Five G-mail add-ons that boost your productivity

Last month, I reviewed my five favorite Gmail add-ons, which included helpful widgets that you could easily embed in the screen real-estate surrounding your inbox.

You can access all of them from Gmail labs, a service that lets you test (and use) these additional features while they’re being tweaked by the developers at Google. (To access labs, click on the green beaker in the upper right side of Gmail, near where your e-mail address appears in bold lettering).

This week, I’ve tried out some additional helpful add-ons, in a quest to make the free e-mail service more customized for me and my needs. The only drawback: The more of them I add, the slower Gmail runs.

But I don’t care. Any time I lose in load time is made up for my toggling between tabs (and the apps in them) fewer times a day, increasing my productivity.

1. Tasks

How it helps do no evil: Think of tasks as a very lightweight post-it note for your Gmail inbox. Simply add an errand or to-do item, such as “write article on Gmail add-ons,” and the item will appear as part of a list form at the bottom of your Gmail page (it almost looks like a Gmail Chat window). All you have to do to add a new task is click “enter” and type it in. When you’re done, click on the check-box next to it.

This is an especially worthwhile add-on if you’re a list-y type of person, and you feel like you’re getting through your day by (in this case literally) checking the boxes.

One other really cool feature is in the way Tasks integrates with incoming e-mails. Whenever you have an e-mail open in Gmail, you see a drop down menu beside it that says “more actions.”

This allows you to do things like archive or filter an e-mail. After you start using Tasks, an “add to tasks” option will appear in that drop down menu also. So if you receive an e-mail from your boss with a subject line of “new deadline for project,” you can easily add it to your task menu.

How to set it up: Go to Gmail labs (as described in introduction), scroll to the tasks add-on, and click “enable.” Notice, also, that the developer made a list of keyboard shortcuts there for you to use. Don’t forget to click “save” at the bottom of the Labs page.

Doing no good: I could imagine a scenario where you try to integrate the tasks in this box with stuff on your Google Calendar. I’d like to see it as a full blown gadget (Google’s term for widget), too, instead of the chat-like box.

2. Right Side Chat

How it helps do no evil: Ever feel like the right column of your Gmail account looks lonely? Well, right side chat allows you to move your Gmail chat box (which is instant messaging service to chat with your Gmail friends as well as your AOL Instant Messenger contacts) from its default space on the left and over to the right. Pretty simple, but helpful, especially if you install more of these add-ons and don’t want to cram the left side.

How to set it up: Go to Gmail labs and click “enable” and save. When you return to your inbox, it will reload and move the box to the right.

Doing no good: Whenever I pop up my tasks list, it obstructs the right side chat window.

3. Quick Links

How it helps do no evil: Have an e-mail that you know you’ll be reopening quite a bit? With quick links, you can create a shortcut to it that appears in the quick links widget on the left column of your Gmail page. Simply open the e-mail, and then click on “add quick link” in the small widget box. A pop up box will then prompt you to name the e-mail in question.

How to set it up: Go to “quick links” in Gmail labs, click enable, and save. When you reload Gmail, the widget should appear on the left side.

Doing no good: It’d be great to see this one appear in the “more actions” menu with an “add to quick links.”

4. Canned Responses

How it helps do no evil: Depending on your line of work, you might just have too many e-mails to get through in one day, many of which don’t require a personalized reply.

Canned responses allows you to send a pre-formatted response to any e-mail you receive. After you activate it, it will appear just below the e-mail message on the same line as the “attached message.”

How to set it up: Go to “canned responses” in Gmail labs, click enable and save. After you do that, click on “compose e-mail” in your inbox. You should see the canned responses link below the subject field of your e-mail.

With a blank e-mail open, compose a generic e-mail that applies to multiple people who write to your regarding the same thing. When you have the subject and body text the way you like it, click on the “canned responses” link and click save.

Now, anytime you get an e-mail like that, you can go to the canned responses link where that e-mail will be saved permanently.

Doing no good: When you reply with a canned response, it deletes the original sender’s message in the body. It would be nice if it stayed there to provide context.

5. Custom Label Colors

How it helps do no evil: If you use the labels feature in Gmail – akin to tagging an e-mail so you can discover it easily later – this is a nice design add-on to help your eyes decipher one label from the other. So, perhaps, you’d like your “travel” label to appear in blue and your “expenses” one to appear in green.

How to set it up: Go to “custom label colors” in labs, click enable and save. After you reload the homepage, look in the labels box on the left side of the page: you’ll see little squares next to the labels. Click on the square to choose from a color palette and apply colors as you wish.

Doing no good: Within the label gadget, instead of having the colored boxes next to the label, I’d like to see the actual terms highlighted.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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