Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Gmail Work Better - Notes from the Tech Desk

More and more people are making the switch to Gmail as a full-time, business and personal, email program.  (There are plenty of reasons to use Gmail, but that’s a topic for another post!)  Instead I thought I’d share a few of the tricks I’ve learned which help make Gmail work better/smarter/safer.

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The first three have been written about extensively, and you’re probably already familiar with them.  The last three might be new for you..

^ Labels. These can be used like folders in Outlook, although they’re much more powerful, because you can assign multiple labels to each email.

I use a few labels to help keep my inbox clean, labeling incoming emails with Action, Read, Respond, etc.  This helps me keep my focus on the task at hand when I’m trying to respond to emails or follow-up on a requested task.

I use client-specific labels to keep track of everything related to a particular client within easy reach, such as that one email without a subject line or a client’s name, from the title officer’s former assistant – the one that I would never be able to find by searching & sifting through all my emails..  Now it’s a snap.

I also have some labels for personal topics and a Save This label.

^ Filters. Gmail uses filters to automatically route your new messages to the appropriate label/folder/view.  You can set up a filter based on any of the fields within the email, or by any searchable text.  For example, maybe you want any email from your broker to be labeled Read This, or any email from a client to be labeled with Take Action.  This can help keep your inbox clean & your focus on the task at hand, yet these emails will be waiting for you when you’re ready to read/respond/act on them.

^ Search. Google’s bread & butter.  Also a reason you don’t need hundreds of labels.  You can search for any text anywhere within the email, or you can limit your search with qualifiers like “from: client xyz” or “to: client @gmail. com”.  You can also search by date or by time frame.

Since search is so easy, you probably don’t need a specific label for emails that will be easy to find later, such as an email list or social media site.  Emails from “BobsAutoDiscussionGroup @BODG. com” or from “notification @Facebookmail. com” can be easily tracked down!

^ Backup. As much as I love Google, I’ve agreed to their Terms of Service, so I’m pretty sure I’ve given up my right to recourse if they lose my email or have an adverse effect on my business.  Therefore, I’m going to continue to backup my own email.

Here is a little application I run which downloads my email, including the labels, attachments, from, to, cc, and bcc fields, to my hard drive.  This gives me a local version and a version in Google’s cloud, which should be adequate backup – although I then include these as part of my regular backup set..

^ Offline. Google gears now synchronizes your gmail with a local version, completely in the background.  From gmail, go to Settings, Labs, and click to Enable the Offline Gmail.  Gears will download all your email, then all your attachments, and then keep everything current for you.

Anytime you don’t have an internet connection handy, you can still see all your emails, read, label, and even respond to them.  Obviously you can’t send an email without an internet connection, but the next time you’re online Gmail will sync and send your emails for you!

^ Signature & Default Fonts. I had some frustration initially over not having the ability to set a default font.  Here’s a work around I’ve been using.  (note – this works for the Google Chrome browser; there are similar solutions available for Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, but you’ll have to search to find the right link.)

First, go to this website, which lets you create a signature, and then creates a bookmark you can store in your bookmark-bar.  Build your signature so that the first line is the default font/color you want to use.

Next, when you Compose a New Email, click the Signature bookmark, and your email will have your signature in it.  Now start typing at the beginning of the signature, and you’ll be using your preferred font!

I hope this helps you make the most of your gmail.  Let me know if you have a great tip to share!

Your gmail-lovin’ Realtor,

Chris Butterworth