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December 22, 2015

How I Cut the Cord to Microsoft Outlook

Image courtesy of (FrameAngel)/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have had several clients and colleagues ask me to share with them how I cut the cord to Outlook and moved all my mail to the Cloud. It is not complicated, but here are the steps I personally used to move all my mail online.

First, understand that I am/was an avid Microsoft Outlook user and have more than 15 e-mail accounts feeding into Outlook. I lived by my Outlook Calendar; if it was not there I did not do it. I have used Outlook for years and leaned heavily on it for work productivity and work flow. However, I hated to travel because when I got back the e-mail level was so high. To alleviate this I even bought a subscription for GoToMyPC so I could use Outlook while away from the office. And I even bought Companion Link to sync my Google calendar to Outlook. I did not want to use Google Apps, Microsoft Exchange Server or Office 365 as I simply did not want to pay the subscription charges or let Google or Microsoft get their “hooks” into my work processes and domain name records.

To get ready for the move, I really looked carefully at my existing e-mail accounts. What was important and what was not. I still wanted to see all the e-mails but needed greater Cloud control so my inbox would not be stacked. Then I used accounts I already had created. Here’s what I did.

My most important e-mail accounts — I had three — I forwarded in my hosting control panel to my primary Gmail account. Then I set up Gmail to send mail as my primary e-mail account nancy@mccordweb.com. This e-mail account is all business. I do not have any personal accounts pointing to this Gmail account.

I then set up an Outlook.com e-mail account. To this account I forwarded all e-mail accounts that were important but not as important. I have about 6 accounts feeding into this one e-mail address. I set up rules in Outlook.com to send the messages I receive from one address that are crucial, but create a ton of traffic into one folder. I have an MSN account, a Verizon account and a number of mccordweb.com e-mail accounts all forwarding to this account.  However nearly all my daily e-mail actively arriving in this account is personal. This is also the e-mail that I use for family and my bank. I set this account up to allow me to send e-mail from a personal Verizon address or my Outlook.com address.

I then set up a Yahoo.com e-mail account. To this account I forwarded all e-mail accounts that were not important, but necessary. I have many smaller less frequent e-mails sent here but I only check this account once or twice a week.

On my Smartphone I have an app for each one of these different mail platforms on my home screen; Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo Mail. I have set up different sounds for notification so that when I hear a sound I know which e-mail account a message has arrived for. This cues me as to if the mail personal or business. I turned off sync on the Yahoo account to save my phone battery and I only have this mail on for my Smartphone when I really want it or am traveling.

This first step is really about getting ready to transition and organizing your e-mail accounts into online accounts.

You may have additional prep organization on your end as to changing services that send mail to which account to control what goes where. For me, my firm webmasters a number of blogs and I took time to point the WordPress control panel notifications to a different e-mail address than my primary business address to further control what arrived in what Cloud e-mail account based on my setup.

So now you’ve got all your account pointed to the right Cloud accounts, you’ve got your mail coming in on your Smartphone, but you still have Outlook open and mail coming in.

The next step I took was to start to wean myself off Outlook. First, I wanted to leave Outlook connected so I did not miss mail, but I needed to force myself to transition.

This is what I did to cut the cord to Outlook…

I have one browser that I use for my Google calendar and Gmail and Outlook.com mail only. That for me is Edge. I have three or four tabs open there at any one time. One is my Google Calendar which was temporarily still syncing to Outlook and my Smartphone. One is Gmail and one is Outlook.com. Sometimes I will have a tab open to my Yahoo e-mail. Throughout the day this browser is open and all tabs opened.

I use Chrome, Firefox and IE for work, but only Edge for my Cloud mail and calendar when I am actively working. I may have open at any one time two or three browsers with multiple screens.

Now, I review all mail online and make any calendar changes online. No cheating! I have to say that the first week I was my own worst enemy. It is hard, hard, hard to keep out of Outlook; old patterns are hard to break. The benefits as you start to use the Cloud for your work flow are excellent.

Mid-week I was starting to feel more proficient at all this Cloud stuff. I read at night how to use stars and labels in Gmail and started to like the archive and search function. Actually there are some really nice things about Gmail and you can get started pretty fast in organizing mail without much preparation. Just remember labels are like Outlook folders.

I started to remove mail accounts from Outlook as I started to make the transition. I just did not need to get mail two places. This change is all about making things easier and better not redundant.

As of today nearly three weeks into my transition to the Cloud. I only open Outlook to review a previously saved message. I have not e-mail being actively sent to the application. In fact I have not opened Outlook in over two weeks as of today.

I have now fully transitioned my e-mail to the Cloud. I am not going back to Outlook as the benefits for me of having my mail in the Cloud are positive and well beyond what I expected.

Here are the specific improvements in my work flow:

  1. When I clear, delete, archive or label an e-mail on my Smartphone while out of the office, it is similarly done everywhere — tablet, laptop, desktop. I love this. How great will travel be, I will only need to review e-mail once and when I come home my desktop will be up-to-date.
  2. My online calendar is the boss. I’ll do a series on how to move your calendar to Google — that is also part of the equation on how to be more productive while working in the Cloud. I have my scheduling app Calendly feed directly into my Google calendar and without the hassle of feeding and creating duplicate events in Outlook my work flow is streamlined.
  3. I was not sure I could wean myself off Outlook folders. I organize and save all client correspondence and was worried that in Gmail I would lose or not be able to find things without the same set up. What I learned is the power of labels and stars. Plus the Google e-mail search function is wonderful at finding my mail in a snap. Remember, labels are the new folder in Gmail. You can still nest labels and create folders if you really want to.
  4. Make sure to go to the “lab” setting and select and enable these items to get the full use and power of Gmail: Canned Responses, Multiple In Boxes, Unread Message Icon, and Preview Pane. By using these lab functions you can set up your inbox to almost appear like the Outlook you were comfortable with.
  5. There are tons of resources online to review to help you effectively and productively use Gmail. I read nearly everything at Google https://support.google.com/mail/?hl=en#topic=3394144 while I was transitioning and found the information very helpful.

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Nancy McCord is the founder and President of McCord Web Services LLC which provides blog writing services, Twitter and Facebook status updates, and Google AdWords account set up and management. Since 2001, Nancy McCord has developed a reputation as an expert on Google AdWords and how to use social networking for business. You can visit Nancy and her firm at www.McCordWeb.com. Connect with +Nancy McCord at Google+, @mccordweb on Twitter and on Facebook.

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