I used to aspire to “inbox zero” — that zen state of an empty inbox with important messages filed into their proper folders and everything else archived. When I was busy, this was pretty much impossible to maintain. I used to be a vendor for Microsoft, and they like to send emails. If I was working on 2 or 3 (or 12) projects at a time, I would get hundreds of emails each day, and the process of sorting them at the end of the day was more work than it was worth.
But still, I would occasionally clean up and archive. What I found, though, was that having everything sorted and filed made it harder to find emails, not easier. Then I switched to Gmail for both work and personal accounts. Google — unsurprisingly — has pretty good search functionality. Today I leave every single email in my inbox. I have had to search for files or links in emails sent two years ago, and if I got rid of everything that would be impossible.
I can’t tell you how many times having ALL of my mail has been useful. And how many times was inbox zero useful? Not once. The only thing I got was a sense of satisfaction from finishing the chore. My personal Gmail account currently shows 2,243 unread messages, and that doesn’t bother me in the least. I leave most of the junk unopened, and I’ve never missed a message from a real person. I’m pretty vigilant about responding to anything needing a response within a few hours, otherwise it gets buried. That’s the only downside I’ve found for this method.
My theory of productivity involves “minimum effort for maximum results.” I’d rather spend more time doing the things I enjoy, and less time sorting and organizing email.