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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

using Gmail effectively

Even before coming to Google, I switched over to using Gmail exclusively for business and personal email. I have to say, it took me a while - say 2-3 weeks- to *get* it. But now that I get it, I can't imagine going to back to a normal Outlook-style application for reading email.

First it might help to explain the type of email user I have always was in the pre-Gmail days.
  1. I never deleted any email; email is a running record of what i am doing, have done, and need to do
  2. I never put any email in folders. I let my inbox fill up, and when my email program could no longer handle 5-10,000 messages, i archived the whole inbox to an imap server somewhere and started over. I think this was a function of it being the easiest way for me to find things.
  3. Related to #2, not having an empty inbox at the end of the day did not bother me at all (except that it made my email client slow slow slow)
  4. I always used both server-side (procmail) and client-side filters block things
So how does this manifest itself in the Gmail world? Well, here's a few tips I give all first time users of Gmail:

  1. Archive is not delete. This is very important. Archive is one sub-second search away. Once a thread is responded to, it will pop back into your Inbox live again. Archive made it easy for me to transition from a full email box person to an empty email box person. I no longer needed to keep anything in my inbox.
  2. You can declare psuedo email bankruptcy every day if you want with Archive. We're all busy and we all get too much email. Select All, Archive - and if a topic is important enough it will pop back up.
  3. The filters are easy and great. Create a lot of filters. The link is right next to the "Search the Web" button. Once Gmail became my primary email interface, I lost the need for procmail. Get too much spam in Russian? create a few filters with one Cyrillic letter in the subject.
  4. Combine filters with Archive and labels. Get back your day. If you have something you just don't want to deal with, auto-Archive it and auto-label it. Then you can deal with such things when you want to, and not when someone else wants you to. This can change you from having an interrupt-driven workday to a priority-driven workday.
  5. Use the "m" key. "m" is the Mute key. It is good for mailing list conversations that just drag on too long. Mute them, and those threads will now skip the inbox unless you are cc:ed directly.
  6. I use "star" as to-dos. Use the starred view to see what you have to do. You might even be surprised at how many to-do's you don't actually have to do.
As I said - you Gmail might not click for you the first day or even in the first week. But when it does, you'll never go back.
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