Every morning I stare out into a sea of emails. I know that if I’m not careful, those bits and bytes of text and images could end up overwhelming me.
It’s a familiar sight for any modern small business owner, I’d imagine. Email, after all, has become an indispensable tool for running and growing a business.
But it’s a double-edged sword, and email management has become one of those rare corporate buzzwords: trite but true, with real, tangible effects on your business.
After all, if you don’t manage your inbox wisely, you stand to waste many precious minutes that’ll be better spent focusing on the things that’ll actually help your business grow.
You end up treading water, at best; drowning, at worst.
If you use Gmail, you don’t have to look that far for help with email management. Google has built in a few useful albeit experimental tools that let you take better control of your inbox.
Here, for my money, are the best and most useful Gmail Labs options available now.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the flood of emails that pour into your inbox everyday, especially when you’re just returning from a long vacation like the Christmas holidays.
Gmail’s powerful search function can help make sense of the mess, but it’s still just a temporary band aid. Not letting clutter build up in your inbox in the first place is more efficient.
The multiple inboxes feature in Gmail Labs has been around for years, but it still remains one of the best options for taking back control of your inbox.
Enabling this feature lets Gmail automatically sort messages into a number of sub-inboxes according to sorting rules that you set yourself.
For example, you could have one inbox pane for all emails labeled as “To-Do”, another for those labeled as “Done”, and yet one more for those labeled as “For Reading”.
If you apply any of the three mentioned labels to an email in your primary inbox, they would then be moved to the appropriate inbox pane when you refresh your browser.
If you’ve connected other email addresses to your Gmail account (like emails to your sales and support addresses, for example), you can also use multiple inboxes to keep everything “together yet separate”.
You can create individual labeled panes for all emails that are sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, for example, so you can always stay on top of everything new and important without having to waste time rooting around in a cluttered inbox.
Note that you need to disable Gmail’s tabbed email categories (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums) before you can enable multiple inboxes.
Subject lines aren’t usually enough for me to figure out which email I should read first, so I often rely on message snippets for context.
Sometimes, however, even those aren’t enough. The ability to preview an email without having to actually open it is one of the things I like about Outlook.
Fortunately for us Gmail users, this feature can easily be replicated by enabling the preview pane option in Gmail Labs.
Once enabled, the preview pane lets you view an email’s contents without having to navigate out of your message list.
You not only read your emails faster, you also get a more informed idea of which emails are worth spending time on without losing track of where you are on the message list.
You can also set how Gmail treats previewed emails. By default, previewing an email for over three seconds will mark that email as read.
Note that you can have both preview pane and multiple inboxes enabled at the same time, but the preview pane will only be available for your main inbox.
It’s not the flashiest of the Gmail Labs features, but the calendar gadget can be a lifesaver when you need to keep a close eye on what you have scheduled.
Enabling the calendar gadget in Gmail Labs adds a small calendar and agenda list under the left-hand sidebar menu in Gmail.
You can quickly add tasks and events to your calendar from this tiny gadget. Pretty handy when used with the preview pane, since you’re able to quickly see whether you have an open slot in your schedule for whatever new task you need to do.
And of course, anything you add to the calendar will immediately show up in your connected WORKetc calendar once you sync your calendars, and vice versa.
If a prospective client asks you to call their office to discuss a sales opportunity, for example, you can easily turn that email into a new contact and sales lead with the WORKetc Gmail gadget, create a new calendar event for your call, and sync your calendar so the event you just created shows up on the Gmail calendar gadget.
This way you always know what you have on your plate as soon as you open your Gmail inbox, letting you plan ahead accordingly.
Make Gmail Do More
All of the Gmail Labs features I mention above are very useful in taking control of the raging sea of emails that flood your inbox on a daily basis.
It’s not enough to just calm that sea and keep your head above water, however. To really make your Gmail account do more for you and your business, you’ll need WORKetc’s Gmail gadget.
The Gmail gadget lets you act quickly and turn any piece of communication that reaches your inbox into an actionable item in WORKetc, effectively letting you manage your entire business without ever leaving Gmail.
Using the Gmail gadget, you can:
- turn any email into a sales lead, task, project update, or support ticket;
- assign created items to the most appropriate person;
- create timesheets without leaving your inbox;
- attach new emails to any existing items in WORKetc.
The gadget works with the preview pane Gmail Labs feature, so whenever you come across an important email, you can immediately view and turn it into an actionable item without losing track of your place on your message list.
We’re also working to make the Gmail gadget even better, so stay tuned for additional details about the new and improved Gmail gadget’s open beta in the coming weeks.