Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Email to Gmail: Organisation and Productivity


Time-saver? Or time-hoover? Provider of tons of useful information, or overwhelming nonsense? The gateway to productivity, or the slippery slope of procrastination? It depends on how you use your email inbox, according to rocking Results Coach Dave Navarro, who started the week with this:

"You’ve got crap in your Inbox on a regular basis that you will never, ever read. Ever."

Dave's simple tips to cut email clutter reminded me that I've been meaning to set up a Gmail account. I need to set up another account as my current email is a very hippy nickname. So I want a more professional email address and I've read a lot recently about how Gmail is great as a productivity tool, but had been reluctant to give myself something new to learn at the moment (too many learning curves already.)


I mentioned this to Dave on his Million Dollar Leverage blog (in a comment about too many newsletters) and he replied:

"Gmail is easy to use … if you wanted to make it easy to get used to, you could set up an account and move all of your newsletters there :o)"

Which made me realise I had been making excuses (and putting off something that could make life easier) and that I really just needed to DO it!

Like all productivity tools/tips, using gmail is all about focus. The results I'm aiming for will be time released to spend more effectively elsewhere and the loss of that horrible feeling of panic everytime I open my email inbox.

The Problem

I am an information junkie. I can relate to the question in Dave's comments by James Chartrand of Men with Pens:

"What do you do when you go to click “unsubscribe” and think, “But what if I miss THE ONE EMAIL that might’ve been the singlemost important email of my life?”"

Because I'm just starting to explore a whole new world, everything feels important at the moment, like tiny pieces of a huge map and I have no idea when one tiny piece might mean the difference between reaching my destination and ending up way off track. Or worse still, ending up going round and round in circles. Forever.

I've signed up to lots of emails, newsletters, e-zines and RSS feeds over the past three months, anything I thought might be useful (at some point) and the more I signed up to, the more I found!

And being so green, I fell for signing up to a few that offered one brief snippet of possibly useful info amid mountains of useless stuff (useless to me, anyway.)

The Solution

I have decided to get a grip. And to use Gmail to do it:

Step One - Go to GoogleMail

No longer known as gmail all new accounts will be

Click on Pick My Name and choose your email name and password. Use your existing email address for Google to send an email (almost immediate) and you have set up your Gmail account.

I suppose it should be Googlemail account, but it doesn't have the same effect. I think it's a shame that my email will be too, because I'm all for making things short and sweet and I already have a pretty long name.

Step Two - Import Contacts

You can (apparently) import all the contacts from another email account, hotmail or yahoo for example. In just a few simple moves. One of which includes creating a CSV file. Hmmm ...

The Problem With the Solution

Yes, well I tried. I thought it would be useful for anyone else who was totally stumped ("Right. So what is a CSV file?") but after having a look online, I soon realised I was wasting lots of time trying to get my head round information written in a foreign language.

Not only that, but I tried to at least start by copying and pasting my Hotmail contacts into a word file. But I couldn't even work out how to copy them.

So. Despair. Then whole new brilliant plan. I would just transfer them by hand! I figured it probably wouldn't take much longer than working out the CSV thing.

(Having said that, I found this very simple set of instructions in the Googlemail Help Centre today! Having tried to find the information I needed yesterday at google and with a broader google search, I came across it in a link on Free Geekery's Enormous Gmail Productivity List.)

Two Problems: One Solution

I could still put Dave Navarro's advice into action, but in a slightly different way.

In transfering things one at a time, I have to think very carefully about whether I really needed to keep a subscription. So I'm getting a chance to sort through them one by one. This means I'm setting up a new, easier to manage account at the same time as restricting my email list.

Actually, Dave was way ahead of me (which doesn't surprise me at all) and when I told him I'd set up an account, he said:

"Use your gmail account wisely, and use it as a staging ground to build better email habits. One step at a time!"

So I started by deleting five emails that are focused on selling me things I can't afford. I am only transferring emails about writing. Those that are for writing (parenting, green issues, crafts, feminism) I will leave in Hotmail for now.

Two Questions

My Results Hero says:

"The only important emails? The ones you actually take action on. You don’t need every list, every feed … you just need to take action on what comes your way. But you can’t act on everything, so you have to limit your focus. If you narrow your focus, and take constant action, you won’t regret missing the other emails."

I've been asking myself two questions as I look at each subscription:

1. Will I be doing myself a serious disservice as a human being if I get rid of this?

Yes: Keep
No: Delete

2. Will I be doing myself a serious disservice as a writer if I get rid of this?

Yes: Gmail
No: Hotmail

(Although Hotmail will have research for specific subjects I write about, Gmail will have the things I think are essential (besides knowledge of a subject) to becoming a freelance writer.)

I haven't yet got the incoming emails to test it out, but I get the impression that one of the things I'll find most useful is the labelling and filtering system. Another post!

Lessons Learned

1. Dave Navarro rocks!

2. Having too many email subscriptions is really bad.

3. Getting things done even when you'd rather not feels really good.

4. Signing up for a Gmail account is easier than I'd thought.

5. Moving things individually from one email address to another is an easy way to decide the real value of a subscription.

6. Having two email accounts means you can keep things separate.

Lesson I'm Hoping to Avoid

Having two email accounts is really bad.



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