For those of us who don’t set aside time to actively hunt down and test options for improving productivity, it’s nice to have some new features dropped in your lap. Every once in a while, those features turn out to be so easy to incorporate into your daily routine that you can’t help but rely on them.
If you use Google’s Gmail, a number of improvements were recently pushed out to everyone after a months-long early adoption period. I’ve had a few colleagues rail against the changes and, honestly, they haven’t all made a big impression on me. Here are two that I found immediately useful and have really improved my efficiency (and slightly removed some of my humanity).
Google Tasks in the sidebar
I have struggled with task managers in the past. They were never where I needed them to be, there was always something clunky about them and I would constantly miss alerts then forget about everything that was overdue. Fortunately for incurable task-avoiders like myself, Google’s sidebar Tasks feature is one option that really works.
Like any task management solution, I can manually add a task, set a due date, add some details, etc. The beauty for me is that it’s right beside my inbox where most requests show up, but that’s just the beginning. Check this out…
Automatic Task Creation
I set up a filter action so that any email coming from me with the word “addtask” in the body immediately gets tagged with an “Open Task” tag. I then used a Zapier automation rule to immediately convert any email tagged with the “Open Task” tag into a new task. This has worked amazingly well because I am the kind of person who emails myself world-changing ideas and reminders from multiple devices and computers as I think of them. And just so you don’t make the same mistakes I made (as hilarious as that would be), here are a few tips to make this work well out of the box:
- Make sure the Gmail filter action includes the rule to only create tasks from emails that are from you, otherwise someone is bound to hear about your process and send you emails with your trigger word in the body just to get something on your task list. Alternatively, you may want others to have this ability. You may be a glutton for punishment, a masochist or you may just want to allow team members or your SigOth to add a task without giving them direct access to your task list.
- Make your trigger word something that you can easily remember but won’t normally type. Odd compound words are a good choice, but “addtaskgiraffecake” is likely too long. Go for short and odd, like me.(Hey!)
- Set up your rule to look for the trigger word in the body and not the subject. Google’s Task tool will use the email subject as the name of the task. You probably don’t want all your tasks to start with the trigger word “addtask” or “zebrafarts”.
Another great features of the Google Tasks tool is that your tasks with due dates will automatically show up in your Google Calendar so you can look forward to all the things you have been putting off.
The App is where it’s at
There is also a Tasks App that includes the ability to log into multiple Gmail accounts at one time. This way you can add tasks to your personal lists and your work lists from the same app by easily switching back and forth — quickly reaching task creation nirvana.
Smart Compose (it’s like being married to Google)
I opted into an early release of Tasks because I thought it might do the impossible and actually help me. For once, I was happy to be an early adopter. In the case of Smart Compose, it just appeared in my inbox one day and I thought I’d been hacked. Slightly grayed out words were yanked out of my head and displayed on the screen. Scary!
Smart Compose finishes your sentences for you which, until now, was a service only available from your spouse. The only real difference is that Google’s sentence-finishing feature comes with an off switch.
Unfortunately, just like when your spouse does it, it strongly demonstrates how unoriginal you are. Thanks, Google.
It is true that this feature has greatly sped up the creation of some really boring emails that still had to be written before I could make it to beer:30. For that, I have to include it in my list of super-productivity features. BUT, I have always prided myself on unpredictability and my damaged pride inevitably forced me to twist sentences in ways that would be impossible for Google to predict.
“Alice, can you take a look at this proposal and send me your feedback?” — which Google’s Smart Compose could mostly predict from the moment I began typing “pro…” — became, “Alice, can you scrutinize this proffer and fire back some keen-eyed rejoinders?”
Outwitted you there, Google! Ha!
Give Google Tasks and Smart Compose a try and see if you can also get your boring work done in less time without spending hours researching and retraining yourself.
With that newly liberated time, might I suggest that you take a look at my webcomic “Secrets of Running” which is where the hero image of this article comes from. It’s not just about running, but running is a, um…, “running theme.”