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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 September 28, 2020

    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

    At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

    Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

    One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

    When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

    So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

    Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

    This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

    Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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    When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

    Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

    One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

    Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

    An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

    When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

    Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

    Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

    We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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    By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

    Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

    While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

    I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

    You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

    Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

    When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

    Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

    Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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    Con #2: Less Human Interaction

    One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

    Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

    Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

    This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

    While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

    Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

    Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

    This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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    For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

    Con #4: Unique Distractions

    Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

    For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

    To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

    Final Thoughts

    Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

    We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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    Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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