5 Gmail Hacks That Will Keep Your Head from Exploding

July 18, 2012

Ever feel like your email is TAKING OVER YOUR LIFE?!

Yeah, me too. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to organize and manage it, especially now that I’m overseeing Brazen Careerist’s blog. (Guest post submissions add significantly to my email pile.)

A head that's about to explode from TOO MUCH EMAIL.

A head that’s about to explode from TOO MUCH EMAIL.

When you work remotely, your main vehicle of communication is often email. That’s how I correspond with readers, clients, collaborators and my team of helpers. And many of those emails are task-based, meaning I have to do something before responding and archiving each note. It means email can pile up quickly, and sometimes even keep me from doing work that really matters.

I’ve long been obsessed with digital tools that increase productivity, so I was psyched to attend a workshop with self-proclaimed digital geek Julia Roy at the World Domination Summit. In addition to learning about a few new tools I’m now itching to try, I was hit with one big takeaway…

I’ve been scheming on creating a course to help you organize your digital life, one that will help you make the most of every minute you spend online, so you can spend LESS time at your computer. And as Julia went over a bunch of tools that I already use, I realized I’VE GOT TO CREATE THAT COURSE. I’ve got to create it because I LOVE this stuff (oh c’mon, geeky is cool), I’m GOOD at it, and people NEED it because our digital lives have become so overwhelming. It took hearing an expert in this field tell me about all the tools I already use to realize I actually know what I’m talking about.

So watch out for that course — actually, sign up for an alert if you want a heads up when it becomes available. And for today, enjoy these five Gmail hacks that will help you keep your email under control, so your pretty head doesn’t overheat and explode.

1. Lean heavily on Canned Responses

Do you find yourself writing out the same responses again and again? Maybe readers are asking for advice on your expertise or want to know where they can read more about X. Create a Canned Response, so you can insert the response you create again and again with just ONE CLICK.

You might have to push yourself a bit here, especially if you think you don’t have a use for this Gmail lab. If you really think through the emails you get on a daily basis, I bet you do.

I use Canned Responses to respond to people who inquire about guest posting for Brazen Careerist (my response includes a link to our guidelines), to decline press releases I’m not interested in, and to tell guest contributors that I’ve received their submission and will get back to them in a week or so. I save seconds or even minutes each time I insert a Canned Response rather than writing out that response, and all those seconds and minutes add up.

2. For heaven’s sake, create filters

If you’re not already using filters, you’re missing out. Often we don’t bother to set them up because it takes a bit of work on the front end — but seriously, people, we’re talking rescuing HOURS here from the black digital hole.

My favorite way to use this tool is filtering anything that’s not important to a folder I call, quite literally, Not Important. These emails bypass my inbox, so I don’t see them until I have down time in my day and consciously decide to click over to the Not Important folder.

What do I send there? Mostly newsletters and listserve updates, including ones from Groupon, The Limited (my favorite clothing store), HARO (Help a Reporter Out — which you should use if you have anything to promote) and the annoyingly overactive Medill alumni group.

Here’s Gmail’s tutorial on setting up filters.

3. Love your stars

You probably know you can mark items with that yellow star that’s next to the FROM field. But did you know you can also add red and blue and green stars, plus a handful of other icons?

Jump into SETTINGS, and under GENERAL you can drag icons you want to use into IN USE. Yup, it’s as easy as that.

Bonus: this makes your inbox prettier.

I use stars and icons of various colors for lots of things, including marking all guest post submissions for Brazen that I need to read and edit. I do have a separate folder for Brazen (more on that next), but if I don’t mark the posts that need editing, they get lost even within that folder.

If you want to use stars — and the other tools mentioned here — it’s best to create your own system for what gets marked with what color, because we each have our own unique email needs.

Stars keep items from getting lost. Love them.

4. Try Multiple Inboxes

Ever since a friend convinced me to give this approach a try, I’ve been meaning to create a video to show you how it works. That hasn’t happened, so I figure this is the second best thing, right?

Multiple Inboxes is just what it sounds like — The lab lets you separate your emails into several buckets, which becomes increasingly useful as more of us use Gmail to manage both our personal and our professional mail. This strategy incorporates filters, but allows you to break your home screen into several inboxes.

Check out my inbox as an example. You can see I have a primary inbox, plus two others on the side for Brazen and Socialexis:

(Don't worry; nothin' too private here.)

(Don’t worry; nothin’ too private here.)

I’m one of those people who hates having a zillion unread emails in my inbox (in this screenshot I’m down to 12! Woot!), so being able to read them, sort them and still see them on my home screen is huge.

5. Rapportive is a GIVEN

That’s what Julia said during our WDS workshop, and she’s so right. I’ve written before about this Gmail add-on, which automatically pulls up links to social profiles for the person you’re corresponding with.

This is genius because it saves you from having to look up the person who’s emailing you on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. In fact, Rapportive makes it so easy to connect on those channels that I find myself broadening my network even when I don’t plan to… which is exactly the point.

Having a person’s entire online presence laid out in front of you is also helpful if you often hear from people you don’t know; it makes it so easy to sleuth. Whenever I’m looking to hire a new helper for my Socialexis team, for example, I can easily check out the Twitter profiles of anyone who applies. This is important not only because it helps me get to know them, but because using Twitter effectively is a huge must-have for anyone I hire.

How do YOU hack your Gmail so it suits your needs?

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