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An email mess cleaned up–maybe

At work (yes I have a day job), I check two email accounts. One is mine and one is the catch-all address for the company. Then at home I have four accounts. The first is an old one that I have too many contacts with to terminate. The other three are on my own domain–one for me, one for one of my characters, and an “info” account I use on my web site.

This works all right under normal circumstances. I use an email client named “Thunderbird” that does all I require. I can even check my home emails from work if I need to. But what about less-than-normal circumstances? Like when I am gone for almost two weeks and can’t check my work email.

I can access my personal email through a “webmail” client if I have access to the internet. But my work accounts are limited to 16 MB each, so if I let them stack up, emails start bouncing with undesirable results. My work computer dutifully scrapes them off the server so I can’t use webmail to see them.

Besides that, it’s unhandy having two systems to maintain. Why not just have one? That’s where Gmail comes in.

Yes, it’s yet another account to check, but Gmail is handy to have for other uses not germane to this discussion.

Under Gmail I can pull in email from all my other accounts and then separate them into various sections according to my uses of work and personal accounts. I can check work email at home or on the road and vice versa. Works great on my semi-smart phone, too.

Before you get all excited, though, I have a warning for you. The way Gmail organizes its files is fundamentally different than your POP3 or IMAP email client.

For one, it’s always on the server (there is a local option I haven’t tried). And then there’s the difference in folders and labels.

In Gmail there is only one copy of an email on the server, ever. There’s only one folder, and it’s call “All Mail.” There is no Sent folder or Inbox. No Trash, either. So how does that work? With Labels.

A message in your Inbox is really in the All Mail folder. It just has a label of Inbox attached to it. It can also have a label of Work or Vacation Stuff attached at the same time. This can be a hard thing to wrap your mind around if you’re used to storing things in folders, where if you want to store things in multiple folders you have to make copies. Remember, only one copy in Gmail.

Scare you off yet? It’s not really that hard, only a different way of thinking.

“But,” you interject, “I need my folders. I set up filters to arrange my incoming mails so I can organize the chaos.” You can do that with labels, it’s just a little challenging until you get your mind right.

When you check an account from gmail, you can attach a label in addition to Inbox. For my character’s email, I attach a label of “Michael,” so it shows up under Inbox and under Michael.

Then it gets a little hairy. My main email receives regular correspondence, plus postings from several groups. I don’t want the considerable traffic from these groups clogging up my Joe box. So I go through several gyrations to pick out and label the groups and send everything else to my regular spot.

When assigning filters remember they work on incoming mails. But what about outgoing emails? Note: all messages (including Sent) go to All Mail. Messages you receive and messages you send are ALL incoming! So filter with care.

Gmail also defaults to grouping sent messages and replies to the same messages in “conversations” so you see them in context. New messages send the whole conversation to the top of the list.

You also will want to set up all your accounts in a “send from” list. You can mark the email to send from any of these accounts and reply to emails sent to them.

Still think you have what it takes to make your mail more manageable? If you can visualize how the system works, it’s not that bad. But it will take time to set up. There is plenty of information on the Gmail forums and on the web. And I only charge $795 per 30 minutes of assistance. Only kidding. Really, I’m no help at all.

The good thing is, you can tell Gmail to leave your mail on the server and use both systems until you’re comfortable with it. Give it a try!

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