Saturday, January 19, 2013

My New Gmail #GTD setup

My district recently started a program to enable employees to become Google Apps Qualified. As we (Clarkstown Central School District) are a Google District, this was an exciting chance to learn more about the tools I already use. I jumped at the chance and became part of a group of 21 other colleagues on our quest to become Clarkstown Google Experts (CGEs).

First, I did not know Google offered such extensive training materials for their Apps In Education suite. Second, I did not realize how extensive the tests were. I spent a manic week studying while my son fell asleep in his crib and then running downstairs for an hour of testing. The good news: I managed to pass all six exams and am now Google Apps Qualified (for the next year). The bad news: sleep deprivation.

One immediate takeaway, though, came from the Other Tools module. Specifically, the Labs section.

First, some context: in September, we were still using good 'ole Outlook. In October, we were informed we would be migrating to Gmail (yay!). However, I had never used Gmail as a web-based experience before; I funnel all my email into Apple Mail on my various iDevices. Being naive, I set about to recreate all of my Outlook folders as Gmail labels.

Inbox 1700+.

I realized the futility of attempting to do this with integrity, and eventually archived all the pre-migration emails.

Inbox 1000.

I then decided to shrink the number of labels I used, and created labels for each of my classes (5 in total) and a few other things (To Do, To Grade, Prep, etc.).

Inbox 1000. (ugh.)

Enter the Google training mentioned above, the Gmail search bar, and the QuickLinks lab. Simply put, this Lab allows you to save a search query as a clickable link for quick use later on. More complexly, the Search bar is amazing (I have yet to explore the Advanced Search in it's entirety). This changed my approach to HOW I use Gmail. In other words, the training allowed me to reflect on my process and experience using Gmail.

Here's what I discovered:

  1. I rarely, if ever, clicked on a class label to view those emails.
         Step taken: delete all class labels.
  2. When I did need to reference a previous email, I found myself searching for it.
         Step taken: archive everything...I have thousands of emails and am at 9% of my 25GB limit.
  3. It was more important to label my processes than my descriptions. To rephrase, the English teacher in me decided to label my verbs, not my nouns.
         Step taken: create labels Follow Up, To Grade, Read and Review.
  4. Having a To Do list was not enough, as it grew out of control. I needed a way to sift through it and categorize the To Do items.
         Step taken: Superstars, another Lab item. This allows you to use a variety of stars on an email. I stuck with 4 to keep it simple.
  5. Having immediate access to the categorized To Do list was essential.
         Step taken: QuickLinks. Save each "star" as a QuickLink and immediately sort your "starred" items.
  6. I needed to see my Unread emails first.
        Step taken: Use Priority Inbox with three levels: Unread, starred, everything else.
By redefining my process, I found managing my inbox much easier. As soon as I read a new message, I do one of three things: reply, Archive, or Flag/Star (depending on which device I read the email on). I then "process" my starred items and make sure they have the appropriate star "level." I have the QuickLinks set up in my left sidebar and I can see exactly what I need to.

I'm sure this will be an evolving process, and I welcome that. Reading the material Google has provided has opened my mind to ideas I did not know were possible, and for that I am thankful.

Oh yeah...Inbox: 82. But all accounted for.