I am, by most accounts, an email power user. I send and receive hundreds of messages a day, and do so from multiple devices. I have custom signatures and email templates, and can conduct business and transactions via email with ease. My entire business is run on and depends on email communication. So you can imagine my distress when suddenly, irrevocably, that was all taken away.
To give you some background, I have been emailing since 1992 when I got my first email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, at The Ohio State University. Later, I opened a Hotmail account and used that for a while, and then by the mid-nineties I was using Yahoo! as my primary email. From 1999 – 2001, I worked for a Fortune 500 company in Ohio and used Lotus Notes, and then in late 2001 I became the Sales Manager for an IT company and we used Outlook with Microsoft Exchange.
I loved Outlook! I was able to create folders within folders and really manage my emails well. I developed a system that allowed me to use Outlook to not only manage emails, but projects as well. For instance, each client would have their own folder for email storage, but those folders would be nested within other folders like Active or On Hold. Client folders could be moved around with ease, and I would have a constant visual reminder of which clients and projects were currently active. I could also put emails in a Prospects folder to help keep sales cycles moving.
I left that IT firm in 2006, but at the time I had been using my own personal laptop, so my installation of Outlook came with me. When I bought a new PC in 2007, we migrated my Outlook data file. And in 2011, when i finally made the Big Switch to a MacBook, I migrated my Outlook data file again.
So now it’s 2013, and I have been using Outlook for over 12 years, and have emails dating back that far. From 2007 on, I used Outlook to communicate with new website, social media and consulting clients, and as each year passed, email volume has only increased.
And that’s when it happened. After 12 years, Outlook decided it was done.
I have actually been experiencing issues for a few months. I would open Outlook and it would hang up, and then throw an error that the database could not be opened. I would close Outlook and restart it and the Microsoft Database Utility would run. It would take about an hour to repair the database, and then I would be fine. After the second time that happened, I started to look into alternatives. Mac Mail was an easy first choice since it’s already on my system, but that folder management system I mentioned is a deal-breaker, and you can’t nest folders in Mac Mail. I’d long given up the idea of using Hotmail or Yahoo! for professional email, for many of the same reasons.
Unfortunately, before I was able to come to a decision, Outlook made it for me. On Monday, May 20, at 7:25AM, Outlook suffered a catastrophic failure and efforts to resuscitate it failed. Throughout the day, I ran the Database Utility multiple times, tried creating new Identities, and other troubleshooting steps that I knew or found online. Nothing worked. In the end, I was able to open Outlook, but the two or three email accounts I’d been using were no longer set up. More importantly, no emails received after April, 2012 were present.
I lost over one year’s worth of email.
I have my own dedicated server and do keep 7 days of emails there so that I can log in via iPhone or iPad and see new mail, but have always relied on Outlook for long-term storage. Initially, I set up Mac Mail to check my two main accounts and quickly retrieved the previous week’s emails, and used that to send and receive throughout the day while troubleshooting Outlook. Obviously though, that was not a long-term solution.
I decided to give Gmail a closer look.
I had used Gmail before, but never extensively. Since I had been using Outlook for over a decade, the Gmail feature of grouped messages was literally foreign to me and very distracting. However, after spending some time within Settings, I found that I was able to turn that off, and make a number of other changes to how Gmail is presented that brought it much closer to what I was looking for and familiar with.
But we still had the issue of folder organization.
I was vaguely familiar with “labels” but didn’t realize at first that that was Gmail’s version of folders until I did some more digging. Once I realized that labels could be nested within other labels, my organizational issues were solved. I still had the unenviable task of recreating over a hundred labels and going through a weeks worth of old emails (approximately 4000 messages), but it didn’t all have to be done at once.
I went ahead and configured the two email accounts that I use, with email@example.com being my primary one. While you have to have a gmail email address to use gmail, technically, I don’t use it. My clients have no idea that sending email from Gmail (unless they read this), as all my outgoing emails are “branded” with my company domain name and signature. They’re set up as POP accounts and I always reply from my primary account.
Once I had committed to Gmail and began using it consistently, I began to find some actual benefits over my previous setup.
First, Gmail’s anti-spam system is clearly superior to Outlook’s. Very few spam messages make it into my Inbox, and it’s been rare so far to see messages incorrectly marked as spam. Those were both issues I battled daily with Outlook.
Second, with my old setup, I used Mail on my iPhone and iPad. I set my email accounts as IMAP which meant that I could log into the server and see new messages, but they’d remain on the server until Outlook downloaded them and deleted one week old messages permanently. While that ensured I’d be able to view mail from my phone or tablet without Outlook removing them from the server first, it also meant that often I would have to see emails multiple times. I’d read it on my iPhone in the evening or early in the morning, and then again once I got to the office and needed to do something with it on Outlook. Gmail completely blows away that issue since I can now use the Gmail app for email. Wherever I log into Gmail, as you probably know, my Inbox is the same. Even cooler is that now, I will have complete remote access to my old emails and folders, whereas before I only had my latest emails.
Finally, as I’m using so many other Google products like Google+ and YouTube, integration with Gmail is impressive and something I’ve never before experienced. It’s something I’m sure to write more about in the future, but an easy example is Google+ notifications. When someone mentions me on Google+, I get an email notification. Previously, the email would have a snippet from the original post and include the comment in which I was mentioned. Now, because I’m using Gmail, the email includes up-to-date comments – even though they were posted after the email was sent!
I have no doubt that many of you have been using Gmail for a while now and wonder why I’m just now coming around. I will be the first to admit that I am actually slow to jump on new platforms and services. I think it’s important that if I’m going to use something, and recommend it to my readers, that there’s a maturity to the product and a great business use-case. Clearly, that’s the case with Gmail. It’s an awesome product and I’m happy to have made the switch.
I still have some troubleshooting steps to do to try and restore my old emails, including a system restore from backup. While I won’t go back to using Outlook no matter how that turns out, I do still hope to recover those lost messages and then import everything into Gmail so that I have my complete email history again. I often refer back to old emails for project information, so recovering them is still important. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to enjoy the benefits of Gmail and try to look at this event as a positive, learning experience.
How about you? Are you using Gmail? What tips would you share with a Gmail noob like me? Or are you using a system you think is better?