Five tools for making the most of Gmail

I love the speed and efficiency of email, but with so much email (both personal and work), it can easily turn into a burden. Here are my five favorite Gmail tricks so that Gmail can be a useful tool instead of a time-sucking stress-zone:

1- Priority Inbox

Priority Inbox thumbnailI think it’s so awesome that I’ve written about Priority Inbox before. Gmail will learn the rules of what makes certain emails more important than others, and keep those at the top of your inbox. With Priority Inbox, all the email lists I’m on don’t crowd out all the important emails (from my clients). After a brief training period where I had to identify priority messages for Gmail, Priority Inbox has gotten my priorities right about 99.9% of the time. With this tool, I can deal with the most important emails first.

2- Gmail Stars

Gmail also has another prioritization trick built in. You can assign a star to messages that you want to circle back to. I’m a believer in David Allen’s approach where you only handle things once — whether paper or email. When I have a moment to look at my Priority Inbox and see a message that I want to take longer to reply to, or it’s a reminder message about something, I star it, knowing that I will deal with my starred messages later. I check starred messages daily.

3- Gmail Filters

Gmail filters can perform all sorts of sorting and organizing tasks on your emails automatically. It’s especially handy if you’re using Priority Inbox and the star system. I use Gmail filters to:

  • Label messages from my favorite high-volume lists and archive them so I can look at them in batches later
  • Apply labels to messages to show which of my email accounts they are linked to (my Gmail account checks several email addresses)
  • Automatically add stars to emails that I need to record later (like receipts for business expenses)
  • Make sure emails from my wife always go to my Priority Inbox and get starred

Filters are easy to set up — here’s some user-friendly instructions.

4- Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang can make emails reappear in your Priority Inbox at the right time with just a simple click. This is great if you want to act on a starred message at a specific time, or if you want a reminder about an email that you’re waiting for a reply to.

Boomerang also enables you to schedule any outgoing email to go out at a specific future time. I sometimes look at my email in the evening and write a quick reply, but I don’t want to start an email exchange with a client at 8 PM. Instead I use Boomerang to schedule my outgoing message for the morning.

This is the only Gmail tool on this list that you have to pay for: $50 per year for an individual account. I wouldn’t pay that for email for personal use, but for work, it’s worth it for a tool I use almost daily.

5- Google Labs and “Canned Responses”

Do you find yourself sending some messages over and over again? Google doesn’t have a feature to easily save text for outgoing messages unless you venture into “Google Labs” where you can install “Canned Responses.”

This Gmail tool enables you to save a copy of a message (including formatting and or links) that you can then insert into any outgoing email. CNET has a step-by-step tutorial on setting up Canned Responses.

I love email, but I don’t want to spend more time in it than I need to. These five tools make Gmail faster and easier. Enjoy!

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