I have been using Gmail instead of Outlook for the past two weeks. And you know what? I couldn't be happier with it.
Yeah, I didn't expect that, either.
I figured I'd be somewhat satisfied at best, but more probably I'd evidence the general level of disgruntlement most technology inspires in me. But no. I'm actually quite happy with Gmail.
Fundamentally, the reason is simple: my email has been under control for two whole weeks. I can't remember when that was last the case, but it sure hasn't been for a few years, at least.
Achieving Inbox Zero
Within two days of moving to Gmail, I actually achieved Inbox Zero, that mythical state that described an inbox completely devoid of messages. Even more astonishing, I've managed to keep my inbox at Inbox Zero each day for the last few weeks.
I attribute this to a number of factors, each of which I will enumerate here.
Substantially less subscription mail: Right after I moved all my mail to Gmail, I set up unroll.me to unsubscribe me from as many items as it could find with unsubscribe links. I had well over 300 different subscriptions, and if you figure some of them mail daily, that's a lot of incoming trash. Most of that has just stopped.
Way less spam: I know Office 365's Exchange offering does spam management, but Gmail does it far more successfully. I haven't had a single non-English message since I signed up. With Exchange, even with spam protection turned way up, I constantly got mail filled with non-English characters. Worse, Outlook or Exchange didn't seem to understand that those messages were spam, so they'd often fill up my inbox. That just doesn't happen in Gmail.
Gmail's inbox tabs: Gmail separates social, promotional, update, and forum email into their own separate tabs, so your inbox contains only the most important messages. And guess what? The thing actually works. I can quickly and easily see the most important messages and reply to them, and clear out the promotional and random informative email quickly and easily. It took me a few days to get used to, but this feature rocks!
Email manageability features I like
In addition to keeping my inbox clean, there are a few other factors that have added to the increased manageability of email in Gmail compared to my long experience with Outlook.
Browser interface: Many people have said that the Gmail interface is ugly compared to Outlook.com, and I would agree. However, compared to Outlook Web Access, the inexplicably different Web interface you get with Office 365 and Exchange, Gmail is far more effective. More to the point, I haven't felt the need to use a local application, so my interface for email is the same no matter what computer I'm working on. That's proven to be a joy.
No profiles/sync overhead: Related to that, because I'm running a cloud app, I don't have to worry about syncing my email, whether my profile is corrupted yet again. I don't have to recreate my profile and re-download all my email like I used to when Outlook crashed. I have none of that overhead. Yes, I've yet to figure out a backup strategy, but for now I'm trusting Google to not lose my email.
Send and archive: There's an option to turn on a nice little button called "Send and Archive." This thing is an enormous time-saver. When you reply to a message, you can hit Send and archive instead of just send, and if you do, the original message is filed and no longer in your inbox.
Low-hassle add-ons: I've added a few browser extensions (which I'll talk about in a future article). They are low overhead, don't screw up my email environment, and generally haven't crashed my email system. While I've long used Outlook add-ons, and some of them are incredibly powerful, I've also had no end of problems with them. Granted, Chrome extensions aren't perfect, but they've been hassle-free.
Useful Android notifications: I'm now getting notifications on my phone when I get new email, but it's only when I get an important email message. So instead of being notified a thousand times a day, I get three or four notifications a day about something I really need to pay attention to.
Now, to be fair, Gmail isn't perfect and there are a few things that bug me:
No column sorting: Gmail has no column sorting. In fact, it barely knows there are columns at all. If you want to sort by something other than that which Gmail wants you to see, you're simply out of luck.
No column field selection: Compared to Outlook's rich control over columns, Gmail hasn't even phoned it in. Columns are simply ignored. Here's the big complaint: for some reason, there's no company column in the Contacts list. Seriously? How can that be?
Once in a while the interface hangs: The interface sometimes gets stuck. Every so often, trying to connect into Gmail, all I got was the blue percent-done indicator. On the other hand, all I had to do was wait a while and reload the page, where -- when Outlook crashes -- you know your entire afternoon is shot rebuilding profiles, reinstalling, uninstalling, and waiting for the inevitable Blue Screen of Death.
Gmail apps for iOS break: I found this to be a bit odd, but Google's own Gmail apps break when trying to open a message with a lot of back-and-forth history. The native iOS app handles it fine, but not the Gmail app. I don't need this capability as much, since I check Gmail more on my Android phone than on my iPhone-turned-iPod touch.
Two weeks ago, I told you that if I hated Gmail, the worst case was I'd have to go back. Not only have I not felt the need to go back, my wife has been watching my use of Gmail and asked me to move her from Outlook. She, too, is finding the Gmail experience pleasant compared to Outlook.
Finally, let me repeat something I've said in the past two articles. Gmail is not better than Outlook. Outlook is not better than Gmail. I've used Outlook for years and years and it has served me very well. I have simply been looking for a productivity boost and a reduction in task friction and for the work I do today, Gmail is the right choice. For today.
Over the past few weeks, many of you have written to tell me about your travels with email. I haven't had a chance to respond to all of you individually, but please continue to email me, and share your thoughts below in the TalkBacks.