Best practices for managing your personal email (tips and advice)

This page collects some of TIG's advice around managing your personal email while you're at CSAIL. It's intended to get new CSAIL members and collaborators off on the right foot. It's not (most of it) set in stone — just our advice. It's also not a substitute for reading through the other pages linked from our email topics page (this page contains advice, not instructions or tutorials).

Choosing where to read your email

CSAIL members generally have lots of places they can have their email delivered. CSAIL members are typically eligible for MIT email accounts (; most categories of CSAIL members are also eligible for CSAIL IMAP accounts (, and you'll probably also have some other email addresses like a Gmail or address or an address from your previous institution. In general, we suggest that you pick one "canonical" email address where you will read your mail (and from which you will send your mail) and forward all the other addresses to it. (For more information, see this section on email forwarding.) That will decrease the likelihood that you'll lose track of some of your mail, and picking a canonical email address that's where you read your mail and where you send your mail from will get your correspondents sending mail there directly and decrease the number of hops your mail has to go before it gets to you (and the number of opportunities for problems).

(Some people prefer to use different email addresses for different purposes, and check them each individually. If that's what you prefer and it works for you, great!)

In any case, you should make sure that all your mail to any email address gets forwarded somewhere that you read. For instance, if you're an MIT student or employee, you have an address whether you ever check it or not. If you read most of your email via your CSAIL email address (either on CSAIL's IMAP servers or forwarded elsewhere), you should probably arrange for your address to get forwarded here so you don't miss mail from MIT offices, or from long-lost colleagues who know you're somewhere at MIT and make a guess at your email address.

Managing your CSAIL IMAP folders

This section is relevant to people who choose to have their mail delivered locally to a CSAIL IMAP account. If you just forward to your account or elsewhere you can skip it.

Number of messages

You should try not to let too many messages build up in any one folder, because having a huge number of messages in a single folder will cause problems both on the server side and (typically) for your IMAP client, and drastically slow down your email access. For these purposes, a few thousand messages are not too many, but a few tens of thousands are.

If you delete old mail you don't need to keep, and refile messages you've read into topic-based or correspondent-based folders, this isn't likely to be too big a problem. If you prefer to leave all your mail in your inbox, and you expect to be here a while and get a lot of mail, we would suggest that you periodically move old mail in your inbox into time-based archival folders. For instance, in January (or February) 2014 you could create a new folder called "2003 inbox" and move all the mail from 2003 into it. Typical mail clients will let you search across all your folders, so when you need to find an old message you'll still be able to. (As a bonus, searching for more recent messages, which is the typical case, will be a lot faster.

Actually deleting mail via IMAP is a two-step process; first you mark the messages as deleted (which may hide them from you, depending on your mail client), and then you "expunge" or "compact" the folder, which actually deletes the messages from disk on the server. (Before that point they can be undeleted.) Some IMAP clients will ask you whether you want to expunge deleted messages when you quit, but others (including the popular Thunderbird) rely on you to expunge your deleted mail (compact your folders) periodically. Please make sure you do that from time to time. (That also applies to moving messages between folders, since what that actually does is copy the message to the new folder and then mark the original copy as deleted.)

In a pinch, if you accidentally delete mail that's been somewhere in your CSAIL IMAP folders for at least a day (long enough to be included in one of our nightly backups), we can probably get it back for you if you let us know quickly enough, so you don't have to be too paranoid about deleting and expunging old mail. (But we only keep email backups for a week, so let us know quickly!)

Overall size of mail

At present, we don't enforce a quota on CSAIL IMAP email accounts. However, all your mail takes storage space, shared among all CSAIL IMAP users, and takes time and tape space to back up. We very much appreciate people cleaning up their mail and not using more space than necessary. (For instance, if somebody sends you a bunch of photos, it would be great if you delete the email message, or at least the attachments, after you've downloaded the photos. And if a server you manage goes haywire and sends you thousands of error messages in email, it would be great if you could delete them after you've fixed the problem.)

-- JaySekora - 28 Aug 2013
Topic revision: 02 May 2017, JaySekora

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory


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