A reader has a common question about email:  “I have a question about email accounts…all my devices are synced, so when I delete an email, am I deleting from just the device I’m using at the time or from my email server? I know it sounds dumb, but I think I may have wondered about this so long that I’m totally confused.”

First, don’t ever feel bad for asking a question. The answer is, it depends. Since the reader asking the question has a Gmail account, I’ll demonstrate using Gmail. First, you’ll need to make sure you enable IMAP.

Le’ts take a little definition break for those not familiar with the term:

IMAP – Internet Message Access Protocol. This type of server lets you access your e-mail without downloading it to a computer. You can read, edit or delete the messages right on the server. The messages will remain on the server until you choose to delete them. You can access your e-mail from other computers or mobile devices. More and more people are moving to IMAP for the convenience of being able to access their e-mail at any time from any device.

Here’s how to enable IMAP with Gmail using a browser interface. Click the gear icon to the right of your Gmail inbox and select See all settings from the drop-down menu.

Then choose the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab at the top of the page.

Make sure you enable IMAP. If you want the message to be immediately deleted from all devices when you delete from one, make sure to check the Auto-Expunge option. You can also choose what happens to the deleted messages. Whether they are archived, go in the trash, or are completely deleted.  On the flip side, if you don’t want things automatically deleted, don’t select these options.


This will keep your account updated across all of your devices as long as any email clients you’re using support IMAP. When all devices support IMAP and it is enabled, you can delete a message from the inbox on your phone and it will be deleted from the server.