Our email inbox can be a productivity black hole at the best of times. One tends to get trapped in the quagmire of reading, drafting, and composing emails. Every email client, both online and offline, has paid attention and attempted to make our day as easy as possible. Some like Gmail have succeeded.
Threaded conversations and smart labels were a start. The former really helped to have end to end conversations, and the later came into it later as an email organizational tool. But what if you want to add something more to a Gmail conversation? For instance, a note or an annotation that tells you – delegate this to Mr. Joe in the accounts department. Gmail still lacks a notes feature for tagging a specific email with some extra information that’s of help to you as a future reference.
The Simplest Solution – A Self Forward
You can simply forward the email to yourself by adding some descriptive text in the message body, subject line, or both; and then mark it with a special label. Later, you can click the label to access all your self-forwarded emails and see what each one was all about.
The Second Simplest Solution – Gmail Tasks
Gmail Tasks lets you send any Gmail thread to the Tasks pane (More – Add to Tasks). Each item on the Tasks list is connected to the original email, and you just have to click the Related email link to reference the original email. More importantly, when you click through to the Tasks details (via Edit Details), you see the little box that’s just for note. Gmail Tasks helps to turn your emails into actionable GTD jobs, and adding notes gives them an extra dimension.
You can also take an email and turn it into a Google Document, but that’s a bit too much. What we are looking for here are elegant solutions. Now, let’s turn to some third-part tools and let in some new ways to add notes to Gmail.
Write Notes with Google Chat
Sticky.io (beta) is a third party web application that, in my opinion, turns your chat client like Google Chat into a note taking ‘secretary’. The little app lets you take notes while reading an email. You can also email your notes to Sticky.io and keep them for posterity, or if you are really on the go – just SMS them across.
When you first log-in with your Gmail account, Sticky.io sends an invitation to the same account’s chat box. Accept it, and you are good to go. Whatever note you enter while ‘chatting’ with Sticky.io, is automatically saved in your Sticky.io account. Here, you can organize your notes by elaborating on it (for instance, you can link to more external content), and then grouping them into specific self-labeled notebooks.
Yes, Sticky.io doesn’t give you a way to annotate a specific email with a note, but I find it useful for more elaborate note-taking while working through the inbox. You can of course, copy-paste the specific Gmail permalink into the note and link both. The notebooks and the tags then help to organize thoughts better and keep them properly archived.
Notes for Gmail
The name itself is self-explanatory. Notes for Gmail is a Chrome extension that’s in Private Beta right now. But it’s easy enough to get an invite instantly as I found out. Once you install and authorize its use with a particular Gmail account, you will notice an Add Note button at the top of the mails and also in the thread emails. Clicking on this opens the note box for the entry. All notes are saved with the specific email.
You can edit, delete, and share your note by hovering over it with your mouse and clicking on an appropriate icon. More importantly, you can add reminders. Notes for Gmail gives you a few formatting options and the feature to add images.
It is still unclear if Notes for Gmail will remain free after it becomes public. The site says that – Active beta users will receive a free service for life. So, it will be worth our while to try it out.
Gmail Notes Sidebar (Firefox)
Why restrict all solutions to Chrome alone…when Firefox is still around. Gmail Notes Sidebar allows you to add notes to individual emails. The add-ons descriptions says that –
Gmail Notes is not an integrated feature of Gmail, but a separate web application running on the Google Application Engine Framework. So your notes are stored separately from your Gmail data, although they are still in the Google infrastructure. And because your notes are stored in the Google cloud, you can view/edit/create them from different machines.
Gmail Notes Sidebar gives you a rich text editor to completely format your notes. A List view if also for the purpose of viewing all your notes in an expandable list. The tab also allows use of filters to organize the display. You cane explicitly enter Gmail links and timestamps. Gmail Notes Sidebar recommends that you use stars and superstars to highlight a message with a note.
As we have seen so many times before, there are many ways to turn Gmail into a productivity beast. Notes is one of the features that can help to keep the beast better organized, and you better informed. What uses do you see for Gmail notes in your inbox? Do you use some workaround yourself? Do you think Gmail should make it a standard feature? Drop us a note.
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