7 Necessary Productivity Hacks for Gmail User

Gmail is the e-mail service provider of choice for millions of people, including me. It has become not only the most-used personal e-mail system but also a strong business e-mail system. Whether it is your way of staying in touch with your child’s school, other mom friends, or even your friends from back in school, I am willing to bet 80% of you use Gmail.

I was one of the early adopters of Gmail, back in 2004. Those days, you could join Gmail only through an invitation from an existing user. The streamlined, minimal interface of the system was like a breath of fresh air among the cluttered interfaces of Yahoo! and Hotmail. User-friendly Gmail soon spread like a wildfire among the young and the old.

Gmail has been in existence for over a decade and (other than the concerns around Google’s privacy policy) it still works like a dream. Over the years, it may seem like Gmail has not evolved at all but I will attribute it to the “why fix what’s not broken” adage. That said there are several Gmail features that are amazing but hidden from the main interface and not discussed enough. Traditional users do not tinker around looking for hidden features. Are you one of them?

Here are 7 amazing Gmail hacks that will improve your productivity.

7 Essential Gmail Productivity Hacks

Fair warning: This is an image-heavy post. I plan to replace the image series with video clips. But until such time, thank you for your patience and support 🙂

Create Alias-Based Filters

Optional reading: Text explanation from the Gmail Support team here.

Did you know when you sign up for Gmail, you actually sign up for multiple IDs or aliases? For example, when I signed up for [email protected], I get [email protected] and [email protected] free. Similarly, my husband uses a “.” (dot) between his first name and last name, but if by mistake, someone misses the “.” he will still receive the email. Cool, eh?

But, here’s something even cooler. You can take advantage of these punctuations to filter your emails. Suppose you are a work at home mom and you do not want to create a separate work email ID (provided your personal email account is not [email protected]), you do not have to. Simply create an alias on your existing email ID using either a “.” or a “+” and add a distinguishing keyword.

For example, I will receive emails from my personal emails at [email protected] and business emails (I freelance) at [email protected]. All from the same email account. Similarly, you can come up with aliases for maybe your website, your child’s school, your college reunion group, promotional emails, etc.

Here’s how to create an alias-based filter.

Remember to provide the correct alias email ID. For example, while you are signing up for a new application, sign up using [email protected]. Create a filter for this alias. That’s it. All incoming emails on this ID will automatically get filtered as per your chosen conditions.

Categorize and Color Code

Optional reading: Text explanation from the Gmail Support team here.

I am sure you all are aware what categorization means. If not, categorization is a technique to sort items or tasks into like groups. The sorting is based on certain preset conditions. For example, on your master list of To-Do items, some are work related, some are house chores, some are school related, etc.

Remember the Eisenhower Decision Matrix? That’s also categorization based on priorities.

Similarly, the emails you receive can be sorted into various categories. Gmail provides an option to set up your Inbox based on certain keywords and display them as tabs. It’s the default setting of all new Gmail accounts. But if you want don’t have it active and want to try it out, here’s what you need to do:

I do not like using this setup because the sorting is based on very broad categories (not Gmail’s fault; they have to keep it broad to fit all users). I like to filter using my own categories (see the previous tip).

On Gmail, you can categorize using two methods:

Use Labels

Optional reading: Text explanation from the Gmail Support team here.

Assigning labels to your emails helps you locate them quickly. My account is quite streamlined, but if you tend to have many categories, using labels can help you sort, scan, and locate them visually. You can also use the labeling system to create a To-Do list. For example, I have a bright red label called “ACTION REQD.” I assign this label to emails that need follow-up: either a reply or a printout, etc. Similarly, I have labels for items that add to my income or expenditure.

Stars and Icons

Optional reading: Text explanation from the Gmail Support team here.

Instead of using simple color-coded labels, Gmail also allows you to use pictorial labels to sort your emails. To do this, use the Stars and Icons features provided by Gmail.

For example, for emails that need your attention or it is a high priority item, use the red exclamation triangle icon. Alternatively, use a red star or multiple stars. It is up to you how you want to use the stars and icons.

Remember you can use only the active stars and icons.

Undo Send

Optional reading: Text explanation from the Gmail Support team here.

How many times have you sent an email and immediately realized you forgot to add a detail? It happens. I have done it a few times.

Luckily, the Gmail team does not look down upon people like me. They have just the thing to save us embarrassment. The Undo Send feature allows you to recall your email within 30 seconds of sending. Trust me, that’s time enough to realize what mistake you have made 😀

Ready to save you some embarrassment?

If you do not find the feature in the General tab, look for it in the Labs tab and enable it.

Done.

Use Preview Pane

How many of you have used Microsoft Outlook? I have not since I quit my full-time job, but one feature of MS Outlook that has stayed with me is the Preview Pane. Seeing a preview of anything helps you decide whether you want to invest more time in diving deeper.

Think of it this way: would you go watch a movie that has a crappy trailer? I bet not unless someone is holding a gun to your head or you have nothing better to do.

So, when I discovered the Preview Pane feature in Gmail, I was over the moon. Here is how you can activate it too.

Voila!

Create Canned Responses

Emailing can eat into your time faster than you think.

Think about it: not every email needs your immediate response. However, you do not want your subscribers or clients to hear crickets either. What’s the solution then?

Canned responses.

You can create standard responses to similar queries.

Appreciation/feedback from subscribers? Send them a standard “Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate you.” note.

Too many frequently asked questions from subscribers? Send standard responses with relevant answers.

Inquiries from brands about your portfolio? Send them a standard package email.

You can save a lot of time by sending these pre-typed standard responses. Gmail calls them “Canned Responses.” Here’s how to create your own canned responses.

Now, every time someone sends you an email about something you have answered several times previously, just use the saved canned responses and be done with just a few clicks.

Create Tasks from Emails

Gmail is no longer just an email service provider; it’s a productivity tool.

That’s right! You can create a basic To-Do list right in your inbox. You don’t need a separate task manager anymore. Let’s see how.

Isn’t that cool?

Integrations

As if the aforementioned features were not enough, you can integrate a number of third-party extensions to power Gmail even more. Here are a few of my tried-and-tested recommendations:

  • Zapier is a tool that allows you to create triggers and actions to automate your emailing requirements, such as creating labels, creating To-Do lists, etc. It allows you to create actions that native Gmail features do not.
  • Boomerang is an exclusive browser extension for Gmail to schedule outgoing emails. As a blogger, you may already be using this feature for your marketing emailing system, such as MailerLite, but now you can do it for your personal emailing system as well.
  • FollowUp is a browser extension that not only schedules emails but also alerts you when someone opens your email. In addition, you can also set up reminders for…you guessed it, follow-ups.

What are some of your favorite Gmail hacks or integration? Share in the comments below.

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How to Create Memorable and Effective Instructional Content? (Part 2 of 2)

Creating high-quality instructional content (in a blog) is a highly sought-after income option. Isn’t it amazing it to share your knowledge with others and eventually being paid for it? Your writing may help a working mom to manage her time better. Your writing may allow a stay-at-home to add to her family’s finances. Your writing may help a toddler mom to learn how to engage her child. The possibilities are many. And they are all positive!

In my earlier post, I introduced you to the ARCS model of presenting instructional content. You learned about the importance of including the elements of attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction in your writing. While the ARCS model will help you keep an overarching strategy in mind, you also need to work on the meat of the matter—your content.

7 Tips to Create Awesome Instructional Content

Write Memorable and Effective Instructional Content

Know your audience

Nothing is more important for an instructor than to know her audience. It’s very well to consider your blog a creative outlet for you, but if you have any hopes of earning income from your blog, you have to write content that helps others. In doing so, if you can fulfill your creative needs, even better.

Think about what you can bring to the table for your audience? How can you change their lives? What tangible transformation will they see in themselves if they follow your advice? Think like your audience. When you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, you will understand their challenges better and write for them instead of shooting in the dark. When you write in your audience’s shoes, your content will resonate with them. That’s the beginning of building a loyal readership, isn’t it?

Find your focus

Every blog post begins with an idea that is not just useful but hopefully unique. When you sit to brainstorm ideas, make sure that each post focuses on only one concept. For example, you want to teach your audience how to create a slideshow. However, creating a slideshow involves several tasks, including but not limited to:

  • Choosing the software
  • Choosing the template and theme
  • Designing a master slide
  • Creating engaging but minimal content
  • Adding animations
  • Viewing a slideshow

A high-quality post will focus on only one of the aforementioned tasks and go in-depth with it. This is true for all the other tasks—each task being its own post. When compiled, these will come together to form a series or a course. One more thing: for each of these tasks (posts), use the SMART method to draft the outcome or goal of the post. Yes, you can apply the SMART method to content creation too.

Begin with the outcome in mind

(a.k.a. Long-form vs Short-form content)

It’s widely advised to create long-form content (1500+ words—jury is out on what word count qualifies as “long-form content”). Here’s why: long-form content:

  • Allows you to create in-depth posts
  • Allows search engines to understand the purpose of your post and rank your content
  • Increases the chances of reader engagement by keeping them longer on your blog

As a mom to a pre-K boy, I have limited time to read long articles. Even so, if I come across a high-quality blog post that I think will help me progress, I will bookmark it or save it to Pocket or Evernote. It may take me three days to finish reading it, but finish it I will!

That said, do not force yourself to write long articles just because that is the norm these days and you want to rank higher. Katina Davenport wrote a wonderful post about why you do not need to make every post of yours an epic post. Once you find the idea, find the outcome of the idea. And then, stick to it. Again, find your focus.

The length of your post should solely depend on the purpose of the post. If you force yourself to write longer posts, your focus will drift in and out and words will start to lose meaning. That cannot be good for your engagement numbers, yes?

Break up the content

Reading on a digital device can be tiring for the eyes. Additionally, too much content can result in information overload and again cause fatigue. So, if you decide to write a long-form content, make sure that you break up the content to reduce text fatigue. To do this, use:

  • Headers and sub-headers to organize the content into logical chunks
  • Add emphasis to power words or key takeaway sentences
  • Bullet lists with short sentences
  • Bright, relevant, and engaging photos or illustrations
  • Colorful charts and graphs, where applicable, to present and/or summarize data
  • Well-produced video or audio clips
  • Examples of success stories or testimonials to add “human” or “emotional” element
  • You may even consider splitting your long-form post into a series of posts (like this one J).

Use meaningful images

It’s true that content is king when it comes to traditional blogs. However, according to research, using the right image can help retain the same information six times more than usual.

The general trend has been to include at least two clean images in each blog post that are social media friendly. That’s great! But do you know why you are including these images in the first place (other than publishing to social media platforms?). Visual elements help:

  • Add an emotional angle
  • Break the blocks of text, which can tire out the eyes.

While text remains your primary data in blogs, images should complement the text. It should not take the focus away from the main content (unless it’s an infographic, in which case the body text becomes complementary).

Spend time looking for beautiful, powerful but more importantly, relevant images that evoke the necessary emotions in your readers. The other day I saw a Pinterest image about creating an online course. It was a great image and well designed. Except it used an image of a typewriter. Show me how you can create an online course using a typewriter and I will be happy to eat my words. Don’t be that person.

Don’t stop looking until you find the right images to support your content.

Walk away

You may be someone who writes a post in one sitting or in installments. I aim to finish a post in one sitting but it does not always happen. For example, today is the third day I am working on this post. Sometimes I feel plain uninspired; sometimes my child needs my attention in the middle of my writing time; sometimes I will answer a call from my mom. But that’s okay, and in fact, it’s good.

Even if you work distraction-free, you still need to dissociate yourself from your content before you publish it. It is important to take breaks during your work hours. Granted, the aforementioned breaks are unplanned, but it refreshes my mind nonetheless. Walking away from your work helps you return with a fresh eye and more zeal. So, next time you work on a post, allow yourself to take small breaks. Here are some ideas to utilize your breaks better:

Don’t force yourself to write when your heart is somewhere else. It will show in your writing.

Be brutal with your edits

Many bloggers mistake editing for proofreading, but they are not interchangeable tasks. While proofreading helps eliminate language errors (grammar, mechanics, typos, etc.), editing tests the objective and usability of the post.

So, next time you sit down to “edit” your post, check if your content:

  • Meets its objective(s) or outcome
  • Focusses on one and only one idea; remove all superfluous content
  • Uses a hook in the introductory paragraph (for more information, read the ARCS post I wrote earlier)
  • Is organic—meaning, each post can be a standalone post without depending on another post
  • Is logically chunked and organized
  • Flows easily from general to specific concepts
  • Is engaging to read
  • Uses direct, easy-to-understand, and actionable instructions
  • Uses relevant examples and images
  • Is grammatically correct

I hope you found this post useful. Try incorporating these tips the next time you write instructional content or any content for that matter.

If you found this post useful, please consider sharing it with others.

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Create Memorable and Effective Instructional Content