Over the last two years, I have spent two long periods of time away from work. The first was my 16 weeks of maternity leave in 2021, and the second was my recent 7-week sabbatical from work. During both of these extended leaves, I did the same thing — I set my emails to auto-delete and sent an auto-reply to those who emailed me, letting them know they could either forward their email elsewhere or reach back out when I was back.

It turns out that people think this is somewhat bold.

Replies to my LinkedIn post when I shared that I deleted work emails while offline

So here’s a bit more about why I deleted all of my emails (I think it’s healthy) and how to do it yourself (I did it with Gmail filters).

Why I deleted all of my emails

Let me tell you about my inbox, so you understand what I was optimizing for here. I’m one of the few public emails from my company and have been for years. It used to be my email on our press page (now it’s a generic press email). As a result, I get an absolutely enormous amount of emails that are not useful to me. Deleting emails while offline might not be the move for everyone — particularly if you get company updates via email — but it definitely was given my inbox.

On my first day back at work, I already had 100 emails in my inbox at the end of the day. So let’s say 100 emails, five days a week, seven weeks off — that’s over 3,500 emails, and that’s a conservative estimate. There is no world in which I was coming back to work after a beautiful 7-week sabbatical to sort through that many emails.

Another thing to note is that company updates for Buffer aren’t posted through email; they’re all in Threads. So I wasn’t missing out on company news.

The people whose emails were important were likely reporters who needed a quick reply. I couldn’t help them with that, as I was on sabbatical, so they would have had to forward their email anyways. The other group was people who were genuinely trying to get in touch with me specifically and would have to wait until I was back for a reply anyways.

Ultimately, I had complete confidence that if someone were reaching out to me with an important message, it would be handled by the right people — and that’s why I gleefully set up a filter to delete all of my emails the day before I went offline.

I had an out-of-office reply set up pointing people to three options:

  1. they could forward the email to a press email if it were related to press
  2. they could forward it to our general customer service email if it were related to Buffer, or
  3. they could wait until I was back at the end of my sabbatical and send it to me again.

Anything urgent reached the right people at the right times. We did get reporters who reached out to the press email (which was monitored by the team daily), and I had several people who reached out to me when I was back to send their emails again.

There is also something so peaceful about knowing I was returning to work to an empty inbox (not that it lasted the day). But returning and seeing thousands of emails was not the re-entry into work that I was looking for.

In the end, both times that I did this, everything went smoothly, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

How I set up filters in Gmail to delete all of my emails

If you’re curious about the specifics, deleting all of your emails is delightfully straightforward. 

We use Gmail, and I used Gmail’s filtering system to set up a simple filter that would delete everything as it was incoming.

From Gmail, you to go: Settings → Filters and Blocked addresses —> Create a new filter (at the bottom)

In the “to” field, put your email address. (Note: include any other emails that come to your email address. I also get the press email to this email, so I had those auto-delete, too.)

Click “create filter.”

And then select “Delete it.”

Of course, you could go with any number of alternatives:

  • Skip the Inbox (Archive it) just in case you do want to reference something
  • Apply a custom label for your time away (e.g., sabbatical 2022) and mark all of it as read
  • Or simply “Mark as read.”

That’s it! Your emails will have been deleted!

Please let me know if you delete your emails when you take time off. I’d love to hear from anyone who has had this experience or is considering it. Leave a reply here or send me a tweet anytime to chat.

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