How To Manage Multiple Email Accounts

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This week we are back to managing email and how to manage multiple email accounts.

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Episode 88

Hello and welcome to episode 88 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

We’re back to email this week with a very interesting question about managing multiple email addresses and whether to have them all in one place or to have different apps for different email addresses—a sort of compartmentalisation for email. 

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Okay, it’s now time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question. 

This week’s question comes from Salvatore. Salvatore asks: Hi Carl, I have four email addresses: work, personal and two volunteer group emails. What do you recommend? One email app per address (Outlook, Gmail, web) or should I have all emails delivered to one inbox and filter somehow. Thank you!

Thank you, Salvatore, for your question. 

Many people have multiple email addresses. We have our work email address, a personal address and probably a few others we have accumulated over the years. The question is how do we manage all those emails. 

The ideal is to have one email app and have all your accounts coming in to that one email account. Now of course, I know this might not be possible in all cases. You may have Outlook for your business email and you company could have strict policies about how you use that account. In that case, you have no choice. In many ways that can work for you as it will enable you to place a hard edge between your work and your personal life. 

But let’s zoom out a little here. Email, whether it is a business related email or a personal one is still the same thing functionally. It is an input that needs a decision making on it. What do you need to do with the email? Reply? Save it for reference? Send it to someone else to deal with or delete it. It does not matter where that email comes from. You still need to make a decision about it. So, having everything come in to one place rather than multiple apps means you have less to check and therefore there less chance anything will get missed. 

I use Apple Mail both on my computer and my phone and iPad. All emails I receive come into that one app. I have folders set for each account though. For example, my two businesses - the productivity work and my English communication work each have their own email addresses. I also have a personal account for personal messages and online shopping. They all come in to the one app and one inbox.

My basic email folder structure is:

Action Today - this folder is for any email that requires action. It could be a reply, it could be something I have to read or it could be something else I need to do. If whatever it is I need to do will take longer than two minutes, then I will put the email into that folder for the right account. 

Next up I have my Waiting For folder. Usually, the only emails in there are emails I am waiting for something to be delivered. Online shopping for example and occasionally an email I waiting for a reply on. I check this folder once a day and once I have received the order or the reply I am waiting for I will remove the email and archive it. 

Then there is my archive folder for everything else. Once I have dealt with an email I will swipe left and the email automatically goes off to my archive folder. 

The question most people have is what about emails related to specific projects. This one is really your call. If you feel more comfortable having emails related to projects you are working on in one place, you can create folders for those specific projects. I don’t typically do this, but I do create specific folders for trips I am making. For example, last April when I went over to the UK and Ireland I created a folder for that trip because I have airline itineraries as well as hotel booking confirmations and car hire details. I wanted to have all these in one place in case I needed them while I was on the trip. 

Once I got back home I archived all those emails and deleted the folder. 

I have another trip coming up in September when I will be going over to Singapore. Again, I have created a folder specifically for that trip so all my hotel booking confirmations and flight itineraries are kept in there. This means if I need to access any information quickly at an airport or hotel, I can get it very quickly without having to search through all my emails. 

Now, if you do have strict rules about what comes in to your work email account you have no choice. You will have to have separate email apps for your personal email and your work email. That should not be a big problem though. The only thing you need to do is to make sure you are processing your personal email every twenty-four to forty-eight hours. 

This can be easily forgotten as you probably don’t treat personal email as important as your work email. A tip here would be to use your to-do list manager to remind you to check your personal email once a day. If you only check it once a week or once every few days its inbox will fill up and you will have to spend a lot of time clearing it out. Spending ten minutes or so each day processing your inbox here will keep you up to date and make sure you are not missing anything important. 

I think the biggest problem with email is we treat it as something more than just another input. But that it really all it is. It’s another input of stuff requiring your attention and a decision. So the secret, if it really is a secret, is to make sure you are processing it regularly and make those decisions about what needs to happen with it. Creating a system for processing your inbox or inboxes will help you to become much faster at making those decisions over time. If you can have all your email coming in to one app, that’s ideal. But if that is not possible, then make sure you build the system of processing your various accounts on a daily basis. Work related email may need checking several times a day, your personal email less frequently. That’s the choice you need to make. 

For me, the advantage of using Apple’s Mail app is its ability to create rules within the Mac OS system. Sadly this does not work on iOS mail, but I have created a unified Action Today smart folder where all my actionable emails come into one folder on my Mac. All three of my accounts have an Action Today folder and I want to see all these emails in one place. To do that I set up a Smart Mailbox to collect any email that I have designated as an Action Today email. I have tested many email apps over the years and I have never found an app that will allow me to do that. Newton, Spark and AirMail allow me to have multiple accounts but these are all separated within the app. So, if I use any of those apps I have to check three folders for actionable emails. With Mac OS Mail, I only have one folder to check. 

To overcome this, you can flag actionable emails, and most of these third party apps will collect all your flagged emails into one place. Once you have dealt with the email you can simply unflag it. It’s not a perfect way to do it, but it does work. 

So there you go, Salvatore. I hope that has helped. Try to keep all your accounts in one app. If that is not possible make sure you are using the minimum number of apps and check them everyday so they do not start to become overwhelming. Doing that should help you to keep everything under control. And remember, any email—personal or work related—is still just another input you need to make a decision on and then do something about it. 

Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you’d like answering, then you can email me - or DM me on Twitter or Facebook. All the links are in the show notes. 

It just remains for me to wish you all a very very productive week.