Email is an integral part of people’s daily communications with fellow classmates, co-workers, and friends. But, if left alone to fend for itself, email can quickly morph into an untamable beast. Soon, hundreds of emails start arriving in your inbox faster than you can read this sentence. Important messages from your bank or employer are lost and never read.
Luckily, I’m here to help. The only prerequisite for this post is that your primary email account is Gmail. Sorry, no Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail.
Use address aliases instead of your email address
Make use of filters
Use Boomerang to deal with emails at another time
Enable Gmail Labs features
Clean up your contacts list
Create Contact groups
Utilize advanced search operators
Manage tasks and projects with ActiveInbox
Aliases are useful whenever you provide your email to an untrusted website, and don’t want to deal with the possible barrage of emails sent your way. So, if your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, an alias address would be something like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. When an email is sent to that alias, that message still shows up in your inbox. The main purpose of the alias address is that you can create filters in Gmail that let you control how they arrive in your inbox. So, any message to your alias could be labeled, sent to the Trash, or marked as read.
So, if Amazon wants to send you another email with product recommendations, provide them with an alias address, like email@example.com. Then, create a filter in the Gmail Settings and have that email redirected to a separate folder or whatever you like. More details about filters later in this post.
With filters, you can actively target messages from certain email adresses, with particular words, or sent to an account you have imported to Gmail. For instance, I often set up filters that apply labels to emails from people I regularly interact with. This lets me easily identify exactly what the email is about as I scan through my inbox.
In addition, you can also set up filters that redirects an email away from the inbox and archive it. I use this filter for the daily database backups that I have sent to my email using the WordPress Database Backup plugin.
Here’s are the steps for creating a filter in Gmail. For this example, I will create a filter that applies the label “Work” from emails received from firstname.lastname@example.org. First, head over to your Gmail Settings page by clicking the wheel icon in the upper-right corner of your Gmail. Select Mail Settings. Next, navigate to the Filters tab. Then, click on Create a new filter at the bottom.
Enter the email address of the account you want to target in the For field. Then, click the Test Search button to…you guessed it! Test your search.
Once that has been verified, select the checkbox in the field “Apply the Label” and select the Work label or create it if you don’t have it already by selecting the New label… option. Once you’ve done that, click the Create Filter button and you are done!
Boomerang is one those things you wished you knew about earlier when you first discover it. This free Chrome/Firefox extension allows you to schedule and follow up on email messages. So, if you receive an email in the morning from your roommate asking you to pick up milk when you come home from work, Boomerang lets you take that message out of your inbox and send it back to you when you actually need it.
I’ve noticed that whenever I receive an important email I need to respond to but don’t have the time to do so at that moment, I try to form a mental note in my head reminding myself to respond later.
Unfortunately, that rarely happens.
Luckily, with Boomerang I can tell it to send emails back to my inbox at a specific time later in the day.
Another cool feature with Boomerang is the ability to create follow up reminders on emails you want to keep track of. So if I send an email to my friend Steve asking him when we could meet up next week, I can create a follow-up reminder for later that week if he doesn’t respond by then.
Gmail Labs lets you test out experimental features in Gmail. You can find the list of available Labs features to enable in your Settings under the Labs tab. Some of the features I’ve enabled are Inserting Images, Nested Labels, and Undo Send. Take a look through it. I’m sure you’ll find something worth trying out.
One of my biggest pet peeves about Gmail is how it automatically adds the email address of a person I send, reply or forward an email message to in my Contacts. This is convenient in the future whenever you email that same person, since Gmail provides the address for you. The problem though is that as you start corresponding with more people, that contact list starts to grow very crowded. Chances are that many of these contacts are people you only email once and forget about.
In addition, when you search your Gmail inbox, a suggested list of contacts appear as you type. Because of the auto-add feature, there’s a good chance a lot of the suggestions are people you barely remember emailing. The only way to fix this is to remove that user from your Contacts page.
Fortunately, Gmail lets you disable this feature. Just go to your Settings page and locate the field labeled “Create contacts for auto-complete.” Here, select “I’ll add contacts myself” and then save your settings.
If there is a group of people you regularly email, you can shorten the process of manually entering each individual’s email address by creating a Contact Group. Head over to your Contacts page and select the “New group…” option in the left column. Give your group a name, and start adding people to it. Now, whenever you compose a message to your group, just enter the name of your group and when you hit enter, Gmail automatically inserts the entire list of contacts in that group.
Advanced search operators are query words or symbols that allow you to perform a specific action when searching your Gmail inbox. For example, “from:” is an operator that lets you search for emails from a specific email address. So, typing “from: email@example.com” will search for messages from Tony.
For a full list of operators, visit the Google help page.
ActiveInbox is a free Chrome and Firefox extension that helps you complete tasks without missing a beat. The extension has plenty of features to list out, but the one I utilize the most is what I call “the labels Gmail forgot about.” As you can see in the video demo above, ActiveInbox lets you prioritize emails into tasks to complete. There are “Action” for tasks that need to be accomplished as soon as possible, “Some day” for tasks that don’t necessarily have a strict deadline, and “Waiting On” which is really for following up on messages you’ve sent which you expect a response soon.
Once you’ve started prioritizing your emails, a numbered list appears in your sidebar displaying the various types of tasks that still need to be done. I think of it as sort of a manual Priority Inbox where you can control exactly what deserves your attention.
Have any useful Gmail tips for getting things done? Let me know in the comments sections below!