Email Couch Potato: Get Productive with Gmail

We’ve covered the basics of productive email use with Gmail. By now, with an average email load, you should be able to power through it all within 15 minutes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cut down on even more time, or make Gmail an even more powerful application, with the help of a few browser extensions and even some desktop applications.

To quickly recap: in part one we looked at consolidating your accounts. We configured each email account you own to send messages down the pipes and into your Gmail account. We configured your Gmail account so you would have the ability to reply to those messages while still making it look like you replied from the address the message was initially sent to. Read part one here.

In part two, we looked at managing the flow of email and information quickly, efficiently, effectively, and hopefully, permanently. To achieve this we developed a processing work flow for all incoming email, set up a series of filters and decided on a set of labels to categorize your messages. Read part two here.

Firefox Browser Extensions

Firefox browser extensions are perhaps the easiest and most common way to interface with and enhance Gmail. Fortunately, Firefox browser extensions work with most browsers that have been built on Firefox. I use Flock, for instance, which can handle the majority of them.

GTDInbox turns Gmail into a task manager as well as a mail manager. As discussed in previous articles in this series, it’s important to turn emails into actions – GTDInbox helps you achieve this. GTDInbox also features some cool personal information management features. Check it out here.

Gina Trapani’s Better Gmail Greasemonkey script compilation provides a variety of very useful features for Gmail such as keyboard macros and attachment reminders (a lifesaver if ever I saw one). Works anywhere Greasemonkey works.

DragDropUpload makes the Gmail interface seem more integrated with your operating system by enabling drag and drop attachment uploading, instead of having to use the Browse button. Handy especially if you’ve got a lot of folders to dig through. Check it out here.

Gmail Loader takes mbox archives and a whole range of other email archive formats and empties them into Gmail. The Web site even mentions the developer’s intention to build in Outlook PST support, which would’ve been handy when I first switched to a Mac – finding a way to get all the data in my PST across was one of the hardest parts of switching. Gmail Loader is a fantastic way to get old email archives in a searchable format, or just backed up in the cloud. Take a look.

It can get really annoying when your browser keeps insisting that you use a desktop application to handle mailto links. GmailTo is a Greasemonkey script that solves this problem by forcing Firefox to open mailto: links in Gmail as new messages. Check it out here.

We did our best to get all your email accounts funneling down into your one Gmail account, but there are always going to be times when you don’t have a choice but to keep certain accounts separate. Gmail Manager is a Firefox add-on that handles multiple Gmail accounts, keeping you notified of new messages and various other statistics in each one.

Desktop Applications

Although web apps are all the rage these days, desktop applications still form the basis of the computing experience and are important to most people’s daily work flow. Thus it’s only natural that we’d need a few desktop apps to augment and enhance our use of Gmail.

The Gmail Notifier is Google’s official desktop application for Windows and Mac OS X. Its function is simple: notify you when you’ve got new mail. I don’t actually use notifiers because I find they distract me from my work, but if you’re the kind of person who must be notified of new messages, or perhaps have to respond to clients immediately, a notifier could be handy. Check it out here. For Linux users, there’s an alternative here.

Mail, Entourage, Outlook, or Thunderbird are all incredibly useful. I like the Gmail interface so I don’t recommend a desktop client for actual use, but they do make it easier to keep an offline backup of your messages. Especially when you make purchases, send and receive invoices and liaise with clients via emails, keeping a backup can turn out incredibly useful even years down the track (especially should legal problems arise).

A text expansion utility will be insanely useful. These aren’t Gmail or email specific applications, but they will boost your email productivity by a long, long way. I recommend trying TextExpander for Mac and PhraseExpress for Windows. If you’re not fond of those apps, there’s always Typinator (Mac) and FastFox (Win) as alternatives.

And finally, Skype. Some conversations do, rarely, exceed the scope of email. I think any good communicator should be able to handle just about any conversation through email, but on occasion it might get too complicated because of the technical nature of the subject matter. Or perhaps the complexity is because of the personal nature of the communication, in which case one has to wonder why on earth you’re using the Internet to have that conversation. In any case, that’s when you know it’s time to jump onto Skype and sort it out. Or, get in the car and do it face-to-face.

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