially when a lot of them are just her being copied into things she doesn’t really need to be). So it might be less an organisation issue, more of a mass of communication issue?

  84. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

    My boss has 10000+ “unread” emails. We do most of our work on a separate project management system and on chat, and even with a team inbox and folders where we dump automated messages from any systems we support, there’s still just a lot of stuff that we all leave in our personal inboxes and then bulk delete when it’s clear we don’t need it after a period of time. Occasionally he misses things but most of the time it’s fine (shrug). Email is really just for a paper trail with other teams in our workflow.

  85. Amethystmoon*

    I could never have that many. Even when I get news headlines in my inbox, I read them or delete them once a month. It would stress me out to just look at the number.

    If your boss is using Outlook, you can set it up to automatically archive e-mails, and that might be a suggestion for your boss. I would even offer to do it just to not look at all those e-mails.

  86. David White*

    This reminds me of something that came up at my very first job in the late ’90s. It looked like the head of sales would not receive many e-mail messages. At first, the sales and marketing department were routinely raked over the coals for not sending messages to him. When it became clear they were sending stuff to him, IT were berated for not being able to figure out what was wrong with his e-mail.

    Eventually it was discovered he did not know how to scroll down. He’d been receiving the e-mail messages but if they got knocked off the front screen he wouldn’t go looking for them.

  87. Veronica*

    My boss is like this too. When I started working here several years ago he told me he had more than 1,000 emails in his inbox and not to email him.
    He likes text. If I have to email him a document – usually by his request – I have to text him to tell him it’s in his email.
    I know he’s missed important things in his email, but he’s not going to change. I think some of it is him enjoying the image of being so dynamic he can’t read his emails.

    1. Lemon Ginger Tea*

      Yeah, I think in a lot of cases it becomes a point of pride. One time we brought it up as an issue and he suggested we just have IT wipe the whole thing and start fresh. Which would be problematic because of record keeping laws. I think he just said it to see the looks on our faces.

  88. Confused*

    People with 1000s of emails – you know you can filter them, right? I leave my inbox at zero, but for recurring work emails that I’m not going to read but might one day need, I just filter them all into different folders (it takes 10 seconds one time and they’ll auto-filter after that). Bam, clean inbox.

  89. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Ok, this is my boss. He only responds to things (sometimes) when you mark them as VERY IMPORTANT (red asterisk). He also prefers text or phone call since he himself is traveling 90% of the time.

    I’m working on calling him when I need it, but I take issue with suggesting that texting is the answer. My company doesn’t cover any portion of my cell phone expense, and so I do not want to use my personal cell phone in *any* work capacity except like, calling my coworker when I’m out sick.

  90. Existentialista*

    I currently have nearly 10,000 unread emails in my work Inbox and 180,421 unread emails in my personal email Inbox. I am a strong advocate of this way of working. Especially with technology today, it is much, must faster to search than to file, so my approach has saved me thousands of hours over the years. Every quarter I dump everything into a folder called “Inbox – Old” and move on. I manage my To Do list elsewhere. I don’t have a history of missing or losing emails. I really recommend that everyone try it! But I know there are some who never will.

    1. KatyO*

      Outlook has a function where you can disposition an email with one click. I move it and get it out of my inbox. I can’t imagine having that many emails in my inbox just in case I might need it later. Wow!

  91. Urdnot Bakara*

    I’m at ~400 right now on my work email, but that’s because I leave stuff marked as unread to remind myself to revisit them/follow up. I always do, but sometimes I forget to mark them as read afterwards! I go through and clean out my inbox every few months, though.

  92. JD*

    I hit the 100,000 mark a few months ago and decided I had to make a change! Even though they’re kind of harmless, all those emails were taking up psychic space in my brain. I got Mailstrom and deleted about half. Right now I’m sitting at 47,000 and feel lighter. Check back in a few months!

  93. KatyO*

    If I have to scroll when my email is open full screen, then my inbox is too full and stuff has to be moved. Of course, I have sub-folders for emails that I need to work on, read later, etc. I can’t stand to have a full in-box. It gives me anxiety. Ha Ha

  94. Hawk*

    All I know is that I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack if I have so much as a single unread e-mail in my work or personal inboxes.

  95. nodramalama*

    I don’t think its that big a deal- not everyone is an inbox zero person. My grandboss often has crazy amounts of unread emails. She’s cced into so many, I just make sure to flag it with her in person, or I put in the subject line: “FOR GRANDBOSS ACTION”

  96. Everyone is Different*

    I always tell people that I can keep a zero-inbox OR do my job, but not both. Cleaning out my inbox takes about six hours a day given all of the cc’s I’m on, but aren’t actually necessary for me to respond. I wouldn’t have time to do my actually job.

    I work with folks who are incredibly responsive and have 5,000 unread emails. I also work with a number of zero-inboxers that are so quick to get to zero they gloss over requests or don’t follow-up on emails like I ask because they want the satisfaction of zero. This puts a lot more work on me and my fellow coworkers so they can feel better.

  97. Mary Ellen*

    I get about 100 emails a day and hit inbox zero with little stress or excessive time in my email. Here’s how:

    1. Check email 3 times a day. Only on my laptop.
    2. Use priority inbox in Gmail.
    3. Review emails from right to left, leaving only things that require an actual response from me in my real Inbox.
    4. All other emails get deleted or archived. No folders or tags.
    5. Any email that I can answer in 2 minutes or less, I do.
    6. If it requires more effort than that, it’s no longer just “checking email” and it gets acknowledged and turned into a Basecamp task/s.

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