If anything from the internet era of 90s that has magically survived the onslaught of all sorts of communication mediums like social networks, cell phones, chat apps (all kinds of) etc, and also flourished while doing that, is the humble email inbox. Yes, email is alive and kicking. It remains the most sought after – and easy – way for most of us to touch base and talk.
Of course, the rise of email as the primary way to connect has also meant that we have started to over-rely on and over-obsess with this piece of tool. And usually, such over-reliance and over-obsession leads to a productivity fatigue that consequently spawns an entire eco-system of apps, software and not to mention, the “guru’s advice” (we call it guru gyaan here in India) to help you become more productive with that tool.
I’d admit, I myself have taken every opportunity of spreading the guru gyaan about email productivity via content and word of mouth. Considering that I am mostly incapable of doing anything else other than that, I’ll continue the practice today, albeit this time with the apps and add-ons.
So, if you are still with me (and have successfully tolerated my babbling), check out this list of some cool tools that actually enhance your email experience and make you more productive. Contrary to whatever I say or think, these actually work.
Rapportive is a browser add-on for Gmail that turns Gmail’s bland sidebar (usually filled with ads) to something that you could benefit from almost every day. It basically shows up information about the sender of the email like his picture, links to his profile, recent tweets etc. As you see in the screenshot above (which I took from their homepage), it has got complete profile info of their CEO in Gmail’s sidebar.
The add-on is available for Firefox, Chrome and Safari, free to use and integrates smoothly with Gmail. And it ensures that you won’t waste time searching for the background of the person on the internet who just emailed you that million dollar offer.
If checking email is what you do almost all day then you probably need a service like AwayFind to help you get productive work done by not worrying about urgent emails anymore. AwayFind will monitor your email account for important messages and notify you via SMS, Twitter DMs, IM tools like Gtalk/Yahoo or through its iPhone/Android app when such an email hits your inbox.
You can set up filters for AwayFind to decide message priority in your account, and also set them on the fly through their email plugins. Their free account monitors 1 account (Gmail/IMAP only) and plans start at $15 per month if you want more of their stuff.
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ActiveInbox infuses some excellent task management capabilities into Gmail and makes email management easier (yes, another Gmail add-on..switchto Gmail if you haven’t yet). Emails can be turned into actionable tasks, projects and goals can be created and notes can be added to each email.
It’s a free add-on for Firefox and Chrome, works wherever these browsers and Gmail work.
NudgeMail wants you to know that it’s there for you when you forget your email follow-ups. So whether your wife sent an email to your office email id to get milk and fruits on your way back (you won’t believe how many wives do that) or a friend asked you to check out a job for him, NudgeMail can make sure that you are reminded at the right time to get them done. Just forward an email to addresses like “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org” and stop worrying about it. The entire list of commands is here.
NudgeMail is free while in beta, works with all email providers, be it on computer or mobile and also integrates with Google Calendar.
We’ve previously talked about GrexIt at length in our article at GT Resources, and I thought it deserves a mention in this list too. It’s a useful tool for teams and can be incredibly time saving once the email database of you and your colleagues starts to grow.
The concept is simple – you shouldn’t need to forward the same email that had instructions on how to do xyz to a new hire after you’ve already talked about it 3 days ago with an existing employee. There should be a central location where team members can access such emails and GrexIt provides exactly that. Meant for Google Apps only though.
NutshellMail isn’t exactly an email productivity tool..instead, it is what I would call productivity through email. The above screenshot shows a glimpse of the emails I receive from NutshellMail each day. It sends a summary of your social network accounts like Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn etc and includes important information in the summary that can very well take care of the multiple visits you make to these sites every other hour just to stay updated with things of miniscule importance.
WriteThat.Name is a unique tool that automatically keeps your Google Contacts (or Gmail address book ) updated with the latest details like phone number, email addresses etc. It scans the signature of the email senders and runs it against your contacts to see if details of an existing contact needs to updated. So no more manual adding of new phone numbers and email addresses to the address book.
8. Automation Tools
We write emails every day without realizing that much of the phrases and sentences we use are repetitive. Obviously, a loss of productivity and gain of boredom (if you realize it is boring that is). So, the solution is using automation tools that can put sentences at the command of a key or two. Examples of such tools are Gmail’s Canned Responses, AutoHotKey, and Lifehacker’s neat little utility called Texter. Many more such automation scripts exist, you just have to find the right one and use it as often as possible.
Xobni is a powerful email productivity add-on for Outlook that combines the functionalities of a tool like Rapportive to show contact profiles, and also automatically creates the user’s address book. It also enhances Outlook search to a great extent. The tool comes in both free and pro versions and also offers a neat BlackBerry app.
10. Better Gmail 2
Last but not the least, we’ve got Better Gmail 2 for Firefox (Chrome users can take a look at Better Gmail for Chrome). Over the years, Gmail has incorporated a lot of features that were first introduced by this add-on but it still remains relevant and has tons of customizations available for the more tech savvy lot among the Gmail users.
So, does email seem to take over your life time and again? How have you tackled it so far? What have been your favorite tools/tricks?