You know how email gnaws at your writing momentum.
You know how email can leave you with thread bare bones left to compose your masterpieces. Can we turn back the hands of time and reverse that ravages that email has set upon us?
I’m actually old enough to have started Graduate School an email virgin.
I can’t even remember when I signed up for email, or why. Or is that grad school I’m thinking about?
Whatever– I had no idea what I was getting into.
As far as the email goes today, my university account is merely okay. But Gmail, as much as I hate hailing to the Google, can help make the email touch of death touch us less heavily. It’s free and probably the most efficient out there.
But the problem is you need to know how to turn on its best features and use it right, like nature intended.
The other part of the problem is our bad email habit, often backed by a shot of dopamine reward in our brains every time we handle one of those nice little packets of work that is an email. We get a feeling of getting things done and putting it behind us. They may be small wins, but a win is a win.
Easier than working on a book, that’s for sure.
We develop bad habits of distraction over the years of using email and dipping into the well, chasing the dragon. People can check email scores of times, even over a hundred times a day and not realize how much they are doing it.
People use up their best hours of the day, their freshest and most creative mind states, and splurge it all in email.
It’s a little scary what all these small decisions add up to.
We need to become aware of just how much of this is going on, and manage it, if we are going to make writing easier, better, and leave more time for the rest of life.
So I want to show exactly how to turn your Gmail account into a lean, mean waste-fighting machine that will sort your email time for you in a way such that the important things get done.
But you’ll have to gear up to do this. So get ready to add some plugins to Gmail that will change your life.
I’ve picked out the plugins you can get that will clean up your email life and keep it that way. So that the messy inbox doesn’t slam down on your forehead with a big whammo of frazzled energy.
Now, you’re not going to need all of them– but I’ve picked out a few so that you can get the ones that are going to help you the most.
Streamline the Process of Sending Emails
Two things: clear your inbox, and don’t lose anything important.
1. Boomerang. Use it to schedule emails or remind you to send an email at a particular time you choose in the future.
Do you ever want to reply, but not right now? For instance, maybe you don’t want to say no to something, but you want to stall. Or maybe you don’t want to get in a big back-and-forth, and you can avoid it because often people won’t email you right back if you delay a little. At the time they send an email to you, you are top on their mind. But if you wait a day, they’re thinking about something else. Or maybe you are shuffling possibilities and you want hear back from person A first, then commit a reply to B. This plugin is for you. Aren’t you the popular one!
Once you schedule the email, it’s off your mind for good, and it doesn’t mess up your inbox anymore either.
One other great reason to schedule your email is for important emails you want to make sure get read. I know I am more likely to miss an email if it’s sent to me at 1 am than when I actually open my email program, where the new emails are at the top. Maybe you know when the person is likely to check email or maybe you can just follow trends for the best chance.
Here are what MailChimp found are general open rates:
And then there’s the whole reason this is called “Boomerang.” It’s for taking a pass– throwing out emails that will disappear from your inbox and then come back at some later date and time again as “unread,” so you don’t miss anything. You don’t splurge your best hours but you also don’t bury anything into the recesses of your memory. Here’s how it works:
2. FollowupCC. Sometimes we mean to follow up with someone who hasn’t got back to us, but we forget about it too. This plugin gives you the choice to set a follow-up date that it will check to make sure they got back to you, and if not let you know.
If you haven’t heard back, you’ll get a new email in that thread reminding you to send them a nudge.
There’s another feature that’s a little weird but I have to point it out at least: you can see if others are opening your emails. At least it’s good to know that other people may be able to see this about us!
When you think about how easy it is to send a follow up, but how many mind resources are involved in remembering to send one, this is definitely worth considering for lightening the load.
By the way, here are some more programs that let you track email opens and other things people do with your emails. Like I said, at least it’s good to know that other people can see this about you, too: Yesware, BananaTag, and ToutApp. the last of which tracks not only emails but also lets you track particular people.
3. Yet Another Mail Merge. When you are organizing something, conferences, collaborations, anything, it can be a great help to merge addresses and personal information into a spreadsheet. You can send an email to everyone at the same time, and it goes out personalized, addressed to their name and can include any other personalized information you want.
Here’s how Yet Another Mail Merge works using a Google Sheet (spreadsheet) and your Gmail account:
4. WiseStamp: Create an email signature that’s so you. I still like to just sign mine by hand, but I may pick this sucker up some day. I guess it’s productivity boosting if you put information in your signature that lets people know how you want to handle email, inquires, etc. Maybe you have a preferred email addresses for personal communications, communications about your study group or conference, or other instructions for how you would like them to respond, like please respect my sabbatical. This signature stands out and gets the attention more than the standard signatures.
Waste less time in your email inbox with productivity plugins
It’s easy to confuse social relations, work, fun, and the dopamine task-completion rewards in the brain. But we’ve got to sort out our inbox or else we can drown. That’s why I suggest the following Gmail plugins to make email a streamlined and efficient affair.
Everyone has their weaknesses, so I include here a whole bunch and everyone can find some that work for you.
5. Unroll.me. How many emails do you get from companies you signed up with, or people like me?
Now don’t get me wrong, it can be a great benefit to subscribe your email and have people seeking out information on your behalf, processing it, and sending it straight to your inbox. But it can lead to clutter. Of course, for the love of all furry kittens, don’t ever lose touch with Academic Muse! (go to the homepage to subscribe if you haven’t yet). Aside from leaving all the free Academic Muse goodness, you may need to cast off some dead weight.
What Unroll.me does is take all those emails and wrap them in one easy to read email for the day. It’s super easy to go down the list that unroll.me gives you and just unsubscribe with one click. Again, remember to use this powerful tool only for good, and never unsubscribe from Academic Muse!
6. Assistant.to. Organize the hoards and masses and covens without leaving Gmail. This one integrates with Google Calendar and can set up meetings for you between multiple parties:
7. ActiveInbox. This is a great one for giving yourself email orders and commands. If you are a procrastinator with a ton of undone emails, you can set deadlines and priorities for all your emails.
Note: This one is not free. There’s a free trial, but after that, it costs a few dollars a month. Find out first if it’s helpful for you, then maybe you’ll be happy to pay for it.
8. AwayFind. If you are constantly checking email because the fate of the world, or some other stake, lies in the balance, then you don’t want to get sucked into little stuff just because you have an important matter on hand. If so, then you might like this. It’s in case you’re worried about missing something important.
If a certain person you identify sends you a message during a certain period of time, you’ll get a phone call or text to your cell phone with the content of the email. Shut down that email and relax. It will call you if anything important happens!
9. Send & Archive. This one is not technically a plugin I suppose because it comes in the box with Gmail, already built in. It chops down those long email threads.
When you usually reply, the email thread stays in your inbox unless you move it. With Send & Archive, by contrast, it gets shipped off to an archive (and you can go get it later if you want)
To enable Send & Archive, click on the gear at the top right of your inbox, then click “Settings.”
Next, click “show ‘Send & Archive’ button in reply” to turn it on.
Now, when you reply to an email, you’ll see a second “send” button with a down arrow. That one puts that thread in the freezer.
10. The Email Game. This is for slogging it out in the pits of email tedium, or the opposite, when you can’t control your eloquence and joy of language. If you are taking too much time to write emails, this is for you.
Time limits on each email, as you set them. You’ll watch your progress bar progress until you get through them all.
11. Taskforce. It can be a pain to have a separate to-do list in another file, and Taskforce is simply a way to write notes to self inside of gmail. You can also make simple assignments for others too.
The tasks and notes to self you put there could be about lots of things you are doing, or it could be just about handling email and issues and things on your email plate. This meta-view of your email work load makes sure you don’t forget anything and everything gets done, and it’s right there in your email interface.
So, How to Get Out of Email Purgatory
I really hope this list not only provides some solutions, but also has been a chance to reflect a bit on where we could make some improvements in our relationship to email so that our lives can be better.
Our minds store all our unfinished and forgotten tasks as dead weight that holds us back and holds us down. While all this email organizing might not seem like its related to things like creativity and great writing, it actually is. Free up your mind and your life!
Changing your email habits is one of the most powerful things you can do to unleash your writing. There’s two big reasons. First you can literally win back hours of time each week. And maybe even more important, you can clear out all the little unfinished business that feels out of control or else buried in your forgetfulness. Though you may have forgotten things on a conscious level, another part of you may still remember and is carrying that inside you as baggage and burden.
It might be ironic that we need technology to overcome problems of technology– but hey, if we want to be a writer we’ll have to do what it takes.
You will be able to feel freer, lighter, more able to compose your texts and explore new ideas. Everything you can do to create a writing lifestyle that supports your work will also enhance your life in lots of other ways.
I’ve given you 11 great plugins, but you can find some more, I’m sure.
If there’s a plugin that you love, let us all know in the comments below.