How Public Reps (and anyone else) Can Use Google Mail to Improve Productivity

I wrote the following for a friend who was asking about my Google Mail-based integrated mail, calendaring and contacts setup and thought it would be useful to share it in case it is of use to others.

The following describes how Gmail can be used as the single repository of mail despite us potentially having multiple mail accounts. The various benefits of this approach include: no backups needed, fast searching, no need for sorting or tagging into folders, single place to look for anything, integrated mail, calendaring and contacts accessible from multiple devices, and…

NOTE: Depending on your requirements either a free Gmail or free Google Hosted account (7G mailbox size) or a paid Google Pro Hosted Account (25G mailbox size for $50 per annum) is required to make this all work.

1. Put all your mails in one* place
Firstly, ensure that all mails from your current email addresses are collected in one place – your Google mailbox. This can be achieved either by configuring a forward on your existing accounts to immediately send any mail received by them to your Gmail account, or by using the POP facility in Gmail to pull the mails from those accounts into the Gmail account.

With the exception of my eThekwini Ward 33 email address, the rest of my mail, by far the bulk, goes into my Google Pro account – about 20G of it since 2000 archived and searchable in there – and the only stuff that’s been deleted are the forwarded funnies with large attachments. Everything else is all there.

For the super paranoid, there are tools out there that you can use to backup your Gmail account as well.

2. Use identities to send “as” your other accounts
Secondly, setup identities in Google Mail and use them to send mail from that account “as” your other email address(es). For example from my Google Pro account at thusa.net, I send mail and receive mail as:
xxx @ da.org.za
xyz @ da.org.za
xxx @ thusa.co.za
xxx @ chapman.org.za

Additionally, in the event that someone who should be mailing me on my eThekwini Ward 33 address gets me on any of the above, I ensure I can also send as ward33 @ ethekwini.org so that when I reply to such a mail any subsequent replies are routed to the correct mailbox for council-related issues.

3. Use the shared calendaring and contacts facility

Of massive benefit to me is the shared calendaring and contacts provided by Google. I maintain a council calendar (ward33) and a private calendar (thusa.net). They are both viewable from one another so the appointments inter-mingle, just in different colours. This is replicated on my BlackBerry and other devices and on the Google Mail web interface.

So if I add a contact on my BB while out of the office, it is immediately placed in my Google Contacts, and the same for calendar items, and vice-versa. So seamlessly, two things happen: (1) the contact or calendar appointment is added everywhere, and in the process (2) creates a backup so that should I lose any device I never lose any information. This applies to emails, contacts, calendar items, tasks and more.

4. Ditch fat desktop email programs
For most of the 2000’s I was a devoted Microsoft Outlook user. Even after I switched my primary OS from Microsoft Windows to Ubuntu Linux, I still stuck with Outlook.

Eventually I made the switch from the very FAT Outlook client to the lightweight cloud-based Google Mail interface. It was quite an adjustment and forced a new and very productive way of thinking about email – and but I could *never* go back:
– searching is a schizzle, no more filing and folders;
– no more Outlook crashes and corrupt mailboxes;
– no more long waits while Outlook searches through the mailbox;
– no more slowdowns of the PC while outlook searches!

These reasons may well apply to every other local mail client (Thunderbird, Eudora, Groupwise, Outlook Express, …), though they will almost always be more efficient and stable than Outlook.

* If necessary maintain two (or more) Gmail accounts
In my case, as a ward councillor, I have reason to maintain two Gmail accounts, so that when I am replaced in my ward/council role (there are no guarantees in politics), the incoming councillor can take over my eThekwini Ward 33 mailbox and keep the history of the ward, its contact and its issues.

I used this configuration with my previous seat in eThekwini Ward 18 and it has made it very easy for me to hand over and assist the incoming councillor with issues during his first 6 months in office.

This is too technical for me!
Yes, some users will need help setting something like this up and ensuring existing accounts are consolidated into one, and then configuring the rest of the services and adding them to your other devices. But, actually it is all rather simple to do in the end and very simple to keep going.

Try it!

Ciao
Warwick

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