Quick tip: If you’re only going to learn two shortcuts, know these:
a – Reply All, e – Archive
Clear Your Inbox with Gmail Power Tools
I think we can all agree that vacations are nice. We all need them to keep our sanity. As much as I love working at Pronto, I love getting out of Bangkok and completely forgetting about work for a few days even more. I just got back from a long weekend in the mountains of Northern Thailand, eating delicious food, watching the sunrise from a mountain on the Thai/Laos border, and indulging in a few too many beers. But now, I’m back in Bangkok and I have a boat load of emails to get through.
I do my best, usually with very little success, to follow Inbox Zero. But I think lofty goals are one of the best ways to push yourself to improve. In this post, I’ll discuss some tips and tools that might not get you to zero emails, but will hopefully improve your efficiency and organization.
Note: I use Gmail as my primary email client, but before making the switch, I spent years working in Outlook. While most of this post will focus on Gmail, everything discussed can be done in Outlook as well.
When in Doubt, Archive It Out…
…out of your inbox, that is. With the massive amount of storage space provided by Gmail, deleting email is no longer necessary and keep hundreds or thousands of emails in your inbox is just foolish. Of course, spam and irrelevant emails should still be deleted, but anything that has the potential to come up again in the future should be archived or moved to its appropriate folder. During the past year and half at Pronto, I’ve saved probably 90% of my emails and I’ve only hit 20% of my storage capacity.
In theory, every message in your inbox should be actionable. If it’s not, archive it, move it to a folder or use one of the tools mentioned below to get it out of your inbox. With so many messages being saved, knowing a few search operators can be very useful for finding emails down the road. Place these in front of your search phrase to narrow things down:
The extent to which you label emails and move them to separate folders is somewhat a matter of preference. I tend to keep things fairly organized with 6 top-level labels (many of which have sub-labels), but a good deal of messages don’t fit directly into one of these – those emails get archived. On the other hand, Cory has no dependency on labels, archiving 100% of his emails and using his mastery of search operators to find them later on.
Quick tip: Enable the Send & Archive Button in Gmail Labs to respond to a message and archive the thread in one action.
Even if moving emails to separate label/folder isn’t your thing, I’ve found that tagging them with labels (or color-coded flags in Outlook), while still in your inbox, can be very useful when organizing and prioritizing your work flow. At a glance, you should be able to tell how important a message is and which category it falls under.
Memorize Hotkeys and Learn to Love Them
This won’t necessarily move things out of your inbox, but when you find yourself overwhelmed with a huge amount of new messages, hotkeys can help you quickly process them.
To enable Gmail shortcuts, go to Settings and under the General tab, select “Keyboard shortcuts on.” There is a wide selection of shortcuts in Gmail so pick out a few important ones and start using them everyday. If you don’t like the default hotkeys, you can enable a Gmail Lab called Custom Keyboard Shortcuts that allows you edit the shortcut commands.
Quick tip: If you’re only going to learn two shortcuts, know these:
Outlook’s shortcuts and equally impressive and even more daunting. Again, pick out a few useful commands to start with. Outlook also gives you the ability create shortcuts for any action of your choosing, like moving an email to a specific folder or creating a new email. Before switching to Gmail, I used these:
- Ctrl+Shift+1 – Mark as read and archive
- Ctrl+Shift+2 – Mark as read and move to SEO folder
- Ctrl+Shift+3 – Mark as read and move to Social Media folder
- Ctrl+Shift+4 – Create new email to Pronto Team
Never Forget an Email with Boomerang
Does this sound familiar? You receive an email that isn’t immediately actionable, so in an effort to clear your inbox, you archive it or move it to a folder. Well, guess what? Everyone else on the email chain has done the same thing and everyone is so busy that the project is forgotten about for weeks on end.
With Boomerang, that’s no longer an issue. If no one responds to an email, you can schedule it to be moved back into your inbox on a specific date and time.
You can also schedule emails to be sent at a later time. Great for those of you who tend to burn the midnight oil and don’t want to send any email out at 12:30 in the morning.
The plugin is also available for Outlook.
Check out all my options with the Send & Archive
Button and Boomerang enabled!
Never Forget a Task with GQueues
GQueues is your is your task manager on steroids. It seamlessly integrates with Gmail and provides far more flexibility than the native task manager.
To be honest, I’ve never been good at organizing my tasks. I always end up with email about long-term projects just sitting in my inbox for weeks. GQueues helps me get things cleaned up. Click a single button in Gmail and that message is saved as a new task in GQueues.
Quick tip: Use the GQueues bookmarklet to add a new task directly from your browser with a link back to the page you are currently viewing.
Within GQueues, you can move tasks between categories, create task hierarchy levels, create sub-tasks, integrate with your Google Calendar and even assign tasks and collaborate with others. Although GQueues doesn’t offer any mobile apps, their mobile site allows task syncing on any device.
Here’s a sneak peak at my tasks for the upcoming
Social Media Program reboot we’re working on!
I wasn’t able to find an application that integrates with Outlook on the same level as GQueues, but if you’re an Outlook power user and you’re looking to upgrade your task manager, Remember the Milk offers a freemium service that syncs with all platforms.
Never Forget a Contact with Rapportive
I’m terrible with names. I’m also terrible at keeping my professional contacts organized in social networks. Rapportive helps with both of these issues. Open an email and you immediately get information about the person pulled from various social networks. You even get their profile picture so you get put a face to the name.
If you’re not already connected with them on the major social networks Rapportive integrates with, you can do so directly from Gmail.
Don’t forget to add notes about your contacts! Did you recently meet a bunch of people at a networking event? Add details about them in Rapportive so your next email can be more personalized.
LinkedIn recently purchased Rapportive so you can expect to see deeper LinkedIn integration in the near future. Xobni provides a similar service that works with both Outlook and Gmail.
The Future of Email
I’ve read a few articles claiming that email is dying, and to a limited extent I agree. At Pronto, we use a closed Facebook group for non-essential messages, like voting on our activity for the company retreat, leaving our inboxes open for urgent business communications. We also use a Skype group chat to ask quick questions and discuss issues across the whole team.
Perhaps casual email is slowly dying. I would likely write on a friend’s Wall before sending them an email; however, true business email is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. So you might as well get good at it! There’s a lot more that goes into Inbox Zero, but being efficient and organized with your email is the first place to start.
SEO & Social Media Manager