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Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Apps & Extensions

Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Apps & Extensions

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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