Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Google’s email service was born on April Fool’s Day. Today, it’s no joke. We can’t do a day without it.
Trivia about Gmail may not be useful for productivity, but I bet you will jump at a tip that shows you how to delegate your email to an assistant or spouse. It turns out Google is filled with these little nuggets. We ignore them because sometimes we take common tools for granted.
Google’s tools are a continuing source of time-saving productivity tips that can help maximize our use of resources available to us. We could probably live without them – but why should we?
Here are ten time-saving features in Google products we shouldn’t do without.
A Checklist of Google Tasks
Google Tasks has often brought me back when my brain had gone for a walk. It could be one of the more underused tools to create actionable tasks from your emails.
Matt Cutts, the well-known Google engineer thinks so. He uses Google Tasks to manage his to-do list and supercharges it with extensions like New Tab to Tasks and Better Google Tasks. The latter gives the utilitarian Google Tasks a more pleasing face. You can also try out Improvements for Google Tasks which gives you labels and keywords to highlight the important stuff in your task list.
As long as it is around, you can also use these five methods to use Google Tasks on your desktop.
Remember the Video Meeting
Add a link to a Google+ Hangout to any Calendar event in one click. It’s a little setting that saves a mail or two. Often, I have sent a separate mail to tell someone about a Google Hangouts meeting. Or the video meeting has slipped my mind till the last instant (an emergency if you have to declutter the room viewable by the web cam).
Set up a future Hangout in three simple steps:
- Go to Google Calendar. Click Create.
- Enter the details for your event.
- Click Add video call. With all information in place, click Save.
Others can also add a video meeting to an event if the calendar is shared between the participant.
Inbox Zero with Archive & Quick links
I think we worry too much about Inbox Zero. Gmail has two handy (and often underused) features that can shovel all messages behind the curtain while not losing track of them.
The Archive button on top banishes all emails from your sight while keeping them intact in the All Mail folder. But how do you keep track of the important ones you need to come back for later?
Quick Links is the little hero in Gmail Labs. Quick Links helps you save any messages you want to read for later.
Enable Quick Links from Gmail Labs. If you don’t see it on the left sidebar, click on the three little dots (Gadgets). Open any email you want to read for later. Next, click Add Quick Link in the bottom left of the screen. Give a descriptive name in the box that pops up with the link to the email.
Now, you can recall that email from anywhere in your inbox with just a click. How difficult is Inbox Zero with Archive, Labels, Quick Links, and the powerful Gmail Search at your beck and call?
Read Email Faster with Gmail Auto Advance
There’s no running count of how many times the Gmail Labs “Undo” feature has saved my bacon. This feature is a face-saver. There’s also an Auto-Advance Lab feature which is a time saver. It’s recommended for people with hefty inboxes.
Gmail’s behavior is to return you back to the inbox whenever you delete, archive, or mute a conversation. Enabling Auto-Advance takes you straight to the next (or previous) email whenever you delete or archive a message. The little seconds saved do add up when you wading through hundreds of messages.
Enable it from Gmail Labs (Gear icon > Settings > Labs). Definitely enable it if you are on an inbox springcleaning spree.
Don’t Mind the Dots
You didn’t get the email ID you wanted and had to tweak it with a dot or two. Try spelling that out over the phone with a lot of background noise. Gmail aliases nix that annoyance and prevent misdirected emails.
If your email address is email@example.com, that’s the same as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go with the latter when giving it to someone over the phone. The “dot-less” version of your email ID makes it easy for everyone.
Save Tabs for Later
Too many tabs are resource hogs and add to the clutter. They are also a worry if you have to close them without losing their whereabouts. Tab management extensions like Layout Manager address this problem. But then here’s a simpler workaround that doesn’t involve bloating your Chrome with another extension. The secret lies in the humble bookmarks folder.
Add a new bookmarks folder to your bookmarks (either the bookmarks bar or the menu). I named mine “All Saved Tabs”.
When you want to save all your open tabs for later, right-click on any tab in your browser and select Bookmark All Tabs… You can also use the shortcut — Ctrl-Shift-D.
Select the created bookmark folder as the location. Give your tab group a specific name — this creates a new folder within your “All Saved Tabs” folder. You can save your tabs with the same method in Firefox.
To restore your tabs, simply right-click on the group (folder) that you want to restore and click on “Open All Bookmarks.” This workaround is also helpful if you sync your bookmarks across devices.
Auto-generate Passwords in Chrome
There are many ways to set up secure passwords. Throw this experimental Chrome feature into the mix for some quick sign-ups. The Lastpass “competitor” saw light of day back in 2012 and it’s still not certain as a permanent fixture. Dive into Chrome’s secret settings and enable it for some quick and secure passwords. The random method is no different than the one created by apps like LastPass.
It’s a simple and just has three steps.
- Launch Google Chrome. Type about:flags in the Omnibox. Note: about:flags or chrome://flags is a URL in Chrome that reveals hidden settings and allows you to try new features in Chrome while they are experimental.
- Scroll down the list till you find the field Enable password generation. Click the drop down menu and select Enabled.
- Relaunch the Chrome browser. Every time you register for a new account, you should see a key icon on the password field. Clicking the icon creates an automatic password. You can also save the password in Chrome.
Delegate Your Email
You wouldn’t trust your Gmail to someone else. I hear that having a real-life Jeeves is a luxury, but a virtual assistant can be a huge time saver. In the collaborative economy, any help is welcome to manage your inbox overload. If you are concerned about security, setting up a second email identity to handle specific emails could be useful. Permissions can be revoked anytime.
Gmail allows you to delegate your email and calendar tasks to ten people. Google Apps users can specify 25 users. Google shows you the steps to set up email delegation and the restrictions that are in place. A similar approach works for Google Calendar.
Precise Selections with Caret Browsing
Maybe you are a keyboard ninja. Or just don’t want to rely on the mouse too much. Turn on Caret Browsing which is an advanced accessibility feature in Chrome. The caret is a moveable cursor to select text. Use the arrow keys to move through webpage just like a word processing document.
To activate Caret Browsing install this accessibility extension. Toggle it on and off with F7. Use arrow keys to move through the page. Press Shift + arrows to select text. Open URLs with the Enter key when the caret is on the links.
With practice, text selection is more precise if you do a lot of copy and paste. I am not a virtuoso on a laptop track pad, so I turn it on for better productivity on small screens.
Your Own Google-Powered Search Engine
A custom search engine is a sniper rifle. A custom search engine that targets a bunch of your favorite sites is like a multi-barrel rocket launcher. Google Custom Search can be created for your own blog or bookmarked as a public URL. CSE comes in two flavors – paid and free with limitations. The free version limits you to 100 search results, but for individual needs it should be enough.
Create a simpler free version that has a public URL. Save it as a bookmark and share it with others on your team. A custom search engine is a timesaving shortcut when you search a few select sites regularly. Searching by recent date and relevancy helps narrow down to the topics you are looking for.
How to Geek has an in-depth tutorial that shows you the simple in’s and out’s.
The Seconds Add Up
The “underused” bit is relative. But often, shiny new apps sidetrack our attention while the solution could be hidden in plain sight. Even a little setting change to increase the number of search results to 100 per page ends up saving time. The best productivity tool is the one that just works for you. Do these work well enough?
Tell us about the tip or feature that changed how you negotiate your life with Google tools. Which is the Google service that you would love to know more about?