So far, in How To Turn Gmail Into a Multitasking Machine (Part 1) and How To Turn Gmail Into A Multitasking Machine (Part II), we’ve covered almost all the basics of fully utilizing your Gmail account to organize your busy life.
Now, we’re rounding out the last few loose ends: figuring out how to integrate the rest of your multi-tasking into your Gmail window, and finally, how to maintain your system.
5. Filling The Sidebar
The sidebar is a really great place to keep information handy. If you use Remember The Milk, Toodledo, or any other to-do list that has an iGoogle gadget, you can use the “Add Gadget By URL” option that we enabled earlier in Labs. You can find this option under the Gadget tab in Settings. Also, if you like to keep a calculator, weather, stocks, or anything else to reference on hand, iGoogle has an extensive gallery of gadgets here.
If there are emails that you are always looking for or searches you are always running, Quick Links is a great feature to have. All you need to do is navigate to that email or complete that search, and click “Add Quick Link” in the Quick Links box. Then enter the title of the page view, and you’re done!
This feature is great also, for keeping projects you are working on, on hand. I frequently email myself research, and correspond with my bosses about work, and if the emails are directly related to a project I’m working on, I add a quick link to it so I don’t have to keep digging for the same emails to reference information I need for my project.
If you find yourself putting the search for emails tagged with a certain label into this box, you might think about going back to #3 of Part 1’s post: Setting Up Labels. However, if your intention is to leave your sidebar as uncluttered as possible, then you can enable the “Go To Label” feature in Labs. Then, simply by typing “g”, then “l”, you can type in the label you need to access to quickly run a search for that label.
Your daily agenda for Google Calendar should already be on your sidebar, since we activated it in Labs earlier. If you are part of the crowd that doesn’t use Google Calendar, hopefully you use something that syncs with Google Calendar. Then, you can read up on how to sync GCal with Outlook or iCal.
6. Multiple Inboxes
Multiple Inboxes is a critical feature for this system, since you will need to keep the emails tagged Gmail/Action and Gmail/Hold on hand for easy reference. Since we enabled the Multiple Inboxes feature in Labs earlier, there should now be a Multiple Inboxes tab under Settings. There, you simply enter a search query to determine what you’ll see in each of your inboxes, and name it appropriately.
If you’re not familiar with Gmail’s Search function (which is highly unlikely), I’ll give you a quick rundown of a very important feature: specifying the type of keyword you are typing. For example, if you are looking for all of the emails that are addressed to a certain email (for example, if you incorporated another mail provider into Gmail), you can search for all emails sent to your other address. With the HAS: query, you can even specify what type of attachment the email you are searching for has.
There is an extended list of Gmail’s queries here.
Gmail’s search is definitely a very robust and powerful tool, so learn it to your own advantage. I swear, it will be of use some day.
Now that you have everything set up, you need a good system to manage your email inflow. First, look at the unread emails in your inbox. Are there any that you want to delete off the bat? If you answer YES for a certain newsletter or sender’s email consistently, you should consider asking that sender to stop emailing you. Regardless of what your packrat instincts tell you, you most likely will NOT need that email for reference in the future.
Now, starting from the first unread email, scan it quickly and determine if its something that needs to be taken care of right away. Following the GTD principle of filing tasks, if it is an email that can be taken care of in less than two minutes, do it. Otherwise, label it for the appropriate category and, depending on whether you can take care of it with the resources you have on hand, or need to wait for someone or something else before you can take action, file the email into the Gmail/Action or the Gmail/Hold label.
If an email references a task you need to do, type it into your to-do list, which should be right next to you, in the sidebar. If it references an event or meeting you’ll need to attend, add an event into your GCal gadget. Conversation strings that you are holding, which you have already responded to, should go into your Gmail/Hold label, since you are holding the email for the time when the sendee responds.
From now on, make sure you sort or delete each and every unread email that arrives. The main idea is to keep as few emails in your inbox as humanly possible, and file your emails in the category(s) most appropriate for it, by tagging each email with the relevant labels. Then, go through your Action inbox at least once a day, and complete/respond to everything that you have time for at that moment. Don’t forget to go back later, and eliminate everything else! By taking this type of dedicated approach to pruning your incoming email, you can make sure that you’re staying on top of the things you need to do.
So hopefully, throughout this series, I’ve given you a few useful tips for maintaining your email, and inspired you to perhaps take control of your inbox. If this article didn’t quite tickle your fancy or spark your imagination, there’s plenty of other literature out there to provoke your interest. Perhaps within the pages of MakeUseOf, you’ll find the key you’ve been looking for to organize your life. Good luck!