Thoughts on Gmail and E-mail

I recently have been helping one of my clients work through the transition from a PC to a Mac and they have run into some troubles with the interface of the Mac Mail application and their Gmail account. In helping explain some of the issues I came up with what I thought may be a useful explanation of my personal methodology for e-mail, and specifically Gmail.

Some Background on Gmail:

– With Gmail, the original logic is “keep everything.”
— That isn’t entirely valid these days with the huge amount of junk
mail that is out there.

– My methodology for Gmail is:
— Delete the junk, archive anything that could remotely be worth keeping.

– Each message within Gmail fits into one (and only one) of the
following categories:
— Inbox
— Archived
— Sent
— Trash
— Spam
— Draft

– Each message within Gmail also has the following status:
— Read
— Unread
— Labeled (can have multiple labels associated)
— Not Labeled
— Starred

– Gmail is great for organizing your archived messages because unlike
traditional e-mail clients (Outlook, Mac Mail, GroupWise etc.) you can file messages in “multiple folders” at the same time by associating multiple labels to messages.

– The way Gmail presents itself to other systems (via POP3, IMAP, or ActiveSync) is that each “label” is treated like a folder.

My Version of the “Inbox Zero” Methodology:

To keep your e-mail manageable I recommend the following work-flow:

– Try to keep your Inbox as small as possible. I personally strive to
keep it at zero.

– Create a label structure that works for you. Some people create
structures based upon sender, some by date, and others by subject / project. I am “a project person.”

– As a message comes in either:
— Act upon the message. (read, reply / whatever)
— Flag it for follow-up later. (I use the star feature for this.)

– Once you have acted upon or flagged the message, do the following:
— Assign the appropriate labels (if multiple) then archive it.
— Move it to the appropriate label / folder if it only fits into one category.

This work flow has worked for me for a number of years and helps keep
my inbox clean. This allows for a quick sync to my devices connected to that account.

I personally use Google’s web interface for interaction with my Gmail
account whenever possible. The only time I use something else is via
my iPhone or iPad. The methodology above can be easily modified for use with any e-mail system by dropping the star and label specific
stuff and replacing it with something like “marking as unread” and “moving to folders.”

When to Act vs. Follow-up?

I start my day by addressing messages that have come in overnight. The metric I use for immediate action vs. follow-up is: “Can I wrap this up within five minutes? – or – Is this an urgent issue?” Once my Inbox has hit zero, I move on to the follow-up queues.

As I work through my day, I keep coming back to check-in on the Inbox at a pretty regular interval. Most “desk days” it’s every hour or two. Each time I look at it I use the same metric for evaluating messages.

Toward the end of my work day I wrap up current projects or at least get them to a stopping point. Then I take the time to go back to my Inbox work it down to zero before I leave that day.

This allows me to keep an eye during non-working hours on messages that push out to my phone. During this time, unless it is an emergency it stays in the Inbox until the morning “evaluation.”

Being a busy person, I have found this method to keep me on top of my game at work and on personal projects and still allow me to relax and walk away from it without feeling guilty at the end of the day.

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2 Responses to Thoughts on Gmail and E-mail

  1. hswinson says:

    So do you use multiple email accounts to manage personal vs work? Also, what is your take on yahoo mail vs gmail? Is there really a huge difference between the two?

    • pdonahue says:

      Hi There – Thanks for checking out my (far too neglected) blog.

      I do keep two separate e-mail accounts. One primary for work, and one primary for personal. I then set all of the various ones to automatically forward to one or the other based upon category. This makes it really nice so that I can 100% focus on work, and 100% unplug when I need to. I have my iPhone set to connect to both Gmail (personal) and my work one, so I still get immediate updates for both and can choose which one to pay attention to.

      I honestly haven’t looked into Yahoo mail in a number of years. I used to run my own e-mail server for personal mail for both the experience and the security, but I signed up for a Gmail account when I took a trip out of the country a few years back. Well I fell in love with Gmail back then because of it’s simplicity as well as it’s then unheard of 1 GB worth of storage space, so I migrated everything from my personal server into it and shut down the server.

      Not knowing much about Yahoo mail, here are some of the must-haves that make Gmail great for me.
      – Not really “mail,” but it’s integration with Google Calendar. This provides business class calendaring for my personal use. The fact that I can then share it with both work colleagues as well as friends and family is a huge plus. I can also have a large number of sub-calendars. (I have one for work, one for social, and one for consulting jobs.)
      – Exchange Sync – This allows my iPhone (and other smart phones) to connect to it just like a Microsoft Exchange server. So you get all of the neat stuff like server push, and instant updates to calendars.
      – Lots of storage space. 7.7 GB last time I looked.
      – The ability to send mail as a different address. This is nice because I can receive and send e-mail as my personal domain account, vs something @gmail. This helps with the validity of my professionalism for consulting purposes. (No one wants to hire “”)

      I hope you find this info useful. 🙂

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