Meditation with ThunderbirdBack in April, I wrote about how I was going to migrate to one über inbox. Instead of having multiple IMAP inboxes, I would consolidate to just one. One inbox, one e-mail archive, one set of filters. Well, in the space of about a week, I successfully completed the project and this is an update of how I did it and what it’s been like since.

Step 1: Setup E-Mail Forwarding
The first step in my journey was to setup all of my accounts to forward to one primary account. This is a fairly straightforward step, but it did force me to clean up the number of e-mail accounts I had. Over the years, I had built up a number of addresses I no longer needed. I had accounts for one-time use, and many more that were simply no longer being used.

So I deleted the ones I no longer needed and then I set the ones that I wanted to keep to forward to the über inbox. For example, forwards to my main account

Step 2: Setup Filters
Now that I had all my e-mail forwarding to one account, I next set about creating filters for all the e-mail that was coming in. The first set of filters that I created were contextual, all e-mail from label as personal for example. Next, I created filters to file certain e-mails to particular folders. E-mails from mailing lists would go to their respective folders, etc.

Step 3: Move The Archives
This was the longest step out of the whole process by far. With each account I had setup a hierarchal archive for all received e-mail. Sub folder-by-sub folder, I moved e-mail from one account to another. As I performed this task, I created a NEW set of hierarchal folders and broke them down a lot more simply than I had in the past.

With my new set of archived e-mail folders, I only had six major folders: Clients, Companies, Groups, People, Receipts, Registrations. Of course within most of those major folders, there were sub folders that parsed down the information. The largest of these was “Groups”, which was broken down by hobby, or interest.

Step 4: Create Identities
Without having specific e-mail accounts for each of my addresses anymore, I needed a new way to be able send e-mail from each account. With Thunderbird, the way to do that is with Identities. It’s very similar to the first step of setting up a new account, but as you might guess, there’s none of the e-mail account business, just your information.

With that last step, I had finished the migration. It took only a week of working on it here and there, but I’d managed to migrate 9 separate accounts into just one. *whew* 🙂

Almost Bliss
From the start, I was in a near state of bliss with the über inbox. Having all of my mail arriving in one inbox was fantastic and having almost everything labeled by “Client”, or “Palm” or “Later” made sifting through my mail as easy as pie. It didn’t matter where someone sent me an e-mail, I would find it in just one place. I can’t begin to describe just how happy I was not to have to dig through inbox after inbox. In addition, if someone sends me an e-mail to my personal account, but it is a business matter, I can easily reply using the proper identity.

As close as I am to true “e-mail nirvana”, there are a couple of snags that keep this new system from being ideal.

  • Gmail Isn’t Integrated
    I think Google’s Gmail is a brilliant e-mail solution. From the way it allows you to organize e-mail with labels and stars, to the ingenious way it archives e-mail, G-mail is a great web based solution. Unfortunately, Gmail is a POP based system and not an IMAP system and for this reason, it’s not integrated into my über inbox.

    It’s not that I can’t retrieve e-mail, it’s that I can’t manage it the way I want to. Since I access my mail from different devices and locations, I still want to use the Gmail series directly. So if I archive an e-mail in Thunderbird, I want it to be archived in G-mail as well. That can’t happen at this point in time. There may be an alternative solution out there, but I haven’t dug deep enough to find it.

  • I Need Better Filters
    The built-in SPAM filters in Thunderbird work VERY well, but I need to take the time and come up with some better filters to help weed out the SPAM folder. I receive 1000’s of SPAM a week and I know I could reduce the amount of e-mail I have to “review” in the SPAM folder if I just filtered it.

    Some filters I can do, such as auto-delete any e-mail addressed to for example. However some filters elude me, such as auto-deleting any e-mail in a Cyrillic or Asian alphabet. Both of these examples are flagged as SPAM and immediately sent to the Junk Folder, but I’d rather they were simply deleted automatically.

  • The Archive Is Too Hard To Use
    In creating the new e-mail archive, I created too many sub folders. I was tempted to go with just one Archive, ala Gmail, but that thought scared me somewhat and I shyed away from doing that. As described already, I created an archive with six major folders and a plethora of sub folders underneath. Although this method allows me to easy go to all e-mail from a particular client in just a few clicks, it does have some problems.

    For starters, doing a global search is simply not possible. So if I can’t find an e-mail in the folder I think it should be in, there’s no easy way to do a search and find it. I can do searches within a particular folder, but not all of them, so it’s been a hunt-and-seek if I can’t find what I’m looking for.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with the move to having only one inbox and I’m quite pleased with the results. There are a few snags that have to be ironed out, but I look at this as a process and not just a one-time fix. The biggest step has happened and over time I’ll continue to fine tune this new system.