Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
I use GMail as my main mail program, and I use it as one of my first-line productivity tools. My system is a hybrid mish-mash of ideas I have picked up everywhere, and it suits my purpose. The purpose of this article is to show you how I set up GMail and use it to keep me on top of the game.
All of my email ends up in my main GMail account. I have my personal account from my ISP, my accounts from my blog domains, and another GMail account I use for some anonymity reasons. All these accounts dump into my main GMail account, so I only have to process one place.
I have also set up multiple reply-from addresses in GMail so that no matter where the email originated from, I can respond from that address. This is very handy, and keeps me from having to bounce around systems.
I love the GMail labels feature. I can tag my email every which way and be able to find it. I have four categories of labels: Action, Reference, Blog and Archive.
Using Label Sub-labels
In GMail you can set a label up to have sub-“folders” by typing a slash (/) in the name. I use the GMail Labs feature of Nested Labels to show these in a hierarchy (note that Nested Labels only work when all labels are set to Show) .
My Action Labels
My first set of labels are action labels. They all start with a “@” to make them sort to the top of the list. They include @Action, @In Process, @Print, @Read, @Respond, and @Waiting For. More about what these are for later. (The reason I have a @Print at all is because sometimes I am not in a place where I have access to a printer, and I can then process them later)
My Reference Material
My current reference material is stored in the folder structure that starts with Reference. Each area has its own folder. I have a Reference/Tax where I store tax receipts, for instance.
My Blog Labels
I keep my Blog label out of reference because I don’t want to dig through Reference to get to the material. This is the most used set of labels in my Gmail, after my Action labels. In this I classify and store my blog-related email: guest posts, affiliates, questions, ideas and sales.
I noticed about three months ago that my Reference section was filling up with things that were not current, but I still wanted to hang onto. I created an Archive top folder (actually named zzArchive so it sorts to the bottom). In there I keep anything that is no longer current.
Setting Up Filter to Help with Processing
In order to make processing my email as quick as possible, I set up many rules. Any newsletter I sign up for is sent to a “+newsletter” address (example: email@example.com), so I have a filter set up to automatically label these as @Read. Anything that comes into my blog email address automatically receives labels of Blog and @Action.
Processing the Inbox
Once a day, I process my inbox. Starting at the top, I open each email. I apply my action labels to emails. If it is something that needs action, I’ll label @Action. Same with @Print and @Respond. Once I have done everything in my inbox, I delete all those items left, the ones that just needed me to read through them, but require no further action.
Next I will process my action labels. I start with @Action. If the item requires one action, I will forward the email to my Remember The Milk address with a brief description about what needs to be done, and delete the email. If it is something that will require more than one action, I send it to RTM for entry into the project list, but move the email to the @InProcess label so I don’t lose track of it.
Next, if I am in a place where I can print, I print all emails in @Print. Next I go through the @Respond, taking care of as many as possible. After I have responded the email either gets trashed, put in Reference, or put in the @Waiting For label, depending on what needs to be done next.
If I have time, I will start reading my @Read list.
Once a week, I go through and purge my @Read list. Since these are newsletters, I don’t feel bad if I don’t get to them.
Next I look at the @In Process and @Waiting For labels to make sure that there is nothing to be done. I might have to send a reminder, or decide to remove it from the label altogether, in which case it gets filed in the Reference section.
This hybrid system has stood me well during the past year. I seldom lose track of an email, and my responses have gotten much more timely.
Photo by Claude