Your inbox can do a lot more than just organize your email
There's more to email than email.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 1, 2018.
Using your inbox to send and receive emails is all well and good—that’s its primary purpose, after all. But its powers go way beyond that, thanks largely to the ubiquity of this form of communication: Because email is such an established technology—almost every adult has an email address—just about every device and platform includes support for your inbox. In fact, developers have created a variety email plug-ins that you can employ for many other purposes. We’ve collected six alternative and unconventional uses for your inbox, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you found even more.
1. Turn drafts into memos
One of email’s strengths is how easy it is to check from any computer or phone. Take advantage of that accessibility to create a digital memo pad that you can check or update from anywhere.
Simply open one or more draft emails and jot down a few notes. Make sure to leave the recipient fields blank, so you don’t accidentally send your grocery list to your boss, and then describe the purpose of the note in the subject line. You can write anything you like inside these draft emails: ideas you don’t want to forget, tasks you need to do, people you need to contact, and so on. Of course, email accounts are juicy targets for scammers and hackers, so you may not want to get too personal, even if you take steps to secure your inbox against phishing and other attacks.
When you’re ready to revisit a note, simply open the Drafts folder of your inbox and look for the appropriate subject line. You can also use the search function to find specific keywords in your notes.
2. Share photos privately
More possibilities open up when you start creating dedicated accounts for specific purposes—like sharing family photos without broadcasting that information to the world at large on social media.
Start by setting up a new email inbox, then share the login details with your closest friends and family members. Now you can send or forward photos and memories of your kids to this second email address. Your nearest and dearest can check the account for new pictures of your children without venturing into the wilds of Facebook or risking your family’s privacy. And they can even share their own photos with the account.
[Related: How to share photos without blasting them all over the internet]
A dedicated email account can also serve other uses. Create a shared account to easily make vacation plans with friends, keep travel information in one place, and ultimately share photos and memories from the actual trip. Think of it like a private social network for a specific purpose.
3. Post on social media
Maybe you want to post something to social media without risking the temptation of endlessly scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed. Or maybe you’re trying to post the same thing to multiple accounts. Either way, you can post to social media by sending an email.
For this application, you’ll need the help of If This Then That, better known as IFTTT, a free web service that can connect various accounts—like your email and your Twitter—together. With an IFTTT account, you can create “applets”: commands that essentially say, “When a trigger (“if this”) occurs, then an action (“then that”) should follow.” In this case, we want an applet with the trigger of sending an email, resulting in the action of posting something on a social media account.
To build this applet, start with the trigger option: Choose Email, then specify Send IFTTT any email. For the action, select Twitter, and then Post a tweet. The end result is that whatever you email to email@example.com will post as a tweet. You can even add an image by putting it into the email as an attachment.
You can also use this method to update two social networks at once: Just add a second applet that updates Facebook (or another network) from the same source email.
4. Save articles for later
There’s never enough time to read everything you encounter online. Thankfully, almost every article (including this one) includes a share-to-email button (it’s the letter icon at the top of the page, directly under the main image). This will let you store web clippings in your inbox, where you can revisit them when you have more time to read.
If you use an RSS feed, you can use the aforementioned magic of IFTTT to further automate this process. First, create a new applet from the drop-down menu. Then, for the trigger, choose RSS Feed, and for the action, choose Email. Now IFTTT will deliver all the articles from the RSS feed directly to your inbox.
Meanwhile, if you have a preferred read-it-later service, such as Pocket or Instapaper, email can help you add articles to your reading list: On Pocket, email links to firstname.lastname@example.org, and for Instapaper, email links to the personalized email address listed in your settings.
5. Back up anything
Your inbox makes a great backup device for receipts, bills, and other messages you might not have the time or space to stash anywhere else. Although most accounts come with storage limits, you can pay to expand your mailbox: Google starts offering additional space at 100GB for $2 per month, Apple’s lowest paid tier comes with 50GB for $1 per month, and Yahoo Mail provides 1TB completely free of charge.
Email may not be as sophisticated as some of your other backup options, but it’s incredibly handy and easy to use: You attach photos, documents, and even music tracks to your emails, write yourself in as the recipient, and hit send. However, hefty video attachments may be too big for your email client to accept.
[Related: How to get the most space in your cloud storage—without paying to upgrade]
Backup doesn’t stop with files. An app like SMS Backup + can also save your Android device’s text messages to your Gmail account. Meanwhile, WhatsApp (for iOS and Android) can email you an archive of your chats. This turns your inbox into a searchable archive of your digital life.
6. Start a blog
Got a yen to record your travels, promote your business, show off your artistic skills, opine on the news, or share your creative writing? Go ahead and start a blog—and then run it through your email. Unlike blogging via app or website, you can email from just about any app on any device running any platform. This option is particularly helpful when you’re traveling for a decent spell or you feel an urgent need to craft a post while you’re out and about.
Most blogs platforms, including Blogger and WordPress, allow you to write an essay in your inbox, attach an accompanying image to the message, and then send it to a specific email address. This makes it go live as a blog post. Although some blogging platforms lack native support for this ability, you can find workarounds—such as building an IFTTT applet to do the job.
Update: An earlier version of this story suggested using your email inbox as a diary or journal. Given how vulnerable email accounts are to attacks, we no longer recommend doing so. Consider a paper journal instead.