I’ve been using Microsoft Outlook since I started my business 15 years ago. After installing an update about six months ago, it started to mix up my email accounts, which was manageable, but annoying. An online search revealed that others were experiencing the same issue, so with each update I hoped it would soon be resolved. So far, no joy.
After the most recent update, I lost my ability to search my folders. I could usually find what I needed by sorting by sender, subject line, or date, but that wasn’t exactly convenient, and there were times I couldn’t remember any of those details. It was definitely time for a change.
Moving to Gmail
Many of my clients and colleagues were successfully using the free version of Gmail with their domain email addresses, so I decided to follow the pack. There were several things I didn’t like about Gmail, but I figured I could live with them if it meant a better functioning system.
I needed to make this transition very quickly, so I purchased Gmail Tips, Tricks, and Tools: Streamline Your Inbox, Increase Your Email Productivity, and Save Hours a Week, by Patrice-Anne Rutledge. It was exactly what I needed, and in less than a day, I was ready to make the switch.
To start with a clean slate, I deleted or archived all of the messages from my Gmail account before adding my business account. I was already using Unroll.me, so I was in pretty good shape.
Finding a new task manager
I imported my Contacts and Calendar from Outlook without a hitch, but discovered that I couldn’t do that with my Tasks. I’d been using Outlook mainly for recurring tasks, using my Action Day Planner for scheduling my weekly workload, so I wasn’t too upset about the time it would take me to copy and paste them over. However, I quickly realized that Google Tasks just wouldn’t cut it.
Fortunately, Rutledge’s ebook described several different alternatives, and after checking out a few, I chose Todoist. These are some of the features I love:
- Chrome extension for creating a task from an email. In Outlook, you can do this by dragging an email to your Task list, but you need to keep the email somewhere so you can reply to it later, and it’s not connected to the task, so you have to find it first. In Gmail, you simply click on the task name to open the original email. Furthermore, because of the way Gmail groups related messages together, you have access to the entire thread. This feature is actually one of things I didn’t like about Gmail, but now I really appreciate it.
- Chrome extension for creating a task from a website. Although not as important as the previous feature, there are times I read something online that I want to act on later. In Outlook, I had to create a task, type in a name, and copy and paste the link. This is so much easier!
- Ability to organize tasks by Project. This is great for actual projects, such as website design, that consist of multiple tasks to be completed over many days, weeks, or even months. But it also works for just grouping similar tasks together, such as Client Work, Writing / Blogging, Passive Income, and Photography.
- Synchronization. With apps for my iPad and Android phone, I can easily take a quick look at what’s coming up, or add ideas that pop into my head when I’m not at my desk.
- Intuitive method for setting due dates, especially for recurring tasks. With Outlook, I had to create a task, set a due date for the first instance, then set a recurrence. To make changes later on, I had to remove the recurrence, change the due date, and re-add the recurrence. With Todoist, I can simply type “every 3 weeks starting tomorrow” and it figures it all out.
- Smart Scheduling. There are tasks that have clear deadlines, but most do not. In Todoist, there’s actually a button for those tasks, and it will suggest the best date for you to work on them.
There’s probably more, but this is probably enough for you to know whether it would be a good tool for you or your client to try.
I’m using the free version for now, but if I decide I need the ability to add notes to my tasks, I won’t hesitate to upgrade. The premium version, which includes even more features, costs about the same per year as a paper planner – and it doesn’t look like I’ll need to buy any more of those!
Even though I’d fallen out of love with Outlook, there were a lot of features I was reluctant to give up. Fortunately, there are so many different settings and add-ons available for Gmail that I didn’t have to! Here’s what I’m using currently:
Although I understand the point between Google’s Primary, Social, and Promotions tabs, I find it more efficient to have everything in one place, but to be able to organize it in a way that’s meaningful to me.
I’ve enabled Priority Inbox and set it to display items in this order:
- Important and unread
- Starred (A yellow star means I need to add it to my Task list; a blue star means I need to respond. I don’t think I’ll need any other colors.)
- Everything else
As a work-from-home professional, I often take time on weekends to catch up on email. However, receiving replies just creates more work, and I don’t want give clients the impression that I’ve available, so I’ve often taken advantage of Outlook’s Delay Delivery feature.
With Boomerang for Gmail, I’m able to continue doing this, but it does so much more! Every time I send an email, I can set it to bring it back to my inbox at a date and time that I choose. This is going to really help me remember to do my follow-ups!
Another thing I disliked about Gmail is the way it handles signatures. Instead of putting it neatly below your reply, it puts it way down below the entire thread. After a lengthy conversation, your signature might appear 6 or 10 times in a row, down where no one will even see it anyway.
Wisestamp lets me have multiple signatures for different purposes, choose which one I want to use, or even no signature when none is needed – and it puts it right below my message, where it belongs.
One of my concerns with leaving Outlook was that I’d no longer be able to use the templates I’d created. I didn’t need to be concerned after all!
I’d always found my Gmail screen to be messy, but I’ve now learned that I can easily hide any labels, categories and circles that I don’t need to see.
Google Calendar Gadget
With Outlook, I’m used to having a small monthly calendar and list of upcoming appointments next to my email screen. Fortunately, Gmail has this option too.
Thanks to Rutledge’s Gmail Tips, Tricks, and Tools, my transition has gone so much more smoothly than I anticipated. I actually wish I’d done it ages ago! I’m sure I’ll be fine-tuning it further as I learn about new extensions and add-ons, and as my needs (and moods) change.
Please tell me about your favorite Gmail tips, tricks and tools!
Photo © alexey_boldin / depositphotos
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