105,633 unread emails.

105,633 unread emails

Dan said to me,  go to your Gmail and look at the number that’s to the right of the word “Inbox”. What does it say?

I took a look. 105,591.

Dan said, That’s the number of unread email messages you have. Not even spam messages, which goes in another folder. That’s the emails you’ve gotten from people that you actually know AND that you haven’t even opened up and read.

I already knew this. I carry that number with me everywhere, like a weight on my back.

Its Passover. So I’m one of those sweaty, slave jews carrying mud bricks on my back like in that Charlton Heston movie so that Pharaohs could have their pyramids. Those jews had a lot of work to do, if that movie was true. They had to roll around in the mud all day making bricks. All the while Egyptian soldiers are hitting them with whips. Most of the jews I know now would not be able to roll around in the mud like that.  And whats with the word “jew”? Is it a bad word? Or a good word? Am I “a jew”? Or a “jewish person”?

charlton heston as moses

(Charlton Heston wrote the first “Top 10…” list blog and the rest is history)

Ok, I said to Dan. I have a lot of unread emails.

Guess what my number is, he said.

I don’t know.


Which was very impressive to me. He told me he’d been cleaning up his emails. He’d gone back four or five years and just started deleting all of the unread ones.

He’s turning 36 this weekend. Happy Birthday, Dan.

Which could mean that he has this big sense that the first half of his life is now officially over. 72 seems like a reasonably long time to live. So he wanted to clean things up.  Get things down to only one unread email.

I forgot to ask him the critical question of course. What was the one email he was still keeping around unread?

Was it from me? Some late night paranoid worrying I might’ve had in 2006 that he knew even then he shouldn’t open and now that its 5 years later is neither here nor there. Whatever I was worried about then either came true in full force or had withered away on the vine like 99% of my other worries. Worries have a quick half-life.

So then I started to wonder: How come I have so many unread emails? I decided to go back to the first unread email to see what I was missing. To see how the pattern of disregard for my peers, family, friends, and colleagues all began.

Its an archaeological dig. A Mental Google Maps where you zero in on your past instead of on a geographical location. A place you got so lost from that now you need directions to find your way back.

My first of 105,631 (its gotten bigger since I spoke to Dan yesterday) unread emails is from January 7, 2005 from John Mauldin. It’s from his weekly email letter that he still sends out for free to 2mm email subscribers. Which reminds me: I need to do a post about John Mauldin at some point: the office he had in a baseball stadium near Dallas, our argument about Freakonomics and abortion, the crush I had on his daughter Tiffani, hanging out in Chicago, hanging out in La Jolla, etc. But that’s all another story. A story involving greed, despair, Frank Sinatra, Ponzi schemes, suicide, and so on.

But apparently on January 7, 2005 I completely ignored his email. Hold on a second. I’m going to read it right now.



It was titled, “Forecast 2005: The See-Saw Economy”

Here’s the critical piece of the email:

When the next recession comes in 2007, the stock market will drop. Average drops
during a recession are 43%. The Baby Boomer generation will realize that the
stock market is not going to bail out their retirement hopes.”

Dear John, why didn’t I read that email?

It would’ve saved me some grief (assuming I would’ve then paid attention to it). Should I read your latest book that came out? Or will I wake up in the middle of the night screaming.

Gmail is an extension of our lives now. We can’t run from it. I have 105,631 emails I have to do something about. Here’s four exercises for RIGHT NOW. Do it:

A)    Go back to your oldest unread email. Respond to it. I just hit reply on the John Mauldin email. “Looks like you were right”, I said.

B)    Pick two random emails from 2005. Sincerely respond to them. Duncan Coker sent me a New Year’s best wishes. I just thanked him and asked him how things are going. I hope he isn’t dead or anything.

C)    Select at least one email list you usually get. Filter it with “Spam” so at least you can eliminate that from now on from appearing in your unread messages number. I just got rid of an email list that was filled with negative people. Don’t need it. Spam.

D)    By searching through emails from 4 or more years ago, find three things you didn’t know (or forgot) about your life. Respond to them.

By the way, Google officially announced Gmail on April 1, 2004. Here’s the press release. (Click on above link)

I wonder if they released it on April Fool’s Day on purpose. If so, what a cruel, cruel joke they’ve been playing on me all this time. In the press release, Sergey Brin says, “If a Google user has a problem with email, well, so do we,”

Well, Sergey, I guess you have a problem then. What do I do with these 105,633 (it went up two) unread emails? Because I have no idea. And my life is probably more than half over.


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  • It seems that if someone needs a reply from you posting a comment on your blog is more reliable than sending you an email. :-)

  • Lbc

    why do you repeat that you’re jewish at every post?

  • Funny you should mention Google, look at my fortune from a cookie last night.

    Google will make a huge announcement in the near future.
    Lucky numbers: 27 13 8 19 25

    • Wow, was that really your fortune?

      • crazy, huh?

        • Did it happen to say what company Google was going to buy?

          • it didn’t say a thing about that.

            …but the dish we ordered was Kanuhear-minou (?)

  • Anonymous

    Great post, just trash them all. Start fresh!!!

    • Ha, I can do that. Maybe I’m an email hoarder. this can be like a new reality tv show. Email Hoarders.

  • I think something that really contributed to your massive inbox is that in one of your earlier posts you wrote that anyone with a problem or question can email you and that you will respond to every single email…I know I did (twice!).

    I wrote about how your blog has changed my life (or something to that effect) and was actually wondering why you didn’t reply – now I know!

    Anyway, your inbox will probably only grow from here as this (AMAZING) blog picks up in readership. Maybe you can make a bunch of different email addresses for different subjects that you can prioritize accordingly. For instance, one email for personal contacts, one for blog contacts, another for media, strippers, etc…

  • I’ve read a number of ways to “triage” one’s email. Given the advice I’ve read, it seems that some people can really be addicted to email. One of the more interesting things I’ve read on this topic is only looking at your email at a certain time of day (say 3pm). At 3pm, you log into your email and you take care of everything that’s there. This is supposed to prevent people from (reading email more than once). I know I’ve done this on a number of occasions — I read the email and leave it in my inbox, so I’ll end up reading it two, three, maybe four times — very inefficient.

    Something I’ve done recently is unsubscribe from lists/newsletters that I find I’m not reading. If I’m going to just delete the message anyways, why should I be on such and such’s list?

    With Love and Gratitude,


    • Thats a good idea. My schedule is varied during the day that I don’t know when I can set up the time is the problem.

  • Anonymous

    Over 100k? That’s crazy. I have a method for regaining control of your inbox. Wrote about that here: http://bit.ly/9vp6CI.

    Create 3 folders: Active, Library, Zoo.

    Active – Put any msgs here that you need to either follow-up on or respond to. Emails that require an immediate response should not be placed here. Respond right away, when you can.

    Library – Stuff you want to read later. Blog posts, newsletters, changes in service from companies, etc.

    Zoo – Everything else that’s too good or valuable to be deleted.

    I’m OCD and used to have about 50 folders…which eventually made me crazy. This system has helped tremendously. Try it. I’ll even help you get started if you want.

    • Hmm, I might have to try it. But it might require a level of discipline I’ve never mustered up before.

  • I have virtually no personal connections and viciously unsubscribe from mailing lists, so I have zero unread emails. Occasionally though there is clutter. I use the “select all” function, deselect the one or two threads that matter, and mark-as-read, archive everything else. Cleans things up well enough, like pushing a ton of crap under the bed.

    • Yep, our email lives and habits are exactly the same.

  • I read all emails from everyone I get any from. All 10 a week, HA!

    • Sooz

      “Crazies do what they want.” (GYSC). So you’re getting out of town before the next snow storm..huh? Have a well deserved break!! I don’t think that’s crazy at all..

      note: Hundred, I made reference to you(mixing you and GYSC up here..oopsa) going on vaca and capturing some ultra~beta. So scratch my post with exception to the ‘Hundred Scissorhand’ comparison.

      • Sooz

        It takes a ‘MAD’ scientist to figure out that metal stuff so I am going with your call..:)
        Nice post..

        • Wow, thanks Sooz!

      • no harm. It’s an easy mistake, we look a lot alike.

  • I haven’t. I’m afraid it will mess me up in some way.

  • Jsands

    Its ok investingfreak I have never gotten an email from someone on TV. So it will be worth it!

  • I’ll report back here. I bet he responds maybe after the holiday.

  • Karthik

    There is a new feature introduced lately for people like you James.
    Just click Priority Inbox. I am pretty sure newsletters and such like will not be in this folder.

    Consider it your new inbox.

    • or consider the ActiveInbox for Gmail addon extension

      • I’m afraid to try anything new. In a weird way, despite the above, I feel like “if it ain’t broke, done fix it”

        • Makes perfect sense actually, sort of……used it myself in 2 instances so far, been hassled by it numerous more times due to non-updates and then warning screen taking over screenspace. Still, it’s not too bad.

          This however you *may* like

          Also, nifty feature, this blogresponse autologin gmail whatyamacallit thingamajig, never seen that before and I been around awhile on the Net.

  • I get about one personal email a week. So I read it and respond. *realizes he isn’t important yet* :-)

  • Kimberly

    Select All

  • PatD

    I equate …
    clearing my e-mail account w/ dental flossing….
    I know I need to do it dailey…
    and I feel relieved/accomplished when I am done…
    if I ignore them both…
    clogging and build-up occurs…
    enamel and freindships….
    both of which I Value and Need greatley….

    Thankx for sharing that you have over 100k unanswered.e-mails….
    There are pros and cons to that…
    Pros….You are kick-A#@ popular….(good for U)…:):)
    Cons….There isnt a Water-Pic powerful enough….:):)

    Happy Friday…

    • I should probably start flossing.

      I have a 2.5 hour appt w the dentist scheduled as a result of not flossing. He’s going to remove a wisdom tooth, remove another tooth with an infection, put in an implant where a tooth was removed, clean all my teeth, and do “roof planing” for gum disease. I said I’m not doing that unless I’m out the entire time so they are bringing in an anesthesiologist. I hope i have good dreams while they are work.

      • Well that is intimidating! Hope Dentist Barbie treats you right… ; )

      • PatD

        I am no expert…but I am guessing you would not have that much work done without being sent
        down “the happy trail’ of euphoria.during the process…(hope that is of some comfort)

        I admire your courage to address deferred health maintenance…
        and post about it….
        another issue we all experience at times…for our own reasons…
        and like teenagers we believe we are immune …Good Grief…
        I myself have been guilty …..as well….

        Fortunately for you…
        you have a partner/spouse…who “has your back”….Phew…
        Thankx as always ….and….
        This too Shall Pass….

  • razorsedge

    lol, james, as for the word jew, i think its all how it is said, lovinly, contemptiously, as for the dentist, 3m teeth in kentucy alone r lost everyday, i want u to join my cause,,,,,and suport gum control,,,,

  • UraniumC

    well you have two pending from me. The 2nd was a response to your response to my 1st Swan Song. 3rd was a ping.

    Guess now I can stop agonizing about why you dropped me. :-)

    • Ha, i didn’t drop you! Im going to check right now. What was title?

      • UraniumC

        that’s a relief!!

        Swan Song. I’ll send you antohter email with the attachement now.

        Sorry for the delay. My wife and I just got back from a long weekend at the Mt. Washington Hotel here in NH, our 1st visit and something I highly recommend.

        This is on of the grand hotels built at the end of the 1800s. Huge, old fashioned elegance. Gorgous views of the presidental range and a fine dining room that still requires jackets for dinner.

  • Steven L Goff

    The building of The Great Pyramids was the first EVER govt stimulus infrastructure project! The Pharaohs had to keep “the masses” busy and doing something/whateve….or the masses would’ve realized they’re rulers were not GODS! We need to build some Great Pyramids in America……ASAP

  • WOW. I feel special. James answers my emails quickly and with meaning. I guess it is because we had a conversation about when he worked with Cramer (and his quick email response) so he does not want me to call him on it :)

  • the main prob is idiots who send non spam but unnecessary emails all the time and think their lives are of importance to others.

  • Be careful…. if you buy Google, and Google makes that big announcement, the Feds may come down hard on you and your fortune cookie … talk about trading on “insider” information !

  • Trading_Nymph

    James, I thought I was the only one. I have 10,000 plus. I think I may be a email horder? I should just delete them all, maybe there is a great one I’ll miss by doing this, but the time in life it will take to go thru them all may not justify it…sitting and looking at a sunset or reading old email…the balance of life.

  • Oh my God. I thought I was bad. This article made me feel so much better about my email existence.

    I think I have five email addresses. I’m not sure anymore. Each email address has between 33 and 274 unread emails.

    To be fair at least 20% of these unread emails are from one of my other email addresses reminding me of something I should do (that I didn’t and don’t want to go back to look through all those jobs I should have applied for, literary journals I should have submitted to, opportunities I should have cased, etc. Because, obviously, it is a depressing exercize in self deprecation.)

    Thank you for making me feel better about my lack of ambition.

    Not ambition so much as time and energy really.

  • I love this because I have actually been going through my old emails from years ago. Beleive it or not, they serve as inspirtation for some of my blogs as well as resources for things to look into.

    Thanks for letting me know I am not the only person that does this.

  • DJ

    James, I sent you an email last night. What do you think are my odds for a response?

  • My previous comment does not show up now. I thought it was quite strange then when I wrote it as it was the only one.

    Nevertheless I”ll do it again.


    You should use http://www.attn.me. People would bid to have their e-mails read by you.

    I am quite surprised that site did not take off. The market is there (i.e. your 100,000 unread e-mails, I am sure some people thought their e-mails were so important they would have paid you to read them). I had the same idea some time ago, but as you have said quite a few times ideas are worthless. Execution is what matters.

  • This post made me laugh out loud. Very loud. :)

  • Dji

    Looks to me a good chunk of your reader are ADD/ADHD!

    Do you have ADD James?

  • You are so cool. You are a fount of fascinating trivia like no one else I know. Maybe I don’t know enough people but that’s another issue. :-)

    I love it. Keep it up.

  • somebody who liked your post

    Liked your post. I was looking for a way to get rid of all the unopened email without making a terrible mistake. Regarding the musings about being Jewish, I have the same confusion about what to make about my 1/2 Lebanese DNA. I just ignore it most of the time and pull it out for entertainment or other purposes from time to time.

  • Dave Troy

    If you’d like to make short work of those emails, give Mailstrom a try (http://mailstrom.co). Here’s what LifeHacker said about it — http://bit.ly/mailstrom-lh

  • Michael Bernardo

    I found an unread New Years greeting from a colleague dated 2003 but before I replied to it, I Googled his name just to see how he’s doing. Sadly, I discovered that he passed away just 3 years ago at the age of 45. :(

  • Chris Gillingham

    I was just about to say that a good filter would be “I am a Nigerian businessman close to the Presidents family..” or similar 419 type scam, but likely this is already filtered. Unless you are yourself a Nigerian businessman who has created a fictional online alias autodidact called James Altucher. But this is far fetched : I know some ferociously intelligent Nigerians but suspect that none of them would consider this a particularly productive thing to do.