Gmail Can Boost Your Non-Gmail Productivity

Gmail can greatly enhance your email experience, even for your non-Google accounts if you learn a few tricks.

(Update (4/3/07):  A year has passed and a lot has changed. Check out my new post here. )

Reading Paul Kedrosky’s and Michael Parekh’s  recent posts on the limits of Gmail storage prompted me to list the bag of tricks that made my life easier.  Note: I’m still not entirely online, have a lot of stuff on my desktop and am enslaved in Outlook-prison.

Multiple Gmail Accounts and aliases. We probably all do this: have a separate account for personal, blogging, subscriptions …etc use.  POP-download all, or use forwarding between the accounts.  Here’s a trick: the format.  Your core gmail account is, but anything addressed in the “+alias” format will end up in your inbox. That way you can separate your subscriptions, different banks, brokers, airlines ..etc by setting up matching labels and corresponding auto-filters to assign the labels in gmail.

  • Having said that, my most important Gmail account is the one that I don’t use at all.  It’s my archive account.

All-In-One Searchable Archive.

  • Transferring historical data

    Like Paul, I also made Gmail my overall email archive. However, forwarding current email is of little value to me unless I can get ALL my historical email (those ugly Outlook archive.pst files dating back to the mid-90’s) dumped into ONE gmail account.  There are several “gmail-loader” tools on the Net, none of which are up to the task, IMHO.  Some  simply don’t work, others change the original sender information to the email account they use – pretty bad.   The simple solution is using Thunderbird with a redirect extension.  Steps to achieve this:

    • Open old archive.pst files in Outlook
    • Import all Outlook email into Outlook Express
    • Import from Outlook Express into Thunderbird.  (Yes, I know, Outlook > Thunderbird directly looks like a simpler process, but for some reason the direct import takes forever – we’re talking about a day for 1G of stuff … the extra steps saves a lot of time, don’t ask me why)
    • Download the Mail Redirect extension for Thunderbird.
    • Select all your email and redirect them to your gmail account.  The whole process will likely take hours, but it’s worth it.
    • Optional step:  set up gmail labels that match your Outlook folders / categories / archive files, and do the transfer in batches matching those groups.  On the gmail end set an autofilter that assigns the relevant label to ALL incoming email.  Obviously change the label for all new batch.

  •  Forwarding all current email
    • Setting up auto-forwarding for your incoming email is a no-brainer.  The ideal choice is to do it server-side, before it hits your Outlook (or whatever email client).  Unfortunately the choice with most ISP’s and email hosts is either POP or forwarding.  The service I use (1and1) allows 3 simultaneous destinations for inbound email:  inbox (for POP access) and two forwarding targets. When forwarding several (ALL) email accounts, you can use the alias-trick, i.e. forward to and autolabel accordingly.
    • You’ll need to forward all your outgoing email, and while using the BCC option is a more discreet approach, unbelievably Outlook does not have a rule for auto-BCC.  Hidden BCC is a great little tool to help with this, and at about $3 it’s as inexpensive as it gets …  Remember to use the alias-trick for your forwarding address, i.e.

  • Managing your account
    • Don’t ever use this email address / account directly; this is exclusively your personal archive.
    • With the above + using the alias trick, no email should ever directly be sent to this address, you can safely set an autofilter that moves everything that still arrives to into the trash.
    • If you ever run short of space (see Paul’s concern), just create another gmail account.  No need to notify anyone, this is passive searchable storage, remember?  This is unlikely though, considering that Google continuously increases the available capacity, and if it still happens, you can separate the two archives by calendar year.

SPAM-filter for non-gmail accounts 

 “Spam detection and filtering in Gmail is as good as Yahoo’s SpamGuard” says Jeremy Zawodny.  He probably meant it as a compliment, but my impression is that Gmail is far better;  I left yahoo email specifically because of the insurmountable amount of spam.  Gmail meets the two fundamental criteria:  it catches all spam, and does not generate false positives.

  • Using gmail directly. 

    Of course a very simplistic approach is to forward all your email to a gmail address, have it spam-checked and pick it up from there, while making sure your outgoing email setup  always shows the non-gmail address.  If you’re like me and have reasons to directly use your non-gmail servers, the following will do the trick.

  • Indirectly

    We’ll set up all inbound email to make a round-trip to gmail and get spam-filtered there.

    • Set up a gmail account to forward ALL inbound email to your primary, non-gmail address. (
    • Set up a server-side filter on your your primary (non-gmail) account to examine the message header and look for this string: “X-Forwarded-For: “ .  Any email not containing this string should be forwarded to gmail.  In other words,  only email on it’s way back from the gmail spam-check will get into your inbox, everything else will be forwarded.

The target gmail account for the Spam filtering and Archiving could be the same, you just have to make sure to set the gmail forwarding rule to also keep an archived copy of all email locally.

Get even more productive

By using less email … but that’s the subject of another post (hint: Think Wiki)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this tips. I followed some with great success. Now I have my old (and important) mail archived on gmail.

  2. Anonymous says

    nice. But after I upgraded to Outlook 2007 with the 1 ms search capabilities of all my last 10 years of email. I have gone back to Outlook!

  3. It is not required to have a separate archive gmail account. You can make a filter that directs any mail arriving directly to your gmail account instead of your ‘normal’ account back to your normal account. This way you can receive email on your (archive) gmail or normal email, while keeping them in sync.
    Matches: to:(
    Do this: Forward to, Apply label “DirectlyToGmail”

  4. The redirect extension has numerous problems for me. I have the save in sent folder option unchecked, but I still get a bunch of redirects saved as copies in my sent folder. Also about 15% of the emails I try to redirect, especially when done in bulk give the error “mail server sent and incorrect greeting”. Does anyone else have issues with this?

  5. September 13th 2007

    Hi Zoli,

    I recently opened a new gmail account–my old one was much too long and difficult to hand out over the phone.

    I have managed to transfer all my contacts by following the export-import function in gmail and have forwarded all my incoming mails to the new address.

    I have not yet found a way though to transfer all my archived mail from my old gmail accounts to my new one. I read something you had written; however, it referred to transferring from outlook and not from gmail to gmail. Can archived e-mails be transferred from one gmail account to another?

    What would really wrap the process up nice and neatly would be the possibilty of transferring all the labels together with the archived emails from one gmail account to another. Can this be done?

    Thanks for you help.

    Nicosia, Cyprus

  6. Alec Burgess says

    Basically the same problem as Dionysis Theodorou above.

    My gmail archive has 145,000 messages threads (mostly from yahoo and google groups)

    Turns out one forum I belong to lost their current and backup messages and I’ve got a full copy (approx 90 threads). I’ve set up a filter that found all the messages based on from address and set up a new Google-group to which I want to forward these 90 threads so the owner can recreate the forum. (probably around 200 email messages in total).

    Any suggestions how this can be accomplished most easily?

    Regards … Alec

  7. Michael Hunt says

    Thunderbird (or any other mail client) with Gmail’s new IMAP enabled is a great way to archive mail. Setup like this it is simply a case of dragging and dropping messages.

    I;m thinking of trying a couple of IMAP sync programs to make a local IMAP account sync with my Gmail so that I have another offline backup.

  8. is there some way i can transfer all my mails from one gmail account to other? my gmail account has way too many emails and gmail loads very slow… i cannot shift to other account for various reasons…

    can you help me out in any way?


  1. […] In contrast, Gmail’s best feature is its legendary spam filter – in fact I relied on it long before become an active […]

%d bloggers like this: