You’re proud of your status on team #inboxzero. You have labels, lots of labels. Your filtering system acts like a good defensive line; nothing’s getting through there.
But have you organized your contacts yet? The “Contacts” tab on your Gmail account is probably like most users’: a desolate wasteland of misspelled versions of email addresses, networking connections you don’t remember and personal contacts.
Well not anymore. We’re going to give you our very best tips for cleaning out that contacts clutter and making your email address book useful again. For clarity’s sake, we’re focusing on Gmail as an email client here, but several of these tips will carry over to other services.
1. Make Google Contact Groups
Google has already taken the liberty of organizing your contacts based on your Google+ circles and your Android favorites list (if you have one), but sometimes that just isn’t enough.
If you do nothing else, separate your contacts into groups to make for a more organized list. For professionals who regularly message small teams, this feature is a must. Add contacts that you regularly email into one group instead of selecting each individual email address separately and potentially missing someone.
2. Find and Merge Duplicates
Google allows you to find and merge duplicate entries or entries that it perceives to be related. To do this, go to the “More” drop-down tab and select “Find & merge duplicate contacts…” from the list. You can then save multiple email addresses under one name or reject Google’s suggestions. Remember that the service isn’t perfect, and you may have to go back in and manually merge one or two contacts that Google doesn’t recognize as related.
Regularly reviewing your contacts and merging them is a great way to take inventory of your connections and keep your contact list organized.
3. Adjust your Auto-Save Settings
Google saves every single email address you contact in your “Other Contacts” folder. While this can be okay sometimes (never lose another email address!), for people who use Gmail accounts to mass message prospective clients or other large groups of strangers, this isn’t exactly helpful for keeping your contacts organized.
To disable this feature, go to the “Settings” menu in the upper right hand corner under the gear icon. From the “General” tab, you’ll see a section labeled “Create contacts for auto-complete.” Change the radio button to “I’ll add contacts myself.” Don’t forget to save your settings and to save email addresses from new contacts from now on. No more autotype for you.
4. Export LinkedIn Contacts
Unless you’re extremely active on the site, LinkedIn can be where networking connections go to die. You meet someone at an event, share business cards, add them on LinkedIn and then poof. They’re a useless number on your profile that you never speak to again. Exporting your contacts on LinkedIn and importing them into your Gmail account make those connections more readily available to you.
On your LinkedIn page, go to the “Network” tab and click “Contacts.” Then, in the header labeled “Contacts,” click the settings icon. From this screen you can sync your Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook or iPhone address book to your LinkedIn Contacts, or you can export your LinkedIn connections on the right hand side under “Advanced Settings.”
A note on LinkedIn Contacts: One benefit to using LinkedIn as your primary address book (at least for business) is that it puts the burden of updating contact information on your contacts, not you. So you don’t have to remember that John switched jobs, John does and LinkedIn will automatically update your contact list.
Export your contacts in whatever file makes the most sense for your email client, and then go back to your email contacts list and import the file there.
5. Manually Update
Enough with the eye rolls. We know it’s a pain, but if you want something done perfectly, do it yourself. The best place to start is the “Other Contacts” group. Start filling out as much information as possible. Another way to manually update your contacts is to delete misspelled email addresses (we all have at least one saved) and old email contacts whose addresses are either invalid or out of date.
6. Export Your Contacts
Export your contacts and resave the file regularly. If your account is compromised, you change jobs or, for some reason, your contacts are sucked into the Interwebz and never heard from again, you’ll be happy you did. You can also import those contacts into other services like LinkedIn or another email address (professional to personal account, for instance).
What tips do you have for keeping your email contacts neat and tidy? Let us know in the comments.