I want to spend the next few posts talking about how I use some great Google gadgets to get me going. Hopefully you’ll pick up a tip or two you can use for your business.
GMail: A paradigm shift
A couple of months ago I decided to manage my email completely online. I was tired of being on the road and needing to access old emails on my computer at the office. With my Network Solutions account, I am able to check and manage business email online, but I wanted something more powerful. Having seen so many people with gmail accounts, I checked it out. I love it. There three primary reasons I dig it:
- Search: the most compelling feature of Gmail is it’s powerful search feature. This is key for me. I used to organize old emails in different folders, thereby facilitating retrieval. However, eventually, each of those folders will get really full, thus necessitating scrolling through each folder. With Gmail, I can search my entire email dbase for a particular email. Yes, I know you can do something similar in client based programs like Outlook, but it’s not as fast, simple, or power as Gmail’s.
- Conversations: one way that sets Gmail apart is its use of conversations. All emails back and forth between parties where the subject doesn’t change, all are grouped together in a thread. And in your inbox, that thread gets one line. So, if there are 10 emails among a group, instead of those emails taking up ten lines in your inbox, they take up only one. That alone makes it nice in keeping your inbox less cluttered. When you click on a thread in your inbox, you see something like this:
If you click on anyone in the thread, that email drop open. Clicking it will close it up again. The most recent email in the threat at the bottom. If someone writes back to you while you’re writing to them, you’ll see a small message box in the lower right-hand side of your screen that says “Update Conversation.” Click on it, and your thread is updated with the new email, all the while preserving your draft. If you leave the draft and come back later, from within the inbox, the word “Draft” will be next to the subject of that conversation, letting you know you have an unfinished email. Very cool.
- Labels: the most paradigmatically different aspect of Gmail is the use of “Labels” instead of folders. If you need to group a set of emails together, add a label to it and with one click you can see all such labeled emails. In order to keep the number of Labels I manage down, I only create labels for very specific items I need to zero in on right away. Or, as you can see, Labels for my assistant Marie to zero in on.
“Getting Things Done” with GMail
While we were at the last Pictage PartnerCon, my wife had the opportunity to listen to Kevin Swan talk about the GTD System, Getting Things Done. In a nutshell, it’s a system for adding optimum efficiency and sanity to your busy life. A key aspect of the GTD system is how you go about managing your email. Admittedly, I have not delved completely into the system, only the teeniest, tiniest aspect my wife taught me. As I learn more, I’ll be sure to share. But, one tidbit I have grasped onto is the use of “Action” items and “Follow up” items.
As you can see in my “Labels” snapshot above, two of my Labels are “Action” and “Follow up.” Now, to undertand the significance, you need to first understand that my goal is to get my inbox down to zero, or less than 10 emails, and keep it there. Psychologically, this has had a tremendous effect on my state of mind and sanity. Prior to this system, I could have as many as 1200 emails in my inbox. It was crazy! “Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria.” [That’s a movie reference btw.] Now, with this GTD tip, combined with my use of Gmail, my inbox is kept low. This is what I do:
- I archive anything I don’t need to read now, or in the near future. Archiving just takes it out of the inbox. I can always find any email again quickly with the search feature.
- Anything I need to act on, I label “Action” then archive.
- Anything or person I need to consider later or follow up on later, I label “Follow up” then archive.
- Anything I want my assistant Marie to handle (usually unsubscribing me from the way too many newsletters I get), I label “Marie” then archive.
- Once a day I’ll check the Follow up and Action labels and handle as many as I can.
Now, the Gmail system isn’t perfect. Even though you can check multiple email accounts with it (i.e. your Comcast personal email, or any other email account), there is only one signature you can have. And you only get the option of adding it to all outgoing emails, or not at all. Ideally, I’d like to be able to create multiple signatures and add them on the fly as I need them. Also, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to detach attachments. So, if I email a 6 mb video for a client to view, it’s part of that conversation, and therefore taking up space. Of course, with 520 GB of space (and counting) chances are I’ll never need to worry about running out. It is possible to delete individual messages from a conversation, and I sometimes will do that. (Be careful not to delete the conversation if you do this. You don’t hit the delete button at the top of the conversation. You use the “Delete this message” from the drop down menu next to the “reply” arrow.) But, all given everything else, these are minor set backs to a really great system.
GTD plu Gmail are a winning combo for me. Powerful search. Almost unlimited disk space. Low inbox. Sane Ron. What more could a guy ask for. In my next installment, I’ll talk about “Google Docs.” Message to Microsoft. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
P.S. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!