For years I've been saying that I'm going to declare email bankruptcy--that is, delete everything in my inbox and start over completely--because keeping up with all of my unread messages can feel like an impossible task.
Of course, that's not really an option for me (I'm the managing partner of a content marketing company), nor anyone else who uses their computer, phone, or tablet for work (pretty much everyone these days!). Email is still an essential method for communicating with clients, co-workers, colleagues, and prospects, and even the integration of chat/messaging into the workplace hasn't quite replaced it.
While email hasn't been phased out (yet, I'm still hopeful!) getting through all of our messages has become a lot more streamlined thanks to several new features introduced by providers like Google.
These five new changes to the way Gmail works have enabled me to cut way down on the amount of time I personally spent crafting replies, sending out fresh new emails to potential Masthead Media clients, and keeping my inbox organized. ICYMI, I pair these features with the ones I get from Boomerang (a paid service I subscribe to) to make my email time--something I actually schedule into my calendar!--as lightning-fast and productive as possible.
1. Canned responses
If you feel like you're constantly getting the same questions and inquiries in your inbox, this Gmail hack is the best way to save time responding. While canned responses aren't perfect for every email, they're helpful for many common questions.
You can enable canned responses in your advanced settings and draft them as you would a new email. Just click "more options" when you're done typing, and you can save the message for future correspondence. While it might take you time to set these up now, it'll make cleaning up your inbox easier.
2. Predictive text
Artificial Intelligence helps us with many tasks and, as of a few months ago, it made its way to Gmail. Once enabled, the feature tracks common speech and phrases you use and will begin to complete your sentences for you as you compose emails. Whether it's "Let me know if you have any questions" or "I hope you had a great weekend," when you're consistently typing the same phrases, saving a few seconds of typing--across hundreds of emails--will definitely add up.
One reason I love this feature is because it also helps remind me which phrases I'm using too much, to be more mindful of extra exclamation points, greetings, and repetitive words.
3. Colored-coded stars
I find it helpful to organize the types of messages I receive or have sitting in my inbox, awaiting a reply, by the category of business. Gmail's star functionality allows you to mark emails with various color stars or tags that you can assign to whatever category suits you best. You'll have to establish the feature in your settings, and then you'll be able to see at a glance what's waiting for you in your email.
If you, like me, set aside a few hour-long blocks of time for different types of tasks like recruiting, new business opportunities, or operational needs, this will help you tackle that time more efficiently.
Whether you prefer a written to-do list or are using one of the many digital-task tracking apps, Gmail offers a great solution for keeping track of what's on your plate for the near- and long-term.
A new feature on the right side of your Gmail inbox--and available on your calendar and mobile app--the tasks feature allows you to create quick to-dos while you're managing your inbox and ensures you won't forget about follow-up items or ideas that pop into your head. This also means you can close an email and mark it as "read," because the task within it lives elsewhere.
Have a daily task that needs to be accomplished? Set up a recurring task. While I am a fan of using Basecamp for many of my project-related to-dos, Gmail's tasks helps me keep a running list in real-time while I'm sorting through and responding to emails.
5. Scheduled send
Out of respect for clients' and employees' work-life boundaries, I usually prefer to send messages during business hours. But sometimes 11 p.m. on a Saturday night is the only time you have to respond to emails that have been lingering in your inbox.
Thanks to Gmail's latest update, it's now easy for you to type out emails when it's convenient for you, but make sure they're received when its convenient (or most respectful) for the recipient.
After your message is ready to go, but before you hit "send," click the arrow next to the send button and choose the scheduled send option. Then you can pick the date and time you want the email to make its way to someone else's inbox. And if you're wondering what emails you have in the queue, you can check your "scheduled send" outbox to keep tabs on your important messages.