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TIME TO CONFESS: I LET MY INBOX RUNNETH OVER

I'm thinking of declaring e-mail bankruptcy.

My finances are fine. It's my inbox that's a mess.

I have 1,886 unread e-mails and will likely have 20 more by the time you've finished reading this column.

I read recently how Wired columnist Lawrence Lessig hit upon a novel tactic after spending 80 hours trying to clear out his backlogged inbox.

"Bankruptcy is now my only option," he wrote in a mass message to his e-mail creditors, whom he promised - profusely - to keep up with better in the future. He just needed a fresh start first.

I've never been particularly shamed by my e-mail backlog because I have my work e-mail bounce into my Yahoo account, where unlimited storage makes the backlog Yahoo's problem, not mine.

And in my defense, the first few pages of it are my hot e-mails - this week's queries and forwarded jokes, baby pictures and scams that can be perused quickly and ignored, filed or acted upon. The remaining 50 or so pages are easy to delete, but scattered throughout are articles I do want to read, pictures I do want to save and lawyer jokes I do want to snicker at.

When I need to retrieve something, the search function allows me to quickly find what I'm looking for. I rarely fail to respond to people, and I have file folders by subject, so it hasn't affected my workload or my social life too much (although I do owe my friend Josh an apology for forgetting to respond to his housewarming party Evite. We'll be there, Josh!).

But then a co-worker looked over my shoulder recently and exclaimed: "Good Lord, you have 2,000 unread e-mails!"

I was outed.

Actually, it was 2,176.

I spent an hour that day deleting e-mails from 2006 that I never got around to zapping. Yes, old e-mails about the Gap spring sale in 2006 were in there. It's not like I'm harboring 200 cats. It's 2,000 bits of invisible e-mail messages.

After a couple hours, I had it down to 1,803. When I woke up the next day, it was 1,899. I ignored it and took my son to soccer practice. When I woke up the next morning, it was 1,938.

So I'm back down to 1,886 and thinking about how Lessig, the Wired columnist, erased his debts and turned over a new leaf.

He collected the e-mail addresses of everyone to whom he hadn't replied to and put them in a BCC field of a new message he sent to himself.

He wrote a nice note explaining his plight and apologized profusely - at least five times before his e-mail ended. And then he promised to keep up with his future e-mail and sounded sufficiently credible. He even asked for a re-send of anything particularly pressing, and offered to give such messages special attention.

My problem is that just like personal bankruptcy, I don't think I can justify starting over when I haven't done the hard work of changing my habits. I first need to set aside an hour each day just for e-mail maintenance. And to make up for past neglect, I'll need to spend a couple hours over the weekend - when I usually like to remain blissfully e-mail free - and delete old ones.

So I'm going to try the Protestant work ethic first.

By the way, the tally since I started writing this is now 1,908.

Sigh.

- wynne@tampabay.com

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