One of the things that I am very happy to have mastered over the last few years is being really good at email. I thought that it would be a good idea, through this blog post, to share the email tips and tools I use to be productive.
Before I begin, I would recommend using Chrome and Gmail to be productive, as Gmail has many third-party Chrome productivity extensions.
1. One Gmail Inbox to rule them all
I manage multiple email accounts for various purposes, such as my personal Gmail account, a Gmail account for testing/spam purposes and multiple email accounts for each domain I operate, such as the email associated with this domain, CoinGecko, AltcoinWeekly and Fintech Street. At my last count, I have at least 11 different active email addresses to manage.
To check all 11 inboxes even once a week would take too much time and it is likely that I would miss some urgent emails. My solution is to set up forwarders from ALL the different email inboxes to my primary Gmail account. This way I need to check only ONE inbox every day to receive all my emails.
To set up email forwarding in Gmail, click on the gear icon at the top right followed by the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab, then the “Add a forwarding address” button.
You can do this for all email clients. Here is a guide for Outlook/Live/Hotmail and Yahoo. I usually set the rule to automatically forward incoming emails and then mark the email as “read” in the original inbox.
Similarly, I use the same Gmail inbox to reply to all my emails using a different “From” email address. Take a look at my Gmail From drop-down list to see the four email options I have set up.
To set up sending From options, click on the Gear icon and then click on the “Accounts and Import” tab followed by the “Add another email address you own” link. You may read this Google guide for further instruction. I would recommend that you check the “Treat as an alias” option. Alias can be a confusing option, with further explanation here.
Once done, I select the option to “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” so that whenever I click the Reply option, I use the email address that received the message instead of my default Send email. Note that you can also set a default Send mail option to be a different email address than that of your primary Gmail inbox; at one point I was using my CoinGecko email as the default Reply email.
2. Inbox Zero
Inbox Zero is an email philosophy developed by Merlin Mann where you strive to keep your inbox at zero. I can never comprehend how someone can have more than 12,867 unread emails; it just drives me crazy to see a cluttered inbox.
Inbox Zero relies heavily on your archiving your email after you have acted on it. I never understood the Archive button or the difference between it and the Delete button until I understood the Inbox Zero concept.
In short, Archive simply takes the email from the Inbox and moves it to the All Mail folder. Archive does not delete your email, and by using Gmail’s powerful search tool, you can search for archived email quickly. I swear by the effectiveness of Inbox Zero and live by this email philosophy.
One of the tips on achieving Inbox Zero, according to Merlin Mann, is to “Immediately respond to any new messages that can be answered in two minutes or less.”
To start on this routine, I recommend that you aggressively Unsubscribe to ALL social media and promotional notifications such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon, Expedia, etc. I also aggressively Unsubscribed to all the newsletters that I hardly read. Do a spring cleaning and archive all emails; a clean inbox makes it easier to begin this habit.
The key to helping me maintain Inbox Zero is a service called Unroll.me. Unroll.me allows you to quickly clean up your inbox by providing a one-click solution to unsubscribe and to also combine multiple email newsletters into one single email that arrives daily at your specified time.
Some service notifications can be quite difficult to unsubscribe from when they place you in multiple lists. Using Unroll.me, you can save time by quickly clicking on the Unsubscribe button from Unroll.me’s website. What Unroll.me actually does is set a filter to automatically move an email from a particular sender to the Trash folder whenever a future email from the sender arrives in your inbox.
It also provides a really cool option to “Add to Rollup”. What this means is that Unroll.me labels all emails from these senders with “Unroll.me” and archives them. Every day at a selected time, its bots will collect these emails and send a summary of them as one single email to your inbox.
I really enjoy the Rollup feature, as it enables me to keep in touch with my numerous email newsletter subscriptions without clogging up my inbox.
Note: If you Rollup emails from travel companies like Expedia or airlines, you may inadvertently Rollup booking confirmation information. If this happens, just go to the “Unroll.me” label to find your email if you rolled it up, or the Trash can if you had it Unsubscribed.
Also key in helping me maintain Inbox Zero is a service called FollowUpThen. Sometimes whenever I receive an email, I want to respond three days later. All I need to do is forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org and then archive the email. I do not need to think about the email until three days later, when the email appears in my inbox again.
Because my inbox is almost always empty now, I use FollowUpThen to set reminders. For example, I use FollowUpThen to remind myself each year around mid-October to renew my car road tax. All I need to do is compose an email to every15Oct@followupthen.com with the Subject “Renew car road tax” and I can be sure that every 15 October I will get an email reminder.
Sometimes I want to remind myself to follow up on a particular email after one week. All I need to do is bcc email@example.com whenever I reply. One week later, the email will arrive in my inbox for further action. There are many email time formats on FollowUpThen which you can use.
5. Send and Archive immediately
Look at my email compose footer below. Notice how it is very different from the standard Gmail footer?
I will explain how I get all those added functionalities, but first I want you to focus on the blue Send button. Notice how there is an added Archive icon next to the Send word. This feature will automatically archive the email when I click the Send button. This saves me one additional step of clicking on the Archive button after sending the email.
To enable this feature, go to Settings and under the General tab, you will see the following to enable it:
6. Yesware for email tracking
Ever used Microsoft Outlook and received one of these messages? This is absolute BS to me.
Email pros never use these. Instead, they use a service like Yesware. Yesware is an email tool designed for sales professionals to check whether their leads have read their emails.
I use this occasionally whenever I need to send an important email and determine whether the receiver has read it or not.
Here is a rough example of what my Yesware looks like. The really scary part of Yesware is that you can see how many times your recipient opened your email, when he opened it, where he opened it, which device(s) he used and whether he clicked on any link you included in the email!
Update: Yesware no longer has a free tier and requires all users to pay US$10/month.
7. Gmelius for super pro options
Some of you may voice some privacy concerns with the tracking capability of a tool like Yesware. As a recipient, I would like to know if the email I’m receiving is being tracked. There is a service from Gmelius that allows me to do so. Take a look at this email that arrived in my inbox:
If the sender uses an email tracker, I will know based on the message under my email header. If I want to prevent people from tracking my opens, I can upgrade Gmelius to a paid version to prevent trackers from doing their job.
The really cool part about Gmelius is that it comes with many other free features. Some other features which I enjoy using include the following: Disable ads, Hide Gmail footer, Hide Google+ activity, Hide Google Chat and so on.
8. Canned Response
Another feature that I use very often is the canned response. I use Yesware’s Templates to quickly reply to emails.
An alternative to Yesware’s Templates is Gmail’s Canned Response. You can activate it by navigating to Settings, followed by Labs.
I generally use this to reply to common support issues on CoinGecko. However, I also have a few canned responses of email templates I use occasionally, such as my email signature, introduction, follow-up, etc.
9. Undo Send
This Undo Send link is one of my most used features on Gmail! It is not a permanent Undo Send, but it simply adds a 10-second delay before sending out an email. This prevents you from accidentally sending an email, and I have used this numerous times. This is how it looks after you hit the Send button – you can click on the Undo link to get back to Draft mode.
To activate this feature, go to your Gmail settings and navigate to the General tab.
Rapportive is a really helpful tool to quickly take a look at someone’s LinkedIn profile. I receive a lot of emails because of the work I do with CoinGecko, and this tool has helped me out multiple times. Once someone sent us an email from his personal Gmail account, but because it is connected to his LinkedIn, I found out via Rapportive that he actually works for the Fed in the US!
To install Rapportive, just go to their website and install the Chrome extension.
Before I found out about Unroll.me, I used to excessively filter emails and send them to the Trash folder. This is usually a faster option than opening each email and clicking the Unsubscribe link. This is how I send emails I do not want to see anymore into the Trash forever.
12. Send emails later
Sometimes when I receive an email, I reply very quickly by following the Inbox Zero tips. However, I do not want my recipient to think that I am too eager to reply, and I want to schedule an email to go out two hours later. Other times, I want to schedule an email to go out at a particular time so that it appears at the top of my recipient’s inbox on a Monday morning in his time zone.
13. Gmail CRM
Recently I found Streak, a really cool CRM that sits within Gmail itself. I found it useful in helping me track all my leads in closing sales at CoinGecko. I used to make do with a CRM tool on a separate app, but found it very inconvenient.
Now I can get a quick snapshot of how I am doing right from my Gmail inbox!
14. Use Zoho Mail for custom domain
If you own a domain and want to use Gmail but do not want to pay $5/month, you can consider using Zoho mail. Zoho Mail provides ad-free email hosting. Outlook used to be free, but Microsoft took away the privilege about one year ago. Once you have set things up, make a forwarder to your Gmail client (Tip #1) and you have all the functionality you need on Gmail!
15. Gmail full-stop
Do you know that it doesn’t matter where you place the dot “.” in your Gmail address? For example, if my Gmail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, I can use email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or move the “.” anywhere else before @ and the email will still arrive. You may find this trick useless, but it’s actually very useful for developers testing features involving user accounts.
This trick has helped me save several painful hours during software testing. Now that you know this trick, you can sign up for multiple accounts from the same startup to benefit from some freebies just by moving the “.” in your Gmail address.
16. Gmail “+” feature
Another cool feature of Gmail is that you can add +listname to your email address and the email will still arrive in your inbox. For example, if I want to sign up for a newsletter from a Bitcoin news site, CoinDesk, I can use email@example.com. This way, I can easily set filters in Gmail in the future and if I start receiving spam emails at this email address, I will know that they came from CoinDesk.
Before I end this post, I would like to stress the importance of writing short emails. The best emails are short and sweet. If you are looking to improve your email writing skills, you should take a look at Ramit’s course.
Did I miss any email tips here? I’m always on the lookout for more tips at managing my emails, so do share your techniques below in the Comments section.