How to Handle a Lost Email

by Barrett

Who has the time to process an endless avalanche of incoming emails?  So a few are bound to fall through the cracks.  The question is what to do when an important one gets lost.

Who has the time to process an endless avalanche of incoming emails? So a few are bound to fall through the cracks. The question is what to do when an important one gets lost.

Once upon a time, I would send an email to someone…
And if I didn’t receive a quick response, I’d wonder what was up.
Then if a week or two went by, I’d think, “What the #@%?!”

Of course, now I understand there’s a silent, evil force at play…

Email Overload!
Actually, there are really no bad guys here. It’s simply the result of the ever-increasing volume of emails we’ve all got to deal with, both at home and at work…

  • Whether it’s the mass of marketing emails you’ve inadvertently invited to invade your home email…
    (In store: “Sir, would you mind giving us your email address for those pair of socks you bought?”)
  • Or those pseudo-spam emails…
    (“Since you purchased a widget at our parent site, we thought you’d like to receive daily-deal emails from our seven partner sites.”
  • Or the constant chatter of your work email’s Inbox…
    (“Thank you.” Copy all. “You’re welcome.” Copy all. “Looking forward to the next project.” Copy all.)

…The plain fact is your email’s Inbox has exploded.
There’s simply too much email to completely get through in a day.

And certainly not enough time to perform perfect email maintenance by organizing your important emails into folders and deleting the rest.

Who among us still starts their day with zero emails in their Inbox?
(You there… in the back… put your hand down!)

Start Digging
So more often than not, I find myself searching through old emails down the steep slope of my Inbox to find what I need.

Usually, it’s simple enough. Search by ‘From’ or by a ‘Subject’ string.
No, it’s not the most efficient use of your time, but it usually gets the job done.

Typically, the emails you need are relatively current. But if you’ve got to drill deeper into your past and further down the email mountain, you could find yourself in big trouble….

Lost but Not Forgotten
I was driving to work last week, and going through a little mental exercise emptying my head of the logistical issues for the day ahead. Occasionally,  this creates more space for my mind to do a little productive wandering. And sometimes, a good idea pops into my head.  Now and then, I remember something I’ve forgotten to do.

This time, my noggin reminded me I had to respond to an email… an email that was at least a couple weeks old.

My delay in itself didn’t reflect a huge oops on my part. It was one of those emails that didn’t require an immediate turnaround. But I needed to get to it eventually. And two weeks is pushing it, no matter what email etiquette you follow.

The email in question contained the name and phone number of someone I had committed to calling. Suddenly, I felt an adrenaline rush.

Where was that email?!
It was buried.


And guess what?
I had forgotten the name of the sender.

The Rescue Begins
So now what?

Quickly, I tried to remember what the ‘Subject’ was.
All I had to work with was I knew it was about setting up a meeting.

Hmmm…. That’s a long shot. How many hundreds of unsorted emails contain that word in the title? But I typed it in anyway.


Whoah. There it was!!
(Apparently “Meeting” isn’t such a popular title after all.)
Still, I’d call this an early holiday gift from the email gods.

And so I finally responded and successfully masked my little faux pas.

Flag It!!
Of course, one simple way to hold onto an old, unsorted email is to flag it with a color stamp. That way, at least it will stand out.

But you’ve got to use this technique sparingly or else your email program will start to look like one of my son’s coloring books.

Send a Reminder
So what’s the takeaway here…?

I’m losing your emails.
You’re losing my emails.
We’re all losing emails!

The solution: If you don’t hear back, send out a reminder email!

How rude is that?!

It’s not inappropriate at all. I’d say you’re being helpful!
Just pen your message politely.

And I think it’s okay to reframe your messaging:

  • Add a little more urgency
  • State specific needs more clearly
  • Add why you require a more timely response

Even if your original email didn’t get lost, some of the critical details might not have been correctly absorbed.

And here’s the best part:
Reminder emails get the job done!

Can I let you in on a little secret?
Remember that lingering ‘meeting’ email I lost and then found?

It was his reminder email!