One thing I am passionate about is improving my productivity and making the most of my time.  Therefore I am always looking for articles, tips and ideas on how to be more efficient.  I was recently chatting with some other engineering leaders and was telling them some of the things I do to get more out of Gmail, and decided I would post it for everyone else who might be interested.

First if you haven’t heard of Gmail labs, you should check it out!  There are tons of goodies in there (in your mail settings, click the labs tab).  Many of the features I leverage are in hidden there 🙂


mail producitivty tips - gmail labs screenshot


First, I should say that I am a big believer in Getting Things Done (GTD) and Inbox Zero.  Especially Inbox Zero.  As someone who gets between 100-600 emails per day (depending on the day of the week), the techniques of taking action on things right away and keeping your inbox clutter free (so you can get to the things that need action) has helped me improve so much – I used to drop balls here and there or never reply to people, but now that seldom happens. (I am also an avid user of Things and Evernote – I use Things to keep track of To Do’s on my phone and desktop and Evernote to keep longer notes from meetings, outlines, conversations, etc.)

Canned Responses – This was one of the things I missed when I moved from installed mail clients to Gmail: the ability to create a whole bunch of signatures, which I used like canned responses.  But they are in Gmail now, and while the UI is a bit cludgey, it gets the job done.  It is hard to have more than 10 or so responses without the UI becoming unusable, but you should definitely add them for any sort of email you type over and over.  For example, I get a lot of solicitations from recruiters and vendor sales people so I create canned responses so I can politely decline them – I always felt guilty not responding even if I wasn’t interested, but this makes it easy to reply in one click and only slight less efficient than just deleting.

Background Send – This is super handy for the inbox sweep (when you go sit and power through all your emails).  It allows you to hit Send and then return to your inbox without waiting for the email to go through.  Otherwise you are stuck on that screen until you message is sent and your response is posted in the message thread.

Send & Archive – If you are using inbox zero, this is very useful and makes cleaning your inbox even easier.  This button allows you to type a response, send it, and then automatically archive the conversation.  This is so handy, because you still keep all your emails (for searching and to find later) but you don’t have to worry about folders and going back and archiving the conversation later.

Inserting images – I like html email (since most people’s clients support it now) and being able to add an image, graph or diagram in the context of an email (versus as an attachment) is easier for me to explain (instead of “look at File1 here”, and easier for the recipient to understand (it image is inline!).

Signature tweaks – How many of you are sick of seeing signatures (from your coworkers who you already know their contact information) appear over and over in threads, making the emails so long and harder to skim?  Well I know this bothers me.  So instead of being part of the problem, turn this on and then you can set it so your signature is at the top of replies, which makes it really easy to select your signature and then type your response – removing your signature from the reply (since otherwise it goes at the end and you would have to scroll down to delete it, which is a pain).

Echo Gecko – Not in labs, but also handy is the google apps script that allows you to set snooze on emails.  I use this because of the awesome author, AK, but also because it is really useful for the really important emails that you send and archive, but want to remind yourself to ensure that they were followed up on or handled.  It keeps your inbox clean, and will remind you when needed.

Hope this helps you, if you have any other ideas or improvements, definitely post them in the comments!

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