What a relief! A few simple configuration steps gives me new hope for coping with email.
It unlikely matters to you, but it does to me: My inbox is down to zero. That is, both my two inboxes are empty. I get work email to my @skysql.com address and private email to my @arno.fi, both of which have been suffering from bad email habits.
Inspired by years of discussions with Giuseppe Maxia, who is living proof that proper IT tools make geeks work smarter, faster and better, I bought the book "lifehacker". The first one out of over 100 hacks is labeled "Empty Your Inbox (and Keep It Empty"), so I judged that piece of advice to be worth following.
That was a few hours ago. No, in that short timespan, I didn't manage to reply to hundreds of unanswered emails that I probably ought at least take a look at, nor did I properly archive the thousands of emails that I have over the years left in the inbox instead of cleaning up the clutter. And precisely that has been the culprit: my inability to do a long overdue inbox clean-up in a few hours has been my main (irrational) reason for also procrastinating a much needed improvement of email habits.
Lifehacker has a Gordian Knot type solution to this, which allows you to instantly improve the habits and do the clean-up over time: Create a folder called DMZ (for de-militarised zone) to which you move all current inbox stuff, which you then clean up over time. This may sound like cheating, but the alternative to first deal with the thousands of emails seemed hardly workable to me.
While launching some not-so-technical improvements to my daily email habit, I wanted to accomplish a few other, more technical goals. I wanted to
- retain access to email (work and private) from my laptop, my iPad and my phone
- delete or archive an email anywhere, get rid of it everywhere
- see the same folder structure of the emails in all three platforms
- move an email into its appropriate folder in one platform, see it moved in all platforms
- filter emails platform-independently, with one set of filtering rules
- have offline access when flying or otherwise not connected
Most of that, I already had in place, thanks to using Gmail. I had been using it browser-based only, but after an over two year long break not using Thunderbird, I downloaded the current version (16.0.1) and happily noted Thunderbird worked just like that, with me only needing to change some very obvious settings. No figuring out about outgoing servers or TCP/IP ports. No pain.
To my surprise and satisfaction, any change in the label structure within the Gmail web interface was directly reflected in the folders in both Thunderbird and the iPad / iPhone Mail client. Moving emails worked just fine - the IMAP interface quickly catches up with changes made elsewhere. It turns out I had been sacrifying proper offline access for, really, no good reason.
While I was at it, I set up a few Gmail filters, directly archiving Google Alerts and other bulk email when they're still just in the cloud. Now, lots of less important emails never appear in my inbox, yet remain accessible in a separate folder; I usually check them just on the laptop, anyway. Also, emails from close colleagues and important contacts get some additional highlighting, making it easy for me to properly allocate expensive and/or scarce travel email time.
- Just like decluttering the desk or cleaning the garage, also email habits and tools deserve attention from time to time (even though it’s easy to procrastinate).
- The current interoperability of my (fairly unsurprising) arsenal of tools is astounding. Gmail, Thunderbird, iPhone, and iPad do achieve great joint usability.
- The Lifehacker book by Adam Pash and Gina Trapani does a good job of motivating at least me to improve IT habits. I recommend both the book and the Lifehacker.com website.
- It takes a bit of time to configure tools as they’re meant to be used, based on one’s own tool set and work flow. The reward is peace of mind and getting the benefits of the designed features, as opposed to working around them.
As VP Collaboration, Kaj wants to turn SkySQL Ab into a role model for frictionless, productive and creative work. Prior to co-founding SkySQL in 2010, he held a number of VP positions at MySQL AB, Sun Microsystems and Oracle since 2001.