About a week ago I installed Thunderbird again and I think I’ve cooked up the ultimate combination of tools for handling email. I was previously (for three years) working just in the Gmail client and while it’s been okay, I have needed a platform and process that allows me a chance to adapt my working process to a higher degree than Gmail does in the browser. I think the TB/GM combination has everything I am going to need.

Here’s what the process I’m currently using.

1. Make sure before you install Thunderbird, you go into your Gmail settings and set the POP forwarding to “new mail only”. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you sit there for hours waiting for Thunderbird to download 2Gb worth of old mail. And, as you’ll find out shortly, you aren’t going to use TB to store email anyway.

2. Once you have TB configured to receive your Gmail (and the latest version of TB makes that very easy), you might want to set up some folders under your Inbox. For example, I’ve got these folders currently set up.

Thunderbird folders

The reason for the folders is that I’m going to be creating some filters.

3. The reason for the filters is that I get a couple of hundred emails each day and I need a good way to prioritise them. So whenever an email comes into my inbox, I try to assign a filter to it so the next time I get an email from that person it ends up bypassing my inbox and ending up in one of the folders. That way I can scan my folders a few times a day and attack the most important emails first.

Why not just use Gmail filters? One reason – right click. I found the whole process of setting up filters in Gmail very slow and frustrating. With TB, you open the email, right click the sender’s email address, and select “Create Filter From Message”. It’s a far smoother process. It’s also easier to colour-code your messages, tag them, etc. And you can drag-and-drop them into folders or into the Trash.

4. Here’s the best tip – once I’ve processed an email, I *delete* it. Yup. Why? Because this is Gmail – access to an old email is a click away by opening up a browser window. No point storing them locally when Google does it for you. So when you re-build your PC you don’t need to worry about backing up old emails. It’s all in the cloud, baby.

So… that’s my current email process. If you have any additional tips to handling large quantities of email per day, let me know.

UPDATE: Something Jodie Miners reminded me of. This solution probably ISN’T going to work for those of you who operate regularly across several machines. These days I don’t travel as much as I used to, so my desktop machine is where I am handling email 95% of the time. When I am away from home, I check Gmail from my phone or my laptop. I can still use the Gmail web interface for these out-of-context situations. However I’m never going to be trying to deal with 200+ emails in these situations, only emergency stuff. The Thunderbird interface is for handling bulk email on a daily basis.

UPDATE 12 July, 2007:
In case you don’t read David’s comments from below, I’ve added these to my TB install! Brilliant!

Another component I’ve added to the TB mix is hooking in Google Calendars using two plugins: Lightning + Provider for Google Calendars, which let me view and update my (multiple) Google Calendars from a sidebar within Thunderbird.

Get it!

Lightning 0.5

Provider for Google Calendar 0.21