Declaring email bankruptcy has always seemed like a total cop-out to me. It says “I am helpless and incapable of handling the flows of information that I have selected for myself. Won’t someone save me from myself? Failing that, I will give up, and push the problem on to you – because if really want me to read something you sent me, you now need to send it to me again”.
Take Rich’s 16000 unread email example: don’t you just know that most of that mail must be complete crap? Lose it, dude!
Add a rule to move all the mailing list stuff into separate folders, run that rule on your inbox, and mark all those as read, and then unsubscribe from those mailing lists. Clearly, you’re not keeping up with them.
For everything else automated, if you get something opt-in that you are not keeping up with, then unsubscribe (unless it’s non-opt-in / spam, in which case you want better spam filtering). Anything (especially items that are work-related or software-related) that can be moved into trac / bugzilla / a wiki / any form of tracking system or knowledge repository should be, so that it doesn’t get lost forever, and so that you and your managers and coworkers can see what tasks are pending, and can allocate extra resources if needed.
After removing all the above (mailing lists, spam, work-related, software-related), from 16000 mails, probably only 100 max were from humans / businesses you know and actually require you to do anything, and have real-world consequences if you don’t. Move those into a separate folder (I call mine “action”), and just work through them. If there is no actionable item from a friend’s or workmate’s or client’s email, but it feels rude to not reply, then send a one line thank-you reply to be polite, mark as read, and move on!
Honestly, 16000 unread mails is probably the world’s way of telling you to consume less information, and learn to ignore more stuff.