productivity tools (inbox angst)

Email email email

Today’s post is more a request for your ideas than a sharing of my own wisdom.

I’ve already blogged about the tools I like to use for writing and productivity?Scrivener, Pages, Dropbox, Elements, etc.?but now I’m trying to get my email under control.

I don’t want to tell you how many email folders I have sitting inside my Apple Mail program “On My Mac”?mostly because I don’t want to have to count them. I can tell you that as of this moment, I have 1569 messages sitting in my Inbox (407 unread). I need a better system for organizing, clearing, and archiving my email. Something that will allow me to easily sync between my MacBook and iPad.

I’ve been using the native iOS Mail app on the iPad, which is okay, but not great. Accessing folders isn’t intuitive, and although I have multiple email accounts set up to dump into the same Inbox?and they’re IMAP accounts, which is supposed to allow for easy syncing?one of my accounts is a bit screwy. I can receive and read email messages from that account just fine on my iPad, but I can neither delete messages nor send mail from that account. On the MacBook, this account works just fine. All the settings are the same between the two devices. I’ve tried setting up this same email address several times on the iPad, all with the same result. I may just give in and make an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar to figure this out, but I’m wondering if there’s a better overall email solution just waiting for me around the corner?

So I do some Googling. “Best email app for iPad.” “Manage email macbook iPad” “Archive and manage email apple” Etc. And you know what? Everyone has a different suggestion. Some swear by Sparrow?an app I’d not even heard of more than 24 hours ago. Others put their faith?and all their email and productivity eggs?in the Google Apps basket, though I’ve still not been able to find a single source that can tell me in no uncertain terms precisely what Google Apps is, what it does, why someone like me should consider using it, and how to set it up.

I realize what I’m after is not so simple, but neither am I trying to come up with a Hawking-worthy Theory of Everything. Here’s what I want to be able to do:

  • Access, send, and delete messages from multiple email accounts on both my MacBook and iPad (and probably via a web interface as well).
  • Manage email folders across these devices.
  • Have changes sync across devices.
  • Have an organizational strategy that helps me to increase my email productivity (not so much time spent futzing around).
  • Do all of this through an intuitive and even elegant interface that simply works.
  • Find an email archiving solution that allows me searchable access to old messages and folders, without cluttering up my (live) email app.

I’m probably looking at two different solutions here. For email proper, maybe it’s a matter of having everything forward into a Gmail interface?is that what Google Apps is all about??where I can take advantage of something like Priority Inbox and have my folders sync into Apple Mail on the MacBook. That might mean switching to a different iOS app like iMailG HD. I don’t really know.

For archiving, I’m wondering if Evernote might suffice at least as far as access to story notes and contact information is concerned. I’ve not used Evernote before and am only beginning to understand what it can (and possibly can’t) do.

Or maybe I just need to uncover a pot of gold in my back yard and use that to hire a digital productivity expert who can come in and walk me through streamlining my online life. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Short of that miracle, however, what are your suggestions? How do you manage your inbox and folders, and sync across devices and interfaces? What’s your archive strategy.

I welcome your suggestions, and I will share share my results. Thanks!

Creative Commons image by RambergMediaImages.

Posted in writing & publishing.


  1. The sheer number of email you have in your inbox made me catch my breath. That’s a lot of email! The mental weight of having so much of it sitting there staring at you must be exhausting. Have you ever considered declaring email bankruptcy and wiping it all out to start over? It’s a technique that I’ve read about other people using. Baring that, be ruthless. Go through the unread stuff and ask yourself: “Will I be OK if I don’t open this?” I’m a huge believer in the universe providing me what I need. So all of the emails I used to save thinking that I’d need the contact info it included – I toss them now, and figure when the time comes I’ll be able to find a source, if not that source.

    Lately I’ve started unsubscribing to stuff that I get & don’t want, whether it’s PR agencies or lists that I may have signed up for at one time but don’t want or need anymore. Less stuff coming in=less stuff to have to deal with in my inbox.

    Good luck!


    • Believe it or not, I already have been fairly ruthless in unsubscribing to lists, newsletters, and more that may at one time have been useful but are now little more than annoying. I have been deleting old email folders today.

      Maybe part of my problem is sentimentality, because I really want to keep that note of support from my college friend (from years ago), and the nice letters that readers send after another Northwest Love Story has run in the newspaper. These mostly go into dedicated folders–but those folders aren’t counted in my inbox total. There are lot of messages I still hope to act on (story leads, articles to read, etc.)… but really, who am I kidding? 😉

  2. Pingback: adventures with an iPad: Evernote and author readings | Jennifer Willis

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