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Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Managing the Flow

Your Guide to Getting Productive with Gmail: Managing the Flow

Email Couch Potato: Get Productive with Gmail

    Last time we redirected all of our email accounts to the one place, our central email hub at Gmail. Once you have all your accounts trickling into Gmail, you’ve got to manage that flow of information so that a) it’s possible to get through all of your email in fifteen minutes or less and b) it’s easy to find next week, next month and next year.

    The Inbox is Sacred

    You must learn to see your inbox as an almost sacred place: the worst sin you can commit against it is leaving messages in there to rot. I’m not talking about days or weeks. You’ve got to deal with each message in your inbox during your email processing session. It cannot be in the inbox once you’ve finished.

    Since we’re using multiple email accounts, we have them filtering into a variety of labels. If we don’t, the boundaries between the roles and information associated with each account becomes blurred and quite often, just plain confusing. The inbox is a very useful tool for processing and this separation is an unfortunate necessity.

    In the last post we talked about using the All Mail feature to replace this, but the problem with this approach is that you can’t “process out” the incoming information this way. There are a couple of alternative solutions we’ll address in a moment, but the simplest way at this point is to deal with all mail as though it were in your inbox – it’s an attitude hack, rather than a technological one.

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    Dealing with Messages in Your Inbox

    The first step to processing your email is, obviously, to read it. Unfortunately, this is where many people stop (and it’s frustrating when you’re trying to get solid communication going).

    Read smart, not hard. Give the subject and first paragraph of the email a scan to determine its relevancy, because there will always be emails that are pointless and you don’t need to read them. If it’s totally useless to you, you can delete the message. “Never delete an email again” is not a mantra I totally believe in.

    If you’ve kept the message, you can read it properly. By the way, I should mention that if more than 15% of your inbox processing consists of deleting messages, you’re probably not creating enough pre-qualifiers and smart “obstacles” to people who want your email address. The + hack works well here, which we’ll get to soon.

    Once you’ve finished reading the message, you must process it. There are a few outcomes:

    • Reply and archive,
    • Reply and delete,
    • Reply, turn it into an action, archive
    • Turn it into an action, archive
    • Archive
    • Delete

    If you’re turning the email into an action you’ll almost always want to archive it, not delete it, for future reference. For messages that you need to deal with later, or that call for you to perform a task, turn that into an action in your task list or GTD software immediately and then clear the message out of your inbox.

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    Creating actions from emails before clearing them out of your way is the best thing you can do for your email productivity. Keeping emails in the inbox because there is a task pending creates “email apathy” and things become unorganized and cluttered.

    Alternative Solutions to Using All Mail

    Using All Mail should work perfectly if you process each unread message as soon as you open it and read it, but perhaps it’s just not working for you. There are a few other ways to deal with this.

    Starring All Email – the Star feature of Gmail is useful for marking items of interest that you want to come back to later (even though, under this system, we try to avoid that). If you don’t need or use this feature, you can make it work as a faux inbox. The star will indicate that a message needs to be processed.

    Go back to the Filter setup window under Settings, and set the To: field to an asterisk (*). The To: field tells Gmail to select emails based on who the email is sent to, but the * tells it to pick up all email. We’ll go into the asterisk and its usefulness to filters in a moment.

    Click Next Step and tick the “Star it” box. You now have a filter that stars all your incoming mail, and as you process each item, you can remove it from the list by clicking on the star, which is usually next to the “From” field in list view.

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    Not using automatic filters is another solution that I do not recommend. This takes all the power out of your system, but it will cause every email to flow straight into the inbox where you can process it into labels manually. I think this defeats the purpose and adds extra work that the computer can do for you, and in my experience it has been far from an optimal solution.

    Using Asterisks in Filters

    I mentioned the asterisk before when we talked about setting up a filter that stars your incoming mail. The asterisk, simple as it is, provides a very useful tool and provides more dynamic email filtering.

    Let’s take a look at how it works. Say I have a regular client who has given me three different email addresses (it really does happen). I don’t want to have three labels for each one of those email addresses, and I want to basically treat them all as one. Using the asterisk we can achieve this really easily.

    In the To: field of the filter setup, place an * before the rest of the domain name. So let’s say I have [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] To route all these email addresses into the one place, using one filter, all I have to do is set the To: field as *@unproductiveclient.com.

    This works with the other fields, too. For instance, if I receive email from a whole bunch of people at one company to my main address and want to separate it from all my other mail, I can set the From: field to *@thatonecompany.com.

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    The + Hack

    And finally, we have the + hack. This is great for pre-qualifying your email. Despite the fact that the sender may be a stranger you’ve never met or heard of before, you know what the email is about because it landed in the right label. Almost sounds like magic.

    With Gmail, you can add a + add the end of your username with a keyword attached. For instance, if your email address is [email protected] you can still receive messages directed to [email protected] Better yet, you can apply filters to these email addresses. I use this on my own site, where [email protected] goes to a Post Ideas label, and so on.

    Better still, you can create semi-disposable email addresses without having to go create one with a disposable mail service. If a site is demanding your email address and you’re worried they’ll send you spam, just add a +sitename to your address and you can always filter that material to the Trash later on.

    Stay tuned for more advice on setting up a productive email system with Gmail.

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

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

    Mastering the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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    Last Updated on June 17, 2019

    40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

    40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2019 Updated)

    Over the years here at Lifehack, we’ve discussed plenty of apps that you can use to improve your overall productivity.

    There are certain ones that many of our contributors and editors (past and present) have adopted over the long-term — there are always the stalwarts that stick around. But there are also new apps that crop up every day, adding more and more depth to the app category.

    Some of the apps are incredibly plain and simple, while others are more robust and offer more features than you can shake a stick at. And everyone has the one they prefer.

    It’s been our job (and still is our job) to keep abreast of all of the productivity-type apps out there. As a result — and as a bit of a refresher — we’ve put together a list of 40 best productivity apps for iPhone (all categorized based on their functions) to provide you with an all-in-one resource for you.

    For Getting Things Done

    1. OmniFocus

    This app is, while pricey, considered to be one of the (if not the) most robust and full-featured productivity apps on the market.

    Download it here.

      2. Forest

      Train yourself to put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand by playing with this planting game. It’s fun and will help you achieve more.

      Download it here.

        3. Things

        Another robust choice, this app is a favorite amongst “productivityists”.[1]

        Download it here.

          4. 30/30

          Recently covered here at Lifehack

          , 30/30 is a newcomer to the game that incorporates lists and timing of tasks into an elegant and easy-to-use interface.

          Download it here.

            5. Any.Do

            A beautiful-looking app that is both easy on the eyes and your wallet.

            Download it here.

              6. PocketLife Calendar

              This calendar app is specifically designed to be stylish and super easy-to-use. You can organize your life easily with different modern features.

              Download it here.

                7. Asana

                We’ve covered Asana here at Lifehack

                , and it is being actively developed by a strong team committed to making collaborative task management a more efficient and effective experience.

                Download it here.

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                  8. ToDoist

                  This app keeps track of everything – from simple errands to your most important projects – so you can get it all done and enjoy more peace of mind along the way.

                  Download it here.

                    9. FlowTasks

                    From the folks at MetaLab, Flow is a gorgeous collaborative task management app that is easy-to-use and incredibly functional.

                    Download it here.

                      10. Calendars 5

                      This calendar app focuses on events that help you to keep track of upcoming events and tasks easily. It has everything you need to organize, track and complete your to-dos.

                      Download it here.

                        11. Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists

                        A fun and innovative list-making app that relies on swiping and pinching to make things happen. Clear created a lot of buzz when it launched, and might be the perfect to-do list gateway app for many.

                        Download it here.

                          12. Due

                          A robust reminders app that lets you store and maintain reminders of all types. It’s replaced Reminders for me when it comes to the basics, and it’s worth a look if you want to keep the mundane stuff out of your head and cluttering your mind.

                          Download it here.

                            13. Checkmark 2

                            I use this app

                            for location-based reminders (such as groceries I need to get or single items I need to pick up from various locations). Checkmark is simple to use and a valuable addition to my productivity arsenal.

                            Download it here.

                              14. TeuxDeux

                              Created by Tina Roth Eisenberg and Fictive Kin — Teux Deux is simple and incredibly stellar in terms of design. If you like lists (including the popular “Someday Bucket”) and want to associate dates with tasks, then Teux Deux will be right up your alley.

                              Download it here.

                                15. Wunderlist 

                                Another incredibly popular choice is Wunderlist. Part of 6Wunderkinder’s software family, it sports a gorgeous design and is incredibly functional. We’ve talked about the app a couple of times here at Lifehack, so check those posts out here.

                                Download it here.

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                                  16. Nirvana

                                  For the GTD enthusiasts, there’s Nirvana. Straight from the source: “Nirvana frees your mind to focus on actually getting things done. If you’ve had enough of generic to-do lists, it’s time for Nirvana.”

                                  Download it here.

                                    17. Priorities

                                    An elegant-looking task management app that has received decent reviews,[2] this could be the one for you if you’re not a fan of OmniFocus or Things — especially if you need (or want) to share tasks with others.

                                    Download it here.

                                      For Building Habits

                                      18. Productive

                                      With this app, you can plan your habits with an easy-to-use interface, schedule habits for any time of the day, set smart reminders for each time of the day and stay on track with useful feedback. This app is perfect for anyone who wants to build a habit that sticks.

                                      Download it here.

                                        19. Habitica: Gamified Taskmanager

                                        You can complete tasks and build habits in a more fun way with this app. Input your Habits, your Daily goals, and your To-Do list, and then create a custom avatar. Check off tasks to level up your avatar and unlock features such as armor, pets, skills, and even quests.

                                        Download it here.

                                          20. Streaks

                                          This app follows the model of the popular “don’t break the chain method” in that you use the app to track how you are donig in the pursuit of your goal. Great for goal-setting — and an easy and elegant interface to boot.

                                          Download it here.

                                            21. Remember The Milk

                                            Another popular to-do list app, Remember The Milk has a huge following. It has plenty to offer, including the ability to share tasks with others.

                                            Download it here.

                                              22. Day One Journal

                                              When it comes to journaling, nothing really beats Day One. Its latest update added a slew of features that will make you want to start making journaling a habit.

                                              Download it here.

                                                For Files Organization

                                                23. Evernote

                                                Touted as the world’s most widely-used productivity app, Evernote an be used simply as a notetaking app or can be customized to be your GTD app of choice — among other things.

                                                Download it here.

                                                  24. Pocket

                                                  You can save an article, video or link you want to read or watch later to Pocket from anywhere including your computer, Safari, email, and your favorite apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Feedly.

                                                  Download it here.

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                                                    25. Sync.Me

                                                    This app identifies unknown phone calls, warns you from annoying spam calls, and adds a caller picture to your contacts from Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

                                                    Download it here.

                                                      26. Droplr

                                                      One of the most popular file-sharing apps out there today. Straight from the source: “Stay productive on the go. Droplr for iPhone keeps you in sync and makes sharing on the iPhone natural.”

                                                      Download it here.

                                                        27. Dropbox

                                                        Before iCloud, there was Dropbox. And there still is Dropbox, which is still widely used by both Mac and PC users all over the globe. It’s like having a flash drive in your iPhone. A must-have.

                                                        Download it here.

                                                          28. iDolly 

                                                          In conjunction with Dolly Drive and DollySync, iDolly allows you to edit and share your documents from your iPhone.

                                                          Since all your changes sync automatically to all your devices, the current version of a document will always be accessible because Dolly Sync keeps everything in sync. Very handy.

                                                          Download it here.

                                                            29. Soulver

                                                            It may seem odd that a calculator app shows up on this list, but this is no ordinary calendar app. Ben Brooks over at The Brooks review describes Soulver as follows: “It is what calculators would have been if they were invented at the same time computers were, instead of what we have with most calculator apps.” [3]

                                                            Download it here.

                                                              For Working Smarter

                                                              30. Captio

                                                              A simple capture tool. Straight from the developers: “It’s simple. Open Captio and start typing. When you’re done, hit Send. The note is immediately delivered to your email inbox.”

                                                              Download it here.

                                                                31. Drafts

                                                                A tremendous capture tool that allows for simple capture, followed by sending items to various applications such as OmniFocus, Things and more.

                                                                Download it here.

                                                                  32. NoteShelf 2

                                                                  This is a perfect note-taking app for you. You can take beautiful handwritten notes, type, annotate PDFs, record audio & create lists. You can organize them into categories or groups.

                                                                  Download it here.

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                                                                    33. Doodle

                                                                    This app links directly with the Doodle service, which is one that allows you to plan and organize meetings far more efficiently and effectively. Lifehack contributor Steve Dotto has written about Doodle more in-depth here.

                                                                    Download it here.

                                                                      34. TextExpander (Legacy)

                                                                      I have saved countless hours of time with TextExpander, and despite its inability to be as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac, it is still a worthy app to have in your arsenal.

                                                                      Download it here.

                                                                        35. Launch Center Pro

                                                                        A quick launcher for the iPhone that doesn’t just launch an app…with some of them it can do much more. This app saves you time by launching complex actions in a single tap.

                                                                        Download it here.

                                                                          36. GoodReader

                                                                          This may seem to be an odd one to make this list, but here are plenty of reasons why it is here with this article.

                                                                          Download it here.

                                                                            37. LogMeIn

                                                                            Want to be able to control your Mac from wherever you are? Then get this app.

                                                                            Download it here.

                                                                              For Improving Security

                                                                              38. 1Password

                                                                              There is simply no better password manager out there. I’ve even put together a 1Password Emergency Kit worth looking at here.

                                                                              Download it here.

                                                                                39. LastPass Password Manager

                                                                                You can store passwords and logins, create online shopping profiles, generate strong passwords, track personal information in photo and audio notes.

                                                                                All you have to do is remember your LastPass master password, and LastPass autofills web browser and app logins for you.

                                                                                Download it here.

                                                                                  40. Truecallers

                                                                                  Identify and block spammers, search for unknown numbers and call friends easily with this app. With a community-based spam list from over 250 million users, you’ll need this app.

                                                                                  Download it here.

                                                                                    There are plenty of other options out there (and we’ve heard from readers in the past as to what they enjoyed using), but these 40 are among the best.

                                                                                    More Great Apps Recommendations

                                                                                    Reference

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