Among all the gifts Google have given the world, from the I’m Feelin’ Lucky button to those adorable Doodle cartoons, Gmail may be remembered as their crowning achievement when it comes to small business activity. It’s hard to believe that this service only came out of beta testing in 2009: given present ubiquity, it feels like it ought to have been around forever. And yet, years on, Gmail in and of itself remains just a tool – a blank slate onto which the reminders, requests, collaborations and correspondences of your day-to-day business are constantly being piled at what can often seem like an alarming rate. Managing your email actively, through judicious use of personal strategies, plugins and Gmail’s own built-in settings, can make the ongoing task of daily email monitoring a far more time-efficient task. Read on for our list of email management tips and start taking back your inbox!

  • Use Filters and Tags to Automatically Sort by Category

Gmail is home to a fairly powerful email management system comprised of tags and filters that can easily, and automatically, sort messages for your review – anything un-sortable goes straight to the top of your main inbox so you can decide exactly how you want to deal with it. Let’s say you get emails daily from your bank, your favourite news sites, and your inventory management system.

  • Click an email from your bank
  • Click the Label button
  • Name the category: “Bank”
  • Choose an attractive and noticeable colour.

You can now use the Gmail sidebar to select only those messages that are targeted with this label. File away all your receipts for convenient review! Dispatch distracting Social Media notifications so they don’t interrupt the flow of valuable information! Your choices for email management using these tools are practically limitless. You can also sub-categorize with Labels: let’s say you have three different News sources that all send you a digest every morning. By using the Nest option when creating a new label, you can sort each source in a sub-category under News.
Once you have a few labels set up, your email management strategy can really benefit from automating them using Filters.

  • Open up a message like that annoying Social Media reminder, and click the “More” tab
  • Click “Filter messages like these”
  • You can customize options here with extensive detail and an eye for exactly where a certain type of message should go and why, but for now leave it set to the default.
  • Click “Create Filter with this Search”
  • On the next tab, click “Apply Label” and “Also Apply Filter to Matching Conversations” – this last one will automatically sort any previous emails from the same source that already exist.
  • Pick your Social Media label to apply.
  • Et voila! Any emails from the address you’ve specified will automatically be labelled and sorted appropriately.
  • Monitor Your Email Status with a Plugin

Once you’ve sent an important email to a group or colleague, a productivity-sapping lag time may crop up in which you don’t know whether or not that message has been read and acknowledged until you receive an explicit reply. Especially in the common case of a “for your information” style message, a full reply is not always warranted, so how can you avoid twiddling your thumbs waiting for confirmation? Gmail does not offer this feature by default (though Outlook users do enjoy it…) but it can be added to your mail service by way of a quick and simple Plugin installation in either Google Chrome or Safari browsers. The plugin is called Streak and it is designed to work as a streamlined CRM tool within Gmail, but it can simply be used for tracking if desired. Streak offers a highly controllable set of notifications that allow you to see exactly when and by whom (and even from where!) a particular email was opened and read, as well as other neat features like the ability to schedule a message to be sent at a specified time later in the day.

  • Use Hangouts for Short Communiques

One of the email management tools that sees more and more use at the Merchant Advance Capital offices, especially among our Administrative team and their counterparts at the Toronto office, is the Hangout. This simple text based Instant Messenger is built right into the Gmail interface, accessible via the little bubble in the bottom left hand corner that looks like a quotation mark. It is conference-call capable, so you can invite numerous people into the loop of one conversation, and your message history stays persistently saved so you can access parts of a conversation at any time. Searching for key words in the main Gmail toolbar can grab content from your Hangout conversations as well. We find that our inboxes often get bogged down with short, affirmative or inquisitive blips from person to person – “can you grab the ABC Car Wash agreement folder?”  “Sure!” These micro-mails can artificially lengthen the threads of interaction between collaborators. They may make it hard to gauge exactly where an email conversation left off and who may have been involved, especially if the last message that was sent out was a simple “OK, thanks!” Hangouts simplify this form of communication, moving it away from your already cluttered inbox into its own (hideable) space – and any message in a Hangout will trigger a friendly ping to notify the recipient.