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Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Account Consolidation

Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Account Consolidation

Email Couch Potato: Get Productive with Gmail

    Gmail is a powerful tool, but many users of this service aren’t tapping into its full potential. To help you get more productive and get the most out of Gmail, I’m going to spend the next few articles talking about the most effective features of the software and the techniques and practices you can use to make the most of it.

    In this first installation, we’ll talk about account consolidation. This will make your life easier by a thousand times (yeah, yeah, hyperbole – or so you say for now!) if you’re not already doing this. Here’s what we’re going to do:

    Make it Your Central Email Inbox

    Today, most people have at least two email accounts and usually more. Through my own projects, personal accounts, and working with clients closely enough to warrant them providing me with an email address, I’ve amassed close to twenty (active) accounts.

    Having twenty email accounts is a bad, bad thing for productivity. As Dustin has mentioned in his Back to Basics article, the fewer inboxes you have, the better; it means less chance that something will slip through the cracks and fewer places you have to remember to check each day for new information.

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    Gmail provides a number of ways for you to turn those multiple inboxes into one single place. When you’re filtering all those different accounts into one place without losing the ability to reply using the address they were sent to, your inbox hell problem has been solved. Here’s how to consolidate this part of your life.

    1. Set up the Send mail as feature.

    The first thing you need to do is go to the Accounts tab under Gmail’s Settings. This is where you can set up Gmail to send mail as if it were sent from your other email addresses. In order to maintain professionalism and to keep the mail sorted using Gmail’s filters, this is important.

    Click the “Add another email address” link and follow the steps. A confirmation message will be sent to your account, to prevent spoofing, and once you’ve confirmed that you are who you say you are, you’ll be able to send email from that account.

    Rinse and repeat until every account you intend to filter into Gmail has been set up.

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    2. Get your email out of your other inboxes and into Gmail.

    There are two ways you can get the email from your other accounts to end up in your Gmail account; forwarding or POP3. Forwarding is a better long-term choice, since Gmail only allows you to set up five POP3 accounts, and only checks your accounts from time to time. If you forward your email from your existing account and into Gmail, the emails are pushed through automatically and you can do this for as many accounts as you have.

    However, to keep your archive of email centralized, should you ever need to find important old emails (using Gmail’s excellent search facilities), POP3 will come in handy at first. Set up your accounts under Settings > Accounts to download everything via POP3, five at a time. The setup process gives you the option to specify a label for the account, which you should do from the outset.

    When you’re done, head into your other account’s settings and set them all to forward to your main Gmail account. Only once you’ve set forwarding up should you return to Gmail and remove the POP3 accounts or you might miss out on some emails.

    If you don’t have email archives on your email server, but instead in your email application, don’t worry – you can still get them into the account. I used Apple Mail to migrate everything, so it might vary somewhat from program to program. Head into your Gmail webmail interface and set up labels for each of your accounts. Then go back to your desktop email application and set your Gmail account up using IMAP (not POP3). You should see your labels under that account. Select all your email from a given account and drag it to that label. Using Apple Mail, this removed the emails from my hard drive as it uploaded each one, so make a backup before you begin if you wish to keep offline archives as well.

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    I once did this with a very old email account that had an archive count in five figures. It takes time, so be patient, and perhaps set it up before heading to bed.

    3. Ensure your accounts are all heading into the right labels.

    Having every email from every account flood into your inbox is going to be organizational hell. Make sure that you set your labels and filters correctly while you were completing step 2. If you downloaded your email from IMAP and then set it to forward to Gmail, you may have missed this step. Here’s how to do it:

    Head to Settings and click on the Filters tab. Click on Create a new filter and fill in the email account you’ve redirected to Gmail in the To: field. This will specify that whenever an email is received that has been sent to that account, it will be processed with this filter.

    Click Next Step and tick Skip the Inbox and Apply the Label, selecting the appropriate label from the dropdown menu (this is the label you set up in step 2). Click the Create Filter button and you’re good to go.

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    Use the All Mail Feature

    So, now you want to batch process all of your new email. Switching between labels to deal with messages from each account is a bit like start-stop traffic; it takes a while to get anywhere, though you eventually do. Fortunately, we’ve got the prominent but seldom-used All Mail feature.

    All Mail is really just a glorified label that is automatically applied to every single message (though the label is not a visible one). It lets you see all your messages in one place; as simple as that is, when you get up to check your email in the morning, flicking into All Mail allows you to power through them one by one without stopping to navigate from label to label. It’s not uncommon to put one label off because “nothing important happens in there anyway” and this sabotages the entire point of batch processing.

    I used to do this myself, especially with one particular account that had ended up receiving little human email and a lot of mailing list traffic. Using All Mail forced me to get out of my procrastination zone and deal with each message. The first few days were spent by unsubscribing from a lot of lists and, if the content was valuable, switching to an RSS feed. If they didn’t make a feed available for the same content, I just completely wrote them off (so there’s a lesson for you email marketers reading this). Since doing this, I spend more of my email time dealing with humans and less fighting useless bulk email (and got rid of the niggling guilt for not processing all my mail properly).

    Your next installment coming soon!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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