Managing the email flood

After years and years trying different strategies for dealing with email, I’ve finally come up with the easiest and most flexible solution for myself.

In the past, I’ve had many accounts, for work, shopping, websites, etc. This helped compartmentalize different aspects of my life. But in the end, one account tended to drift into the other over time.

And even though I had been a one-machine wonder (I switched to using laptops exclusively almost 10 years ago), I’ve come back around and now have multiple laptops, desktops, etc. On top of that, I’ve been using smart phones (now an iPhone) for 5 years. Finally, I travel – often – and sometimes like to access my mail through a simple web portal.

Keeping all of these devices in sync is time-consuming. And when you get as much email as I do, you don’t want to read any email more than once.

My set up:

I have two email collector accounts. The first, a personal account hosted at Google Apps, has a number of aliases for things like shopping, travel, etc. The second work account at that also collects mail from several other work accounts. Thus, all of my mail now comes through Google and its excellent spam filters.

I’ve set up all of these accounts using IMAP. This let’s me keep the accounts in sync regardless of which device I am using to access them.

With the powerful searches available in both desktop clients like Apple Mail and through the Google web interface, I’ve abandoned the idea of filing emails into folders.

I have two meaningful folders per account:

* Inbox
* Starred // emails requiring my attention

I have two support folders per account:

* Drafts
* Junk

And a single archive folder for each account. All my old archived mail was moved into this folder (> 200,000 messages).

* All Mail


1. This system keeps my mail client very simple. If I need to find something, or want a finer-grained collection of email, I set up Smart Folders in Apple Mail or search.

2. All clients from machine to machine are synced automatically. When I get a new machine, all I need to do is set up the account configuration and wait while all my archived mail is downloaded. No worries about losing mail or creating backups.

3. I use the IMAP prefix of [Gmail]/ to make the display even clearer. This flattens any Google labels into the same hierarchy level on my mail client (or iPhone).

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