The other day I was reading The Four Hour Trial where he laments over having to check email on multiple email accounts. The 4-Hour Workweek counsels us to immediately implement a personal policy of checking email only twice a day (with the ultimate goal of checking even less frequently - author Tim Ferriss boasts of checking email only once a week!). Whether you check email once a month or once an hour, the mechanics of having to log into four, five or six different email accounts is a nuisance. Not everyone will have multiple email accounts, but if you are one of the many that do, what follows is for you!
Note: Most of this derives from a comment I had originally made on The Four Hour Trial's post. Since this system works so well for me, I felt it was worth repeating here.
Here is my system to deal with having multiple email addresses that is almost painless. The real trick was being able to both send and receive email for all of my email addresses from a central inbox.
The Central Inbox
There could be many candidates for a central inbox. If you exclusively access email from the desktop on a single computer, and all of your email addresses can be accessed via POP, your email client, such as Outlook, could serve as your central inbox. I chose Gmail as my central inbox for a few reasons:
- Web and desktop access.
- Superior SPAM protection.
- Superior search capabilities.
- Ability to tag email versus filing email in a folder.
- Lots of storage.
If you choose to use Gmail as your central inbox, you will need a Gmail account. If you are managing the actual domain to which one of your email addresses belongs (for example, you have started your own business or venture), consider setting up Google Apps for your Domain and having Google host that domain's email. By using Google Apps for your Domain, you will not need to get an additional @gmail.com email address.
You can setup Gmail to send email from all of your email accounts. By the way, this is also possible in many desktop clients as well, but I like using Gmail as my central inbox, so I will be describing the process using Gmail. In your Gmail settings, you simply add your other email accounts to Gmail. This will cause Gmail to send a verification email to your other accounts. You should then access your email at the other accounts the way you have in the past to complete the verification process (basically replying to the verification email proves you are the owner of the email account you are trying to add to Gmail). Once verified, you will be able to send email from your other email accounts from within Gmail.
Receiving email sent to your other email accounts in the Gmail inbox requires you to either forward those emails to Gmail, or download those emails to Gmail. Forwarding email from all your other accounts into Gmail can be done in a couple of different ways:
- Having your system administrator setup forwarding on the actual email server, forwarding email directly to your Gmail account.
- Most web based email will allow you to setup automatic forwarding of email to another email account. In this case forward to your Gmail account.
Gmail can also act as an email client for other email accounts. Instead of forwarding email to Gmail, you can actually download email into Gmail. There is a setting in Gmail for downloading email from another account into Gmail using POP, much like how you would use Outlook to get email from an email account.
Living The Dream
You can now send and receive email from all of your email accounts using Gmail. Since Gmail supports IMAP, you can use both the Gmail web interface and a desktop email client (like Outlook or Thunderbird) to send and receive email while keeping both in synch. You can also use POP to download Gmail into a desktop client for offline viewing (selecting the option to keep a copy on the server ensures that you maintain a copy in Gmail).
I understand that some people may be uncomfortable with depending on Google for handling all of their email. Like I said, there are other ways to implement the concept of a central inbox using other tools. I just happen to like Gmail a lot. Gmail provides much more storage than most email providers. As a result I never throw out an email, and I am currently only using 12% of my storage quota! By being able to search through all of this mail using Google search, I can find dated material in a matter of seconds, all the time, no matter where I am. In the end, it might not be absolutely perfect, but this system works really well for me.
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