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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 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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