Let’s face it, Google is getting ready to take over the universe. The first time someone steps foot on Mars, I have full confidence it will be in a Google space suit, via a Google rocket ship.
However, just because Google has all but taken over the universe, that doesn’t mean it’s totally a bad thing.
Quite the opposite actually. I’ve found that as I’ve begun to embrace apps, software, and hardware developed by Google my life has become much more simple and productive. While Apple may be the one (arguably) developing the coolest hardware, the services that Google is now providing pretty much blows anything Apple has done in that regard away.
The cool thing about most of the things Google has developed is just how well everything works together. I can have one Google login and access everything from You Tube to Feedburner – and for the most part, it works extremely well.
That said, of all Google’s services I’ve probably been using Gmail the longest, and its completely changed the way that I manage my email. The goal of this post is to get you to consider switching to Gmail as your email manager of choice, and if you already use it, provide you with a few useful tools you may or may not have thought about.
The Gloriousness of Gmail
Through college and during my first few years in the “real world” I was using an archaic organization system known as Outlook. While Outlook is powerful, and can do a lot, the fact remains that it’s clunky. There is nothing sleek about it, and while I’m sure it can do 95% of the things Gmail can, I never had the patience to figure it out.
Once I decided to switch to Gmail my life became so much easier for numerous reasons:
- I could access my gmail account anywhere. While I know there are ways to access your pop email accounts and other Outlook based accounts from any computer, I never wanted to spend the time to figure it out. By having all my email online, things got much, much easier.
- Security. Everything is backed up on the cloud. No longer do I have thousands of random email files floating around my computer, things are just easier.
- Much more user friendly. Gmail, Calendar, and Docs all work together seamlessly. Microsoft Office? Eh, not so much. And don’t even get me started about using Office on a Mac – not a fan. Oh, and did I mention Google Docs are free? I’ll save that for another post.
So there’s just a few of the benefits of Gmail, but you probably already knew all of that. Let’s take a look at some specifc adjustments you can make to make your life a little bit easier.
Gmail Lavatory —errr— Laboratory
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to go through the Gmail Labs (found by clicking on gmail settings, and then selecting Labs), and see what your missing out on. Some of the most functional tools for Gmail are found there. Specifically I use:
- Send & Archive: This adds a button for when you’re composing an email that will automatically do just that, it will send the email and then archive the thread. It helps me keep my inbox clear, and allows me to spend more time at coveted “inbox zero” rather than constantly striving for it.
- Undo Send:Ever sent an email, immediately realizing something was spelled wrong, or you sent to the wrong person? With Undo Send you’ve got a 5 second window in which you can hit undo, thus saving yourself from massive levels of embarrassment. This one has come in handy on multiple occasions
- Multiple Inboxes: I now have 5 different email addresses that forward to my gmail account. I use filters and labels (which we’ll discuss later) to keep everything separate, but sometimes I want to easily see what’s going on for one specific account. With the multiple inboxes feature, I can do just that. I have my generic inbox, and then right below it I have separate inboxes that feature my other inboxes. You can do all sorts of customization to what is displayed there. For instance if you have a “family” label, you can have it only show email from family members, regardless of which address it’s sent to. Email simplified.
- Superstars: We all know how useful that star next to our emails can be, but I found myself wanting a little more. With superstars you get more of an “Outlook-esque” labeling system that in addition to the yellow star, gives you a blue star, red exclamation point, and a green check mark. Oftentimes for short term to do items, I’ll just use my email inbox, and this is a great way to keep it organized and not end up with a mass of unorganized email to-dos.
There are dozens of other labs features that are all pretty cool, but these are the ones that have proven the best for my workflow.
For more info on Gmail Labs:
- 5 Best and 5 Worst Features of Gmail Labs
- Top 10 Gmail Labs Features You Must Enable – Great recent post by lifehacker. Gives a little bit of different perspective from the ones I use.
For those of you who do a lot of traveling and adventure seeking, we aren’t quite at a point where free wifi encompasses the entire planet. For instance if you’re boar hunting in the middle of New Guinea or perhaps you’re in your flippy-floppys on a boat off the coast of the Philippines. Never fear, with Gmail Offline, you can still read and respond to your emails!
This was one area where I thought Outlook didn’t totally suck, and while the Gmail integration isn’t quite up to Outlook standards in this regard, it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be. More practical uses of this are during long flights, where you’re able to provide yourself with an excellent opportunity to clean out your inbox and get to those longer email responses you’ve been putting off.
For more info:
- Gmail Offline: A Guided Tour. This is a walkthrough from when Gmail Offline was a Labs feature (now it’s a full-fledged part of Gmail), but everything pretty much works the same way, and is useful for getting setup.
Labels and Filters
Once I got used to the idea of setting up labels and filters, I really began to love it. Between these two features I don’t have to see any email that I don’t want to at any given time, and the spam gets filtered out altogether.
If you’re used to organizing your emails via folders, getting used to Gmail is definitely going to take a little bit of time. However, in the end I’ve found that overall I like it much better. One of the most important reasons for this, is I can organize the same email in multiple ways, rather than just dropping it in one all encompassing folder. Say I get a work related email from my dad. I can add both of those labels to that email, and find it in either “work” or “family” if those labels are set up.
That said, it’ll take a little bit of time to set everything up correctly. If you’re forwarding multiple email addresses to your account, you need to make sure you put some thought into how your incoming mail will be labeled, what your default email address is, and which things you want to filter out.
Here are a few good ways to use Filters:
- Even More Spam Protection. Gmail is already much better than Outlook ever was at spam prevention – it’s very, very rare that I get a totally obvious spam email in my inbox. That said, I still get all sorts of Twitter, Facebook and blog notifications that I don’t want. Those are bad examples, because you can easily turn those off in their settings, but in case some make it through, I just set up a filter to automatically send to trash anything from the FB and Twitter notification email address.
- Instant Backup. Still worried you might delete something permanently by mistake? Setup a new Gmail account and a filter to automatically forward everything to that address. Instant backup of all your important emails.
A few more resources:
- Empty Your Inbox With Gmail Filters – This is a fantastic post that’s actually part of a larger series called “7 Days to Inbox Zero”. Whether you’re just looking for a way to filter out some email, or are in total email overload mode, this is worth checking out.
- 20 Ways to Use Gmail Filters – An interesting look at some creative ways to use filters from Life Hack.
- Use Gmail Labels and Filters to Effortlessly Organize Your Email – If you want a walk though of a good way to organize your labels and filters, this is an excellent resource to check out.
A Few Other Ways Google Adds Value to My Life
Once you get used to the Gmail interface, and explore some of the options for increasing your productivity and simplicity, it’ll be tough to go back to anything else. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Initially this was going to be a post about how you can improve your life via all things Google. Well, I realized that’d turn into about 10,000 words and if you guys are anything like me, you don’t have the attention span for that.
- Email Text Messages with Google Voice. Google Voice is a really useful tool, and I encourage everyone to check it out if they haven’t. One of the things I’ve found most useful is getting voicemails and text messages sent directly to my inbox. When I was in Thailand, I was able to send and receive texts to all of my friends, just like I would an email. It also ends up being faster than doing it on my phone anyway. I also now have an online record of all my voicemails, with included (awful) text translations.
- iGoogle. If you use Google as much as I do, you might as well make it as useful as possible. With an iGoogle page you can customize your search home page with tons of other useful widgets. At a glance I can see my Gmail, Google Reader, weather in Portland, and there are dozens of other potential widgets. It’s free to customize, and extremely useful.
- Google Translate. I’ve been amazed at how much this has improved over the last few years. Seriously. This would have been great in my high school Spanish class. If you’re trying to communicate with a non-native English speaker, this could be a useful way to get them to understand you. Sure it won’t be perfect, but you should be able to get the point across. For instance, these girls were able to when using Google Translate to order some Indian food – in Hindi.
By implementing some of the ideas here you should be able to make your life at least a little bit easier, and improve your business processes as well.
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