I’d bet that most of you reading this have at least one (or probably several) e-mail accounts that you don’t use. You sign up for e-mail addresses at various places, but then invariably there’s one account that has all the features you’re looking for, or has a nice interface that you get used to, so you start using that one pretty much exclusively. However, if you have a large volume of e-mail coming in from different sources for various reasons, it may be worth resurrecting some of your dead e-mail accounts, or even getting some new ones, to help organize your online workflow.
To give you an idea of how a system like this can work, here’s a list of the functions of my different e-mail accounts:
- one address for personal mail (and by “personal” I mean it’s reserved strictly for private correspondence to friends and family)
- one for social networks and other web service accounts (Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and so forth)
- one address that I give to potential business contacts
- one account used only for e-mails in Chinese (I’m learning the language online, and like to keep those e-mails separate)
- one account to keep track of online orders (I do a lot of shopping on places like eBay and other auction sites)
- one extra “junk” account that I use when I’m concerned about spam, or just feel that I don’t trust the situation and don’t want to give any of my “real” addresses
Having all these accounts kept separately means I only see the mail I want to see at any one time, and any one inbox only contains mail in a single category, which keeps me focused on whatever I’m doing at the moment. If it’s my free time, I don’t want to see business e-mails, for example. If I’m finished with everything I need to do for the day, then I might have a look at whatever notices have come in from the social networks I belong to, or spend some time practicing my Chinese by reading e-mails from my Chinese friends.
It’s also useful to have usernames tailored for different situations. Maybe you thought that firstname.lastname@example.org was a funny and cool address to have when you signed up for it, and it may provide amusement for your friends, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to use it to apply for jobs or send e-mails to your pastor, for example. You’d probably want an address with your real name for those situations, or at least something more neutral. On the other hand, on public internet forums you may specifically want to avoid using your name while still being contactable by e-mail, so a less recognizable name may work better in that case.
The only problem with having e-mail addresses all over the place is that it can be a hassle to check your mail, especially if it involves going to several different web sites several times a day. There are a couple of ways to get around this. One solution is to get several addresses at the same site. The downside to this is that you have to log out and log in every time you want to look at a different inbox, which can cancel out the convenience of not having to visit different sites, depending on how much of a hassle you find it to deal with several sets of login information. If all your accounts come from a personally-owned domain that you have dedicated hosting for, your webmail control panel may have a way to store login information so that you can check all your accounts quickly and easily.
If you’re almost always on one particular computer, an even easier solution is to use a dedicated desktop e-mail client, such as Thunderbird or Outlook. You can set up multiple e-mail accounts in a single interface, and you have a range of options you can control to manage your mail in a way that suits you. Sometimes you may want to check all your accounts at the same time, or have certain pieces of mail automatically separated from the others. You can even set it up so that you only enter a single password instead of having to remember all of them. The only requirement is that all your e-mail addresses allow for pop3 access, but even most web-based e-mail accounts, such as Gmail, have this functionality (Hotmail is a notable exception). Pop3 setup is relatively painless, and many e-mail services provide online instructions for how to set your account up in most major desktop e-mail clients.
If you have multiple e-mail accounts, it’s worth giving it a try to use them all for separate purposes. It only takes a little bit of effort to set up, and the result of having a way to file e-mails automatically can save a lot of hassle in the long run, especially if you anticipate that your total e-mail volume will be increasing over time.