For anyone with a Gmail account, you know just how annoying it can be when, every time you log in, you’re asked which senders can and can’t show their pictures (whether attached or embedded). A feature since the mogul’s begging, this practice is still in effect years after ongoing overhauls. They’ve changed their look, opted for a new way to write emails (in the bottom of the page, so that one can still view previous messages), and created a labeling system to better point out spam and phishing schemes.
Not to mention the change from Google Talk to Hangouts, and Docs to Drive. And just as we get used to a new set of features, it’s as though they’re throwing over the next round of email accessories.
Next on their list? Automatically displaying pictures in every email – even without the user’s permission. With all the new security features put into place, Google is able to identify spam (for the most part) before it even hits the inbox. So to bank on these growing features, they thought they’d save us a few steps. No more picture approval, just email opening and a visual aspect that’s waiting to be seen.
Why the Change is Long Overdue
When was the last time you were given the option to display pictures from an email you didn’t want? (Or at least didn’t know the sender?) Half the time, it’s the display that lets us know whether or not the email is worthy in the first place. Yet, time and time again, we’re forced to click our link of approval, just to see whether or not the mail is legit.
Besides, even if there was spam sending us photos – how would it harm our computer? If anything, it’s acting as a “spam flag” alerting us all the quicker that questionable content is in the mix. With the added step taken out, we can more quickly identify crap emails and get them reported to the proper authorities.
Why there’s no telling why Google – the Internet king – waited so long to make this ancient change, it’s high time we take advantage of its new feature. Whether looking for spam, cleaning out an inbox, or searching for legitimate content, the upgrade offers a new realm of freedom.
Look to your inbox for this and more upcoming changes in your Gmail account.
I recently enabled the New Gmail inbox, and I have to say that this new update has me scratching my head.
(To experience the new Gmail Inbox, you have to simply click on the gear icon in your top right window just above the chat and choose “Configure Inbox.” From here, you can choose from the variety of tabs that Google has given to you.)
I understand that Google is known for frequently updating its products, regardless of whether or not an update is really necessary. It has become something of a corporate culture, and perhaps serves to show people that they really are putting the work in to improve their products.
However, was this recent update just a minor adjustment or a useful update to how you use Gmail?
Introducing the new Gmail Inbox with categories
The way that the new Inbox is laid out is that instead of one Inbox that has the priority tags, there are multiple tabs on the top of your window. They are similar to tabs in a browser, and by clicking each one you access a different view of your inbox. The default ones that are selected are Primary, Social, and Promotions. If you would like, you also have the options to add Updates and Forums to your tabs as well.
Here are how Google defines each option:
Primary – Person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs.
Social – Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, and other social websites.
Promotions – Deals, offers, and other marketing emails.
Updates – Personal, auto-generated emails including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.
Forums – Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists.
After you have chosen your tabs, you will notice that your email becomes all jumbled. Gmail automatically goes through all of your emails and places things where they “belong.” For example, anything that is an email generated from a forum comment will go into Forums, any recent email about a great deal will go in Promotions, etc. The idea here is that when you want to look for social emails, you go to social. When you want your updates such as bills and receipts then you go to Updates. I like the idea, and automatic sorting really makes using it literally effortless.
So what’s wrong with the new layout?
For me, I was immediately confused and a bit shocked to see that the “primary” option is exactly as it states. It is for emails that haven’t shown up in other tabs. What this meant took me a moment to process because I was so surprised and assumed it couldn’t be true. What this means is that there is no longer a unified inbox where you can go and just see ALL your email in one date sorted list. So if you don’t see it in primary, go to social. If it isn’t in there, try promotions, etc. This was immediately a deal breaker for me because this completely makes you rely on the automation process which would have to be flawless.
Is Google good enough to sort it out?
The answer to this is yes and no. Fortunately, Google is great at recognizing content in your emails (yes, that is creepy), but the built-in safety is that it will actually learn from you as you move your emails around. So for example, if you get an update in your Updates tab that you would prefer to be in your Social tab, you can simply drag them email onto the Social tab and Gmail will ask you if you would always like to do that for this sender. If you choose yes, then that senders email will go into the tab you chose.
The biggest problem I see with this is that it is essentially creating “rules” much like you would in Outlook or Apple mail. Yes they can be powerful, but not when they are the only choice across your whole email system. The fact is that a machine, although they have made incredible leaps and bounds, is not yet ready to determine exactly where I want my emails. Granted, the existence of one unified inbox that just shows you everything would be a great safety net that would make this whole experience much easier in my opinion.
Limited categorization options
I think the confusion and the difficulty now is that you can’t create your own tabs, and stuffing your email into these pre-created tabs is… well, hard. I immediately ran into questions that I just didn’t want to answer! Isn’t this forum response from a local club a social event? Is this marketing email also the address that sends me blog updates that I actually like to read? Is my second or third communication with a doctor, job, etc. considered an update or just in primary? They are technically updates to a situation right? All in all, it was just too confusing with too many questions that to be honest, I didn’t care to answer.
I don’t get seven thousand emails a day, a nice list of my emails with the occasional folder sorting would be fine for me. I know that for many people, that may not be the case.
New mobile apps
Another huge problem I have with this system is the mobile Gmail app. Although I don’t have access to the Android version, the iOS version basically works so that you see each tab and have to tap into the side menu to switch between your tabs. That is two taps to switch between tabs, and I can see it being a huge pain to look through when you aren’t sure exactly where an email went. If the default was to see all your messages, then look at them in the tabs when you wanted, I would be ok with that. You would have a safe ground in some way.
Will it get better?
I have complete faith that Google will improve this system, and even just the added ability to create your own tabs will do wonders. Whether they put in one inbox that shows you everything, I’m not sure, but without it I won’t be using the new inbox. Google also has a reputation for quickly axing a change they made, and it just all of a sudden disappearing from your options. Perhaps this new tab system will go that way!
I think what it comes down to is: how complicated does your inbox need to be? For some people, simpler and straight forward is the way to go, and I think this new update pushes into complicated territory. For power users that love to organize, it may be a nice change, but for others it is a head scratching nuisance.
I have always been reliant on my Gmail account for all of my personal electronic correspondence — it’s the primary link between me and my networked and integrated world. Over the years, it has accumulated a considerable amount of important (and equally unimportant) emails.
If I rely so heavily on my Gmail account, why has it taken me this long to realize that I have never backed it up? I mean, every other important digital file I own (pictures, music, etc.) is backed up in at least three places. Why shouldn’t my email inbox be as well? After coming to my wits, I decided to try a Gmail backup/restore program and remove any doubt, and of all the backup options available, I decided upon Gmvault.
Setting up Gmvault
The setup is fairly simple and takes no extra hassle to install. After installation, proceed to the main menu to begin using Gmvault.
But wait, this is the main menu? Why yes, this is not a joke — the main menu for Gmvault is indeed a command window. Before one gets nervous due to the “lack of a proper user interface,” let me demonstrate Gmvault’s simplicity. Start off by typing gmvault –h into the command window.
From here, one can see that this program has really only two functions: Sync and Restore. Let’s start with Sync (a.k.a. backup).
From the Gmvault command prompt, type in gmvault sync –h to pull up the options and examples for the Sync function.
Again, this may look like a lot to understand, but the main portion you want to look at is the Examples. From this list, one can find their perfect backup situation. Considering that I had never backed up my Gmail emails before, Option A became the most logical choice. After typing in gmvault sync [my email address], the program asks for permission via your Gmail account to begin syncing and backing up your inbox. This is done through a browser pop-up that appears.
After allowing access to your account, hit Enter and watch Gmvault go to work.
Every once in a while, Gmvault will update you with its progress and how much time is left (so you don’t have to watch it constantly). Once completed, a success prompt will appear.
If you want to verify the backup process, the emails can be found in C:\Users\…\gmvault-db.
I won’t go into too much detail about the Restore function, but essentially it works in the reverse order that Sync did. Type gmvault restore -h to see the help options.
From the exact same folder used for backup, Gmvault begins the process of restoring your emails back to the account specified. Simple, quick, and effective.
Gmvault may not have a fancy user interface or a cool progress bar, but it makes up for that by successfully backing up and restoring your Gmail account with simple commands and quiet precision.
Ever since the demise of Google Gears back in December 2009, we’ve always been yearning to get some kind of offline support back to our essential Google applications. Finally, they’ve added offline mode to Gmail, Docs and Calendars. However, it’s only available through the Chrome web browser.
Why only Chrome, you ask? Well, Google says that other browsers haven’t implemented the specifications that are needed to run their Offline Mode, specifically the FileSystem API. Will we see Mozilla make room for Google’s Offline Mode anytime soon? Probably not.
To get your sans-Internet Gmail shenanigans going, you’ll need the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome App Store. From there, it’s just a matter of clicking on it whenever you don’t have a connection. The interface should look very familiar to tablet users, since it looks almost identical to the Gmail tablet web interface. Once you establish an Internet connection, the Gmail Offline app will automatically synchronize everything.
Offline Google Docs and Calendar are a little different from Offline Gmail. You won’t need an extension or app, since they both work seamlessly between online and offline modes. All you have to do is head into the upper-right corner and click the gear icon. From there it’s just a matter of checking the box for offline access. If you’re not yet seeing this option, Google is slowly rolling out the new feature throughout the week, so be patient.
At the moment, Docs and Calendar are view-only in offline mode, but Google is making it a point to edit offline in the future.
Dear people living under rocks this past week: If you haven’t noticed, Google has decided to tackle bold new things recently, with widespread success. First, they came out with Google+, a type of digital, communal gathering site that allows one to keep up with friends and collaborate with them (Which I am sure that Techerator will summarize into article form). And that was pretty cool.
But then, they did something even cooler and bolder than diving into the social networking realm: they updated Gmail with new themes and revamped Google Calendar! Isn’t that amazing! These new changes are a direct result of the Google+ launch in order to make Google’s products look more streamlined and uniform, as well as continuing the progress towards cleaner aesthetics.
The new look for Google Calendar will be turned on automatically, but you’ll have to activate the new Gmail themes yourself through the use of special new “Preview” themes. Gmail themes can be found by clicking the settings icon in the top right corner of your Gmail account (by your email name), selecting “Mail Settings”, and then going to the “Themes” tab. You can then select either “Preview” or “Preview (Dense)”, the latter having less padding between each item in your inbox.
And for those of you still living under rocks without a Google account, here’s a few pictures to show off the neatness.
Old Google Calendar
New Google Calendar
I’d say that Google cleans up quite nicely for its couple hundred million users. And that’s something you can truly leave the rock behind for.
Firebug is a free, open source add-on for Firefox that provides essential tools for web developers. If you have Firebug installed and have logged into Gmail recently, however, you’ll be greeted with an intimidating message that states:
“Firebug is known to make Gmail slow unless it is configured correctly.”
This message also contains a link to “Fix This”, but you will notice that Google only provides a few vague sentences explaining that you need to disable Firebug for Gmail, and if that doesn’t work you should disable Firebug altogether. That isn’t very helpful, so in this article I’ll explain the procedure with more detail.
First off, I don’t know exactly why Firebug and Gmail aren’t getting along. I’ve been running Firebug for years and have never noticed excessive slowness with Gmail, but apparently others have not been so fortunate.
The easiest way to disable Firebug for a specific site is to browse to the site causing problems and press Shift + F12. This hotkey automatically disables Firebug for the current website you are browsing.
Alternatively, you can open the Firebug development panel by clicking the small bug icon in the Firefox status bar (if your status bar is hidden, you can also press the F12 key to open Firebug). In the top left corner of the Firebug panel, click the orange bug icon and select “Deactivate Firebug for This Site”.
Firebug will continue to operate on other websites, but when you browse to sites you explicitly disabled, the Firebug logo will turn grey to indicate it is no longer working.
If you continue having problems after deactivating Firebug for Gmail, you may be required to disable the add-on entirely. To do this, open Firefox add-ons by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + A, locate Firebug, click Disable, and restart your browser.
My inbox is a sanctuary, a veritable digital zen garden. I have 0 unread messages, I’ve never declared email bankruptcy, and I do a fairly good job of replying to any email that needs my input. A series of small yellow stars decorate my inbox, denoting any messages that still require my action.
I’ve never really talked about my email practices with others before, so I was surprised when I found that others don’t always keep their inboxes as meticulously groomed as I do. Met with incredulity, I decided to take a look at the organizational mantras I had developed over many years of digital correspondence and see what methodologies allow me to maintain such an austere working environment.
I don’t receive a phenomenal amount of email – I’m sure that many of you deal with double or triple the messages I see – but between three email accounts (all managed through a single Gmail account, one of my favorite things about Google’s email service), I acquire anywhere between 30-100 legitimate, these-need-to-be-read messages per day. I greatly benefit from Gmail’s excellent spam detection, so nearly every message that reaches my inbox is something I was truly intended to receive.
The following guidelines have worked well for me, and have become increasingly important as my digital life continues to grow. A cluttered inbox is the sign of a cluttered mind, and I’m confident that by applying some basic organizational principles to your email can have a positive impact on your overall productivity.
Deal with important or unpleasant messages immediately
It has to start somewhere, It has to start sometime What better place than here, what better time than now?
– Rage Against the Machine, “Guerilla Radio”
My first recommendation is one of the basic foundations of dealing with any type of procrastination: take care of the nastiest jobs first, and get them done right away. Be a Now person. When you get an email that requires a response, even if it’s something you truly don’t want to deal with, attack it directly. You’ll have to do it eventually, and it will only get more unpleasant as it slowly descends through the abyss.
If you can’t deal with an important message right away, give it a star and come back to it as soon as you have some free time (more on this in Star emails, but make a clear distinction between “To Dos” and “Reference” emails below). If you ever find yourself descending into the “procrastination death spiral”, a term I lovingly coined for when you’ve put something off for so long you now feel too guilty to do it anymore, grit your teeth, apologize for the delay, and reply just as you would’ve in the first place.
This principle has an important caveat: you don’t want to be constantly dealing with emails all day and night. Real, genuine recreational time is incredibly important to your physical and mental well-being, so establish some ground rules for dealing with email. At work, maybe you can set aside 5 minutes out of every 30 where you focus exclusively on your inbox. At home, you could have two well-defined email sessions in an evening, and anything past 10pm can wait until morning.
Being a Now person will make you feel better, your “to do” list will shrink, and people will love that you’re the guy who responded to them promptly and will likely return the favor. Cue beams of golden sunlight, angels with heraldic trumpets, and rainbows shooting out of your well-maintained inbox.
Use Priority Inbox, but not because of the Priority feature
Action expresses priorities.
Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature is one of the single best tools in your organizational arsenal. This supercharged version of your standard inbox can automatically identify which emails require more attention than others, and through your careful instruction, it can learn to make better decisions over time. To enable Priority Inbox, go to your mail settings, click the Priority Inbox tab, then select Show Priority Inbox at the bottom.
While the automatic prioritization of emails might be useful for many of you, a secondary feature of Priority Inbox is what cements its usefulness for me: the ability to view starred messages in your main inbox, just below your priority messages. Starred messages are the focal points of my “getting things done” mentality, so looking at their yellow, five-pointed selves every time I open my inbox is the single best way to guarantee they’ll get dealt with.
But, carelessly starring every email that requires your attention can also be a bad thing, so…
Star messages, but make a clear distinction between “To Dos” and “Reference” emails
Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.
– Paul J. Meyer
Although I don’t recommend using your email inbox as your primary “to do” list (there are severalotherservices that offer superior task management features and can integrate directly into your email), starring important messages is an excellent way to keep track of messages that require action on your part.
As mentioned in the Deal with important or unpleasant messages immediately principle, there will be times when you simply can’t reply to a message right away, or perhaps you need to take care of a few things before finishing the task. Messages like this should receive a star, and by using Priority Inbox you’ll see that message front-and-center each time you log into Gmail.
When using stars, it is very important to differentiate between “To Do” emails and “Reference” emails; failing to do so can cause you to be overwhelmed with starred messages that never seem to be resolved. Only star messages that have a clear task, objective, or require an action on your part. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the task will be resolved by an action, it’s ok to star. If the task will be resolved on its own after a period of time, it should not be starred.
Rather than putting stars on reference emails, create a label in Gmail for them instead (these are essentially folders for those of you that are familiar with desktop email clients). Because Gmail now allows you to nest labels (create subfolders), you can easily divide up reference emails into multiple categories. I have three: Personal (schedules, important contact information, lists), Professional (work-related reference email), and Techerator (schedules, project plans, staffing information).
If you’re really interested in taking your inbox organization to the next level, you can use Gmail’s superstars to visually distinguish between different types of important emails. This can help you prioritize tasks (for example: red stars for urgent priority, blue stars for low priority), but be careful not to go overboard with them. Adding a different star for every message could easy have an adverse affect on your organizational system, so use them with moderation.
Here’s a little practice for determining whether an email should be starred or labeled:
An RSVP for a friend’s upcoming wedding that you haven’t replied to – Star, it requires action
Directions for driving to the wedding – Label, this is reference material
A long but important email you didn’t have time to finish reading – Star, until you finish reading it
A long but important email that you’ve already read, but contains useful information – Label, you can come back to it later but there’s nothing to check off here
An invitation to a birthday party in three weeks – Calendar, this is neither reference nor something you can check off through immediate action
A list of presents you need to buy for the birthday party – Star, and maybe once finished you could add it to a reference label for future birthdays
Filter nothing, sort everything
For sure, the American people have access to more information now than any other people who have ever lived on earth. And I think we do a pretty good job of sorting out what’s important.
– Bob Schieffer
A lot of people maintain the illusion of a clean inbox by heavily filtering their messages. Filters allow you to pre-process messages before you even receive a new mail notification, but you should never create a filter that hides messages from your view.
For example, some people will create a “catch-all” rule that filters messages of a certain type and automatically marks them as read. This isn’t safe (and you’ll forget about it over time), which can easily result in a lot of legitimate messages going to the briny depths of your inbox without your knowledge.
Rather than hide messages, use Gmail’s great filtering system to automatically add labels to your email so you can quickly sort through them yourself. I’ve created sorting filters like “Social Networks” that automatically label messages from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. While I still see these messages in my inbox, now that they’re labeled I can quickly mark them all as read after I’ve had a chance to confirm their importance (using Priority Inbox’s priority feature is especially useful in this scenario).
Staying on top of a busy inbox is not easy, especially since our inboxes now house personal correspondence, bills, social network notifications, information requests, To Dos – the list can go on for days.
If you’re currently overwhelmed by email and the elusive “inbox zero” seems to constantly evade your grasp, try following some of the principles I’ve presented in this article and see if it works for you. Be a Now person. And if you don’t receive a lot of email and therefore don’t have a messy inbox – start using these tips now! They’ll be invaluable as your email intake inevitably grows.
If you find yourself writing impersonal, repetitive emails often, Gmail’s Canned Responses feature is a great way to streamline this tedious process. Canned Responses allows you to save pre-written messages, so next time you need to remind Ted that the wireless network’s ID is “Potato1” you can take care of it with just a couple clicks.
To activate Canned Responses, open up Gmail and head to the Labs tab in Gmail Settings (you can also click the small green beaker in the top right corner). Scroll down to Canned Responses and click Enable, then click the Save Changes button to activate it.
The next time you finish writing a email that could be reused, click the new Canned responses menu under the To: field in Gmail where you can click New Canned Response and give it a name to save it. Don’t worry about things like your signature or any quoted text from a reply – it automatically grabs only the part you’ve written.
The next time you need to send out a similar reply, just open up the Canned responses menu and select your message. It will be instantly inserted into your message.
How to Send Automatic Canned Replies
There might be some messages that you always want to send canned replies to. This can be easily accomplished by combining Gmail’s filter feature with Canned responses. To create an automatic response, click the Create a filter link to the right of the search box at the top of Gmail.
Specify the criteria for the message that you’re trying to identify. In my case, I want to create a filter that looks for any message with the words “Press Release” in the subject. Click Next Step once you’ve specified your filter.
You can then select the option for Send canned response: and select the desired reply. You can also choose options like Mark as read or Skip the Inbox to keep your inbox clean if you have no future need for the message.
The next time an email matching the criteria you specified reaches your inbox, it will automatically receive the canned reply you created.
Canned responses are a great way to get responses out to people without going through the tedium of writing the same message over and over. If you find yourself sending out impersonal, informational emails, this can save you a lot of time. And if you want to make them more personal, leave a few fields so you can edit them before you send the message.
You can display a list of every message with an attachment with the following search query (just type it in the search box):
And if you know what file type you’re looking for, type it after the original query:
Just replace “filetype” with the extension of the file you’re looking for, i.e. “pdf”, “doc”, or “zip”. The following query will display all emails with PowerPoint files attached:
If you wanted to get fancy and search for both old versions of PowerPoint files (ppt) and new PowerPoint files (pptx, which started in Office 2007):
has:attachment (ppt OR pptx)
You might also want to search for attachments from a specific person. Check out the following query to do that:
This query will only show messages from “mom” with attachments.
Using these tips will help you manage your Gmail attachments and be more productive. Check out our original guide to get even more suggestions, including how to create automatic filetype filters so you won’t have to type any searches in the future.
Time to face hard facts: Checking your Gmail inbox is not the most enjoyable thing you do during the day. To be honest, it can be quite boring, really. Reading, replying, trashing, and repeat; it never ends. Even using Priority Inbox doesn’t solve the mediocrity email sorting creates.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually get recognition for your inboxing skills? Shouldn’t your inbox duties be rewarding and fun at the same time? Well the solution to all these boredom issues in Gmail is just one download away. The solution? It’s 0Boxer!
0Boxer (pronounced Zero-Box-er) is an extension currently available for Google Chrome and Safari that takes the drag out of Gmail sorting and filtering. 0Boxer is set up in three (or four) easy steps as shown:
After 0Boxer is added to your browser, you create a profile on the 0Boxer website and allow the program access to your Gmail account. Then the fun begins. If all went well, a toolbar appears on the top of your Gmail inbox showing your 0Boxer profile.
Like a traditional game, the whole point of 0Boxer is to get points. One point is issued for every deletion, spam flagging, writing, or archiving you do in your inbox. These points are then logged on your 0Boxer profile and shown on the toolbar. The more points, the higher you climb the leader board. How thrilling!
If you get lucky, you might stumble across a badge for your 0Boxer profile…and we all know from those Xboxes and games like Call of Duty that achievements and badges are the hip things these days.
So what are you waiting for? Grab 0Boxer, start cleaning your inbox, and watch the points roll right in. Oh, did I mention it was workplace safe as well? Join today.