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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!

    More by this author

    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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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