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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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