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You're Using Gmail Wrong

Victor Iryniuk, @iryniuk

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There's nothing worse than a wasted potential.

Remember feature phones? The ones usually called the "dumb phones"? We used to carry them everywhere just for calling, texting, and excruciatingly slow and almost useless Internet access. But they had a potential to become something far more useful. In 2007, iPhones ushered the era of smartphones. Today they are virtually replacing laptops in terms of on-the-go productivity, accessibility, and in the number of sales. In India, for example, many people have completely skipped the "PC stage" for the Internet access and primarily use smartphones. This was unimaginable 10 years ago. A mobile phone is a great example of technology which had a far-reaching potential. But the further development of this potential was held back by the technological limitations, something that time can solve.

There are other widely used services which can go far beyond their original purpose. In China, you can pay and receive payments via WeChat, book flight tickets, hail taxis, read news, customize a car before a purchase, and even do some rudimentary stuff like chat. In 5 years time, WeChat has evolved from a simple messenger into one of the biggest social networks and service providers of China. A simple chat became an all-engulfing service because people spend a lot their time with it, because it connects them, and it could expand this connection to not just friends, but businesses and public services.

Which brings us to the outrageous statement in the title - You're using Gmail wrong! Gmail doesn't do absolutely everything WeChat does (though Google is pretty much there), but many actually underestimate what it can do for you. Google has been steadily pushing us towards using its other services via Gmail: your Gmail account is the universal key to the Google Apps and Android ecosystems, hundreds of third party services support authentication with Google Account and email is still the way such services communicate with you. In fact, we spend a lot of time in our inboxes, either for work or please (more for the first one actually), which makes it an important place or a hub for communication and interaction with other services. And even today, right now, this hub has the potential of being something more and something better for you.

Here are several Gmail tricks that will change the way you're using your inbox.

Gmail as a GTD heaven

"Don't treat emails as tasks". That's what a lot of people on the Internet say because tasks deserve a separate ToDo list, preferably in a separate app. But that's mainly because pure Gmail handles email-tasks not in the best manner. You can star such emails or you can give them a label, but such emails will quickly get lost in a torrent of actual mail. Not surprisingly, Gmail has a native ToDo list but compared to everything else you can get in this field, Gmail's offer doesn't look that attractive.

But what if you could approach tasks in Gmail more seriously, make the process more intuitive, and easier to manage? That's the point Sortd makes. It's a simple service for optimizing Gmail for GTD-enthusiast that turns it into a kanban-style for task management. Sortd is nothing more than a "smart skin for Gmail" (as its own site states), but such a smart skin achieves a lot by doing so little. With Sortd you can group emails into columns representing the tasks stage (like To-Do, Ongoing, Completed, etc.) and rename those emails so that it to look more like a task and make more sense to you at a glance.

CRM inside the inbox

If you've ever used a customer relationship management system (CRM), you might have noticed that Gmail and Google Apps have a lot in common with this sales tool. For example, Contacts are similar to the client cards, Spreadsheets can be used as a basic client database, Documents on Drive are great for storing contracts and similar document. And emails have always helped in driving business communication. By combining them with the CRM-like advantages of the Google Apps you might end up with a decent and simple to use CRM system.

The Gmail CRM is not a new concept and you can achieve it by combining a number of extensions. However, there are services which are actually aimed at CRMifyng Gmail. For example, NetHunt CRM is a ready-to-use CRM for Gmail, turning the inbox into a business management system. You can create customer records from emails, organizing and managing them as a pipeline and getting the insights about the results of your marketing or sales activities. It actually makes mass mailing from Gmail possible and a viable alternative to some specialized services. Also, by unifying the CRM with your inbox, you might avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of the CRM systems - low adoption rates due to the system complexity.

Smart Inbox. By Google

Not surprisingly, Google itself doesn't mind the idea of slightly restructuring Gmail and extracting more value out of emails. Yes, some emails are the one-time messages, but they can be related to the previous conversations so grouping them makes sense. This is where the idea of a smart inbox arrives. Instead of adding more settings and features to Gmail, guys at Mountain View have decided to rewrite Gmail app from the ground-up, remix some familiar features, and give the world a brand new email app.

Inbox by Gmail puts an interesting twist on email management. It's aimed at organizing Gmail messages into bundles, automatically sorting them by topics or sources. With time, Google has added a bunch of other cool tricks like accessing notes from Keep or the saved links (Pocket-style), turning it into a hub for accessing most of the material you've saved with Google Apps.

If This Then That

If you haven't tried IFTTT before, do yourself a favor and explore some receipts. IFTTT is a simple automation service which does some predefined actions based on the triggers it receives. The point is to connect several apps or services using IFTTT, so that if you do something in one app, another action happens automatically in the second app.

Gmail can be a perfect place for centralizing all of the activity of your other favorite services. For example, you can turn Gmail into an RSS reader so that new articles from your favorite sites would immediately appear in your inbox. When you read something great in Pocket, you can email it to yourself for further references by labeling that article. You can automatically save important messages to Evernote to keep the inbox clean. Basically, you can forward or create events from emails just by starring them blurring the boundaries between the different apps.


In some cases, even the best of tools can let us down or at least be not that efficient to use. When you need to find some piece of data or text to send via email, you'd probably have to look for it in the overcrowded Evernote or the minimalistic Google Keep. And while both are great to have, the emails-related snippets of data might be way easier to find in the inbox itself.

Gmail does what Google does best and that's search. It sounds rather old-fashioned, but saving important data as emails or drafts might be not the worst idea. At least you can quickly access it, especially if you're using the search. One of the simplest Gmail hacks is to turn it into a digital clipboard. You can either send yourself emails or save text as drafts and it'll always be there with you when sending emails, no matter the device you're using. Just don't forget to mark that message somewhat eye-catching and distinctive for the search engine to find, like "#clipboard".

What's next for Gmail?

With the arrival of Inbox by Google, many have predicted that Gmail would be no more. It's way too old and ugly. But how can Google pull the plug from one of their most popular services? A service which is primarily used for work, as the fool-proof way of communication and one of the pillars of Google Apps. Inbox isn't ready yet to fully replace Gmail. It might happen, but not unless we see more signs of its abandonment.

In the meantime, there are dozens of Gmail tips to power it up beyond imaginable, bringing more versatility to the good-old emailing service. Gmail is far more powerful and important, and by not realizing this, you're using Gmail wrong.

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