Mutt vs Gmail Revisited

I used to use Gmail; I thought about switching to Mutt last summer. I decided to try Mutt for the summer to see what happened.

Something surprising happened.

But first, I will briefly compare Gmail to Mutt: I like that they are both heavy with keyboard shortcuts. I find that I am get through my email really quickly with both applications.

Gmail (unsurprisingly) has a strong advantage when it comes to searching through old mail. I will eventually install something like Notmuch to make the searches faster.

Mutt has a big advantage in composing emails: vim is really awesome, and I prefer using it whenever I write any text.

Gmail has a slight advantage in convenience, since it is browser-based. However, I have an ssh app for my iPad and Chromebook, and I have a Mac at home, so Mutt is awfully easy for me to get to at home. If I am stranded someplace with only a Windows machine, I might be at a bit of a loss (I don’t know how to get the equivalent of a terminal in Windows without installing something like PuTTY), although I do have access to a website that acts as a terminal. So this is basically even.

Here is the surprise: Mutt indirectly makes me much more productive.

I was not expecting this. Here is the deal: I like staying on top of email, so I have my email open all day. But Gmail is in a browser, so checking email leads to checking Feedly…and Google Plus…and other distracting websites.

When I check my email with Mutt, I just look in the terminal, and when I am done with email, I go back to work.

This was not intentional at all. In fact, it took me a while to notice that I was spending a lot less time on the internet wasting time.

So Mutt is staying.

This has been enough of a positive over the past four months that I am going to try (and likely fail) at Cal Newport’s latest suggestion: don’t web surf during the work day.

I am a person who functions best when rules are black-and-white. I can be good at complete abstinence from things, but I am generally bad at moderation. I think this could work for me, and I am looking forward to the increase in productivity (especially since I keep to a strict work schedule).

The only things I need my browser open for are Google Calendar and Google Tasks. The latter I can take care of using a text file (I did this this summer already, and it worked fine). I can probably get by with looking at my calendar each morning and then immediately closing it. In other words, I think that I do not need to have my browser open at all during most of the work day.

This means that I will have to do all of my Feedly-checking and G+-checking (and, sadly, checking for NBA news) after my wife has gone to bed. I think this could work. But we will see.

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7 Responses to “Mutt vs Gmail Revisited”

  1. Vincent Knight Says:

    This has pretty much convinced me to give mutt a go…

    I’m completely like you with rules: I need to be brutally binary. When I was in high school I used to give my mum my playstation when it was close to exam time for her to hide it.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      My comment to you on Google Plus: I know that you really like Gmail. All things being equal, I think that I slightly prefer the Gmail experience for using email. But the preference is slight, and the fact that Mutt keeps me away from my browser makes it much preferable (for me).

      The story about the Playstation is awesome. I like that it is both a story about one of your weaknesses, but also about your strength in finding a way to surmount the weakness. I can definitely relate to this strategy.

  2. Siôn Le Roux (@sinisterstuf) Says:

    Although this post is nearly a year old, if you’re still using Google tasks and willing to make another Gmail-to-Mutt like switch, I’d like to recommend TaskWarrior, a fast and flexible task manager for your commandline: (might be installable under the name `task`). I just started switching from more web-based apps to terminal-based apps and so far using it is pretty good, so I think if you liked Mutt it’s definitely worth giving a try!

    • bretbenesh Says:


      Thanks for the tip! I have started using a plain text file for work and Google Tasks for home, so I am definitely interested in looking at TaskWarrior if it can beat a plain text file. Thanks!

    • Jonathan Says:

      By any chance, is there anything that will work with Google calendar?
      Possibly with calendar integration with Mutt?

      This is a new idea for me, a couple of days ago I decided I wanted to try a terminal based email client. I do like it.

      I would like to know how most people manage attachments.

      • Jonathan Peel Says:

        I typed my email address is wrong, so Just leaving this to get a subscription to comments. So sorry.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        Dear Jonathan,

        Unfortunately, I do not know of a good way of integrating a calendar with Mutt. I use Google Calendar, but it is in no way integrated with Mutt—I just enter things manually.

        Attachments are okay with Mutt. I just save with with a couple of keystrokes, but then I need to go to my home folder to open them. This is not the most convenient way of doing things, but it is not too bad.

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