Welcome to day 1 of my 7 Days to Inbox Zero game plan. Before you get started, there are a few things you may want to set up:
- Gmail: My method for getting your inbox to zero relies heavily on Gmail’s exceptionally powerful filters. So if you aren’t currently using Gmail, I recommend making the switch. You can sign up for a free Gmail account that gives you an address like email@example.com, or you can set up free Gmail hosting for your domain(so that you have an e-mail address like firstname.lastname@example.org). Don’t worry, you can still have a web site at www.yourdomain.com, hosted by whoever hosts your domain currently.
If you don’t want to make the switch, you can still join me in getting to zero over the next 7 days, but you’ll need to do some improvising and adaptation to make my steps work with your preferred e-mail provider.
- E-mail consolidation: If you use multiple e-mail addresses, you may have multiple inboxes to zero-ify. I have all my e-mail accounts set up to forward to one e-mail address (it’s an @gmail.com address) so that I only have to manage one inbox. You can set up Gmail in a way that makes your consolidation address pretty much invisible, simply by adding a custom “from” address for each e-mail address you want to use. For example, I use email@example.com to send much of my personal and professional e-mail, but still use firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mails related specifically to Social Signal.
- IMAP: If you check your e-mail from more than one computer (i.e. from multiple computers, or a computer and an iPad, or a computer and a Blackberry) you should access your e-mail via IMAP. (You can read this explanation of why to use IMAP.) Here’s how to set up IMAP on Gmail; if you’re using another e-mail service, switch it to IMAP or (as per my recommendation above), forward your existing e-mail account to Gmail and then use Gmail’s IMAP.
- Local e-mail client: Many people lead happy, productive lives by processing all their e-mail through Gmail’s web interface, or by using another web-based e-mail client. Personally, I prefer using a local e-mail client: Apple’s Mail (aka Mail.app). Using a local client means I have access to my e-mail when I’m offline (ok, I could use Google Gears for that); it also makes it easy for me to move messages between folders via drag and drop, and gives me some options for rules and interface enhancements I can’t get through Gmail itself. Mail.app is a good choice, but I also know tech-savvy folks who swear by Thunderbird, Outlook and Mailplane. The new Mac version of Outlook, Outlook 2011, got a great review from MacWorld; if I can get past my bad experiences with its predecessor, Entourage, I might give it a shot.
Update: In the course of writing this series, I started using Mailplane. It’s essentially a dedicated single-app web browser (like Fluid or Prism), dedicated specifically to Gmail. While I still prefer to do my e-mail processing, drafting and manual filing in Mail.app, I find Mailplane very handy for the e-mail-related tasks I need to do in Gmail (like setting up filters or re-organizing labels), since it keeps Gmail handy and makes it easy to switch between Gmail accounts.
- Smartphone and tablet e-mail configuration: It can be challenging to set up an iPhone or other smartphone so that it keeps your e-mail properly synced with your computer. For a long time I relied on MobileMe, but now I depend on Google Sync. Whatever smartphone you use, make sure your phone’s e-mail settings are configured to stay synced with the single, consolidated e-mail account you use (ideally Gmail) using IMAP. Do the same thing with your iPad or other tablet device. If you want to hold off on configuring your mobile devices until you’ve got your inbox emptied and your new e-mail management system in place, turn off your phone/tablet e-mail synchronization for now and use a web browser to check e-mail from your mobile device.
That’s it! Your e-mail set-up is now ready for your new life with a perpetually empty inbox. Next up: how to stem the tide of incoming e-mail.