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Published December 16, 2010
Today we'll cover four useful tools that are available free of charge and won't take more than a few minutes to setup. Read on to find more about Google’s own Priority Inbox feature, OtherInbox’s Organizer, AwayFind, and a clever extension called 0Boxer that turns the tedious task of dealing with your inbox into a rewards-driven game.
Priority Inbox uses an adaptive algorithm to prioritize emails that are important to you. Essentially, this feature will divide your inbox into three sections: the top one contains the most important and unread messages, the middle one has messages that have been 'starred' by users for future reference, and the last section keeps everything else. The filtering process for placing messages into their corresponding section is done automatically by Google based on a variety of criteria -- people you interact with regularly will go up the ladder, for example.
Since it’s likely Google won’t be 100% accurate right off the bat you're also able to manually identify which emails are important by increasing or decreasing the priority of certain emails using plus and minus buttons, which in turn will tune the system to your preference over time. You can enable the priority inbox from the Settings page and it will appear as an additional opt-in view of inbox messages, so you won’t have to give up the standard inbox view.
The service has been mostly accurate in categorizing emails based on a few weeks of use. You’ll be able to speed through your inbox faster, but depending on the volume of email you receive on a daily basis, keeping an eye out for the occasional message that can mistakenly get buried into the "everything else" section might prove inconvenient for some.
Google does a remarkable job of filtering out spam and keeping inboxes clean, but even after getting rid of all the stuff you don’t want, you’re often left with a significant amount of emails from business and web services that you actually want to read, just not right away. OtherInbox Organizer is a service for Gmail and Yahoo mail that aims to reduce the clutter in your inbox by dealing with incoming messages and organizing them in a way that makes better sense.
The beauty of it is that you don’t have to do any of the work. After connecting your email account with the service, simply sit back and watch as messages are labeled and archived into Shopping, Travel, Business, and other predetermined categories. Emails sent from the contacts you deal with the most are left in your inbox, so you can read the important stuff first and deal with the rest later.
In some ways it’s similar to the Priority Inbox feature, but the two services actually complement each other: Priority Inbox keeps the emails you really want at the top while Organizer can keep any automated emails out of your inbox altogether. Additionally you can set it to organize shipping information, payment reminders and upcoming sales into your calendar, or create multiple disposable email addresses you can use when registering to a new website -- making it easy to determine where the spam is coming from and block those messages with the click of a button.
Frankly, I had long-lost hope of keeping Gmail organized with my own filters and labels, but OtherInbox Organizer makes separating "real" correspondence from the flood of automated emails hitting my account every day much easier.
AwayFind is a web-based application designed to keep you from compulsively checking your inbox by offering an alert system of sorts for the most important messages. Using a set of user-defined filters this tool will watch your inbox in the background and notify you through a number of ways whenever an important person or subject comes in. You can choose to be notified with a call, SMS, IM, or even delegate or route certain messages to someone else.
You can download a Chrome or Firefox extension to facilitate the process of creating filters from within the Gmail interface. You can also setup an auto-response message with a contact form link in case you plan to be away for an extended period of time – while traveling, for example. The idea behind AwayFind is rather simple, giving you the freedom of handling email when your schedule permits, with the peace of mind that anything urgent will be dealt with in time. The service recently came out of beta and is available in both free and paid ($12.50/mo.) versions.
Just as I was wrapping up this article Google announced a new addition to its Gmail service that is definitely worth a mention: Email delegation. The feature has been available to paid Google Apps users for a while and it basically lets you grant other Gmail users access to your account (without them having to sign out of theirs). This person will be able to view and respond messages on your behalf, but not chat and modify your password or certain configuration settings.
The option is intended for people who’d like their assistants to handle their email messages, but it’s also quite useful for anyone with multiple Gmail accounts of his own, as you can view them simultaneously or switch between them quickly from the top of the Gmail window. To start using it, simply login to your Gmail account, go to ‘settings’ and add another email account under the ‘Accounts’ tab then click ‘Grant Access’.
This clever extension for Google’s webmail client encourages you to read and archive your messages, rewarding you with points and badges for reaching “inbox zero.” Granted, it doesn’t sound too exciting, but if you need an incentive to get control of your never-ending pile of emails it may be a useful productivity hack. With everyone else giving you rewards these days -- Foursquare for going out to places, Miso for watching TV shows, Xbox Live for beating a game level -- why not add that element of gameplay and make clearing out your inbox rewarding and fun at the same time, right?
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