Implementing GTD and Inbox Zero using Outlook 2013 with a Gmail account

I’ve used Gmail since 2003, and I love its slick interface, which remains superior in my opinion to any other web mail out there.  Like any web mail, it’s available anywhere I am, on any computer.  I can even “star” any messages that are either next actions or items I’m waiting on someone else for.  It also has Google’s powerful and fast search.

However, at work I’ve always used Outlook.  Outlook also has a slick interface, and its equivalent of “star”, the “flag for follow up”, is even more powerful because it can be supplemented by colour categories, which I use to represent the context where the action needs to be done: “At Computer”, “Errand”, etc.:


(To get categories nicely set up like this, follow the advice from Outlook Guru Diane Poremsky at

I also find Outlook very satisfying because I can drag messages to appropriate folders, and the folder hierarchy is much easier to manage than in Gmail.

Furthermore, there is a separate page called “tasks” where I can view all my flagged messages at once, grouped either by folder or by category.  This makes for a powerful way to implement GTD and Inbox Zero.

So I want the best of both worlds: while at my home office I want the power and features of Outlook, but I want to retain the option of searching and viewing my messages through the Gmail web interface.

You would think this would be simple: just click File -> Add Account and then give the information for Gmail.  Unfortunately, there are some details that if you get wrong, will cause a huge amount of frustration.

I set mine up that way and it worked for a while, but it would intermittently not work.  One day I had to spend a day working with Outlook while offline.  I spent the whole day checking off flags, and moving emails around into various folders.  After that day the sync no longer worked.

The Issue

As I found, the Outlook to Gmail IMAP interface can be painfully slow (as described in this video), and in fact apparently can stop working completely, unless you have certain settings correct.  You can easily get stuck on "synchronizing subscribed folders" during the Send/Receive step, and Outlook will either take forever or never complete the Send/Receive.

This is the IMAP issue I am referring to:

I paid $100 twice for Microsoft Premium Support, but they were unable to fix the issue.

I also considered just migrating all my Gmail messages into (formerly Hotmail), to take advantage of the fact that this webmail uses the Microsoft-Proprietary ActiveSync protocol, which might not have had the issues that the IMAP protocol has:

The old tool used for this purpose was called “TrueSwitch” but it is no longer supported, as even Google itself points out:

Another option was to use the Windows Live Essentials to import/export mail messages.

Fortunately I found the solution described below before taking the drastic step of migrating away from Gmail.

The Solution

The only solution that I found was:

(1)    Create New Profile

If your Outlook sync is not working, I recommend you first create a totally new profile and download the messages from the Gmail server again.  I know this is a giant pain if you have gigabytes of data, but on a strong connection it should only take a couple of hours, and for me it was the only way to ensure that the other steps below actually worked.

(2)    Modify “Send/Receive Groups” settings

Run Outlook /profiles and select your new profile.  Then Press Ctrl-Alt-S to visit “Send/Receive Groups”.  Alternatively you can access it from the Ribbon here:


I clicked “Edit” and followed the instructions from vishalkarpe in

1) Un-check the "Get folder unread count for subscribed folders"

2) Under Received mail items, check the option "User the custom behavior defined below"

3) In the window below that displays your Gmail folders just select inbox and leave the others unchecked

4) Click ok and then exit out of options and perform a send/receive to test if it is now working

(This advice is also contained in the following links:


If all goes according to plan, your Gmail inbox will also be empty!  All messages are now classified in folders.

As a test, check if when you star an email in Gmail, it shows up flagged after the sync in Outlook, and vice versa!

N.B.: If you ever feel like you might have lost an email across both systems, it might have for some reason ended up in under the “All Mail” label only.  Check there.


 Backing up the .ost File

I never had to worry about losing my email before, since it was all stored on the cloud at Google’s servers.  But the offline copy of the emails that Outlook maintains stores some extra information that is not copied by the IMAP protocol back to Google’s servers.  In particular, views, rules, and categories are not stored.  So it would behoove you to back up that offline copy.  I’ve done my backup via DropBox.

To do this I first found the location of the offline copy.  I went to File -> Account Settings -> Data Files -> Open File Location…

Normally this file location wouldn’t be within your DropBox folder, so you’ll have to use a trick to automatically create an “Echo” of this folder within your DropBox folder.  Follow the instructions here to use a free Microsoft tool called SyncToy:

Schedule to run once a day:

I hope this helps someone out there!