Have You Reached Email Account Overload?

email overloadIs anyone else starting to lose track of how many email accounts they use? It used to be so much easier. A few years ago I had three main accounts: one for work, one for personal, and a webmail account for trash.

I now have at least five separate primary accounts. Then there are another dozen or so accounts that forward to these. Finally, I’ve lost count of the number of webmail accounts I’ve registered. I used to consider these as ‘throwaway’ addresses, but they’ve become increasingly important. For example, anyone using Google systems such as Docs, Analytics, and AdWords, will almost certainly have a GMail account.

I suspect this is an issue that’s primarily encountered by freelancers and small business owners. It’s common to develop micro-businesses selling software or services from a variety of websites. I’m also regularly asked by clients to become a technical contact for their online systems (or webmaster as it used to be known). However, I’m sure email overload is becoming a frustrating issue for mainstream users too.

Applications such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird can help and I like to think I’m fairly organized. All my incoming emails are color-coded or forwarded to an appropriate folder. Spam is rarely a problem because it’s filtered on at least three levels. Finally, I like to empty my inbox and delete emails when a task has been completed. But problems remain — some webmail accounts must be checked manually and I still have too many emails for too many purposes!

The easy answer would be to scrap some of these accounts, but it’s not that straight-forward. It’s often necessary to send emails from a particular address so multiple identities are required to portray a professional image and not confuse recipients.

But is this a widespread problem and is a solution required? Many webmail services offer email aggregation facilities but few offer the configuration options of offline clients such as Outlook or Thunderbird. There’s also the risk that centralizing your email online creates a single point of failure and you succumb to the privacy, security and financial concerns of a third party.

I’d have liked to finish this post by offering a perfect solution, but I’m not convinced one exists. I’m therefore throwing the questions out to SitePoint readers…

How many email accounts do you monitor? Are you suffering from email overload? Have you found a good solution? Or what steps did you take to rectify the problem?

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  • John

    I have > 30 accounts – all managed via my website domain. Much easier than using gmail/yahoo, etc.

    One stop shop for account mgmt, add/remove at will, auto-forward as necessary, POP3 as necessary.

    I control – so not overwhelming…

  • Stacy

    I have 3 main email accounts, and 2 other accounts that I do not frequently use. Since I use my GMail account more frequently, I set all of my other accounts up under GMail (Accounts & Import). Then I created a label for each of the accounts, and setup a filter to apply the appropriate label. Then if I need to search for something that was just sent to that one email account, I click on the label and it shows me the email for that one account.

  • http://www.gearthhacks.com/ mickmel

    1 – Gmail. I have about 25 different accounts that either POP or forward into it, but they’re all in one place. They get auto-labeled with the appropriate site name, and when I respond it comes from that address. It works quite well.

  • @consciousness

    i learned my lesson the hard way by losing access to a private domain email account attached to things like paypal and online banking that became a huge hassle. i’m down to one casual email, one formal, both gmail. that’s it.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    I love GMail and use it, but I wouldn’t want to risk it as my single centralized system. Google have been known to scrap accounts and there’s little comeback if they lose your data.

  • Piers Dillon-Scott

    Im in the same boat, between my gmail accounts, gmx and live im getting snowed under.

    Mozilla’s Raindrop looks like it could be a really interesting way of managing accounts

    I started using the “+” trick earlier this year with my main gmail account; after the main gmail address you can add a plus sign and any word your want. so if you are registering with sitepoint you can add+sitepoint after your name the gmail address

  • hairybob

    Consider upgrading to the enterprise edition of google apps. It includes gmail and, as mickmel states, will work perfectly for you. It’s only about $100/year and will enable you to filter, store, retrieve, and respond from a variety of different email addresses.

  • Laneth

    Personally, I use Thunderbird to monitor all my accounts.
    I have around 6-7 that forward all through to my main account that I do all transactions with when outgoing.
    Also, a handy feature is the BCC field – every email I send/receive is BCC’d into a storage account on gmail. Because I don’t download music or videos or anything, and rarely participate in the “FWD” email chains that go around, I haven’t scratched the surface of my storage with Gmail – (after 3 years, only about 1GB of the approx 8GB is used in pure text emails, around 16,000 emails – not overly much, but for someone only just starting in business, it’s not bad!)
    While it’s not a definitive answer, and doesn’t help solve the issue of service outages / failures for online webmails, it does allow you to create “aliases” to send your mail “from” and if you’re careful enough, you can legitimately run several unrelated businesses from the one desktop mail client.
    Gmail also allows this feature, so long as you can prove you own the email address you want to send mail as.
    So long as you can access the SMTP details (and the webmail provider allows SMTP access to the account) you can use Thunderbird to send mail from a multitude of accounts from its main interface – which is incredibly handy when acting as a webmaster / technical contact for several sites – incoming mail is sorted into the correct incoming account area, and even sub-level filtering. But this is turning out to be a review more than a potential solution – so that’s my outlook on it.

  • Zeno

    Well I only use 3.
    1. is for everything, and 2. is my mobileMe account for which goes only to some very special people (push is a cool feature to have).
    3. is the mail at work.

    I also forward my all other personal accounts (3-4) to my gmail account. But it’s only a precaution, since I don’t use them anymore. Once I stop using an account (change jobs, or for some other reason) I slowly fade it away till I receive virtually no mail on it and then I delete it.

    The work e-mail I don’t forward. I like to keep personal life and work sepparate. I don’t check work mail on weekends.

    Z.

  • Neha Mohan

    I personally use Outlook for my work and gmail for personal accounts. I use a software Nubli to manage my emails on Outlook as it automatically prioritizes my emails and lets me manage my emails better through a dashboard. It also does automated tagging, helps me manage email overload

  • Cromulent

    I have about 6 e-mail accounts for various websites plus my Gmail and Hotmail accounts and my standard ISP e-mail account for personal e-mails.

    I pretty much manage them all through Apple Mail which has served me well for a few years now after I moved over from Mozilla Thunderbird simply because it integrated with Mac OS X much better.

    I really do need to find a way to reduce the number of e-mails I get a day though, 300 is a bit much to take in.

    My take on the issue is simple. As long as each e-mail account is operated from a separate account and can be used individually from the others then it is not really such a big problem. The problem comes when you fail to organise your e-mail properly or just have one big dump folder which you need to manually manage by colour coding your e-mails or some such.

  • ubshreenath

    oh and talk about having multiple Live ID’s and once I hit Hotmail, it automatically logs me in and I have to figure out first which ID I am logged into. But thankfully the Windows Live team thought this was problematic too and gave this new feature to link up multiple Live ID accounts into one. So whichever I login to, I can easily switch to another one from a drop down and check mail and updates there.

    I have a primary personal gmail Id and a couple of others for a few groups I run. But All of them pop mail back into my personal Gmail account and I’ve created filters to apply an appropriate label to them based on which account they are coming from.

    Office mail still resides in Outlook through Exchange server and I dont let it conflict elsewhere.

  • AndrewCooper

    14 or so E-Mail accounts for me! My Maths teacher was so surprised at me having so many E-Mail accounts! I’m probably going to end up managing around 20 or by the end of this year. It isn’t a huge deal really, I cope fairly well, except that one of my accounts has around 1500 unread E-Mails! But most of them are from mailinglists such as Web Standards Group, I always keep on top of E-Mail that needs to be read and replied to.

    Andrew Cooper

  • alsac

    I have about 8 accounts. However I forward allof them to my Zoho account, the filtering is great and I only have to go one place for all my different mail.

    Good points about stress! E$mail used to be one for me.

  • Benjamin

    I have about 5 actual mailboxes and too-many-to-count aliasses.
    I prefer not to use webmail acounts and accounts from my ISP publicly, as a solution I give an alias and reroute them to my webmail account.
    As an advantage, I can access it from everywhere, the downside is as mentioned in the comments before: a single point of failure.
    One of the solutions for this is to use IMAP on GMail and configure Thunderbird to keep an offline copy of the mail. That way you can still access your e-mail when Gmail is down or you don’t have network access.