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Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Account Consolidation

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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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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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