Making Gmail Work For You

Let’s begin with this: I love Gmail.

When it hit the streets 5 years ago it changed everything from the way I communicate to the way I store information. It is, like most things, not perfect. Fortunately, there are things we can do to inch it a bit closer to perfection. I’ve recently made some changes to the way I use Gmail and I thought I’d lay them out here.

Here are some of the tricks and tools I’ll be talking about:

  • Google Apps For Your Domain
  • MailPlane
  • Better Gmail 2
  • Multiple Inboxes
  • Themes: Shiny

Using a non-Gmail email address (Google Apps)

I use Google Apps for both my personal and professional sites. This allows me to have a fancy custom email address without subjecting myself to whatever lousy webmail interface happens to come with my domain host provider. Sure, I could set up and use POP3 or maybe even IMAP, butI’m a Gmail guy and I don’t want to give that up just because I’m not using a email address.

There are three tiers of Google Apps: Business, Education, and Standard. You probably want Standard, but they don’t make it easy to find. Good thing I do:

You may need to do a tiny bit of CNAME editing at your domain host to get set up, but the instructions provided by Google are clear and concise.

All done? Now you have a Gmail interface to your custom domain email address. Nice work, tiger! Oh, and don’t miss Gina Trapani’s great article on how to tweak your new Google Apps setup.

Google Apps Standard »

Website vs. mail app: The best of both worlds (Mailplane)

Gmail is subject to the same limitations as any web application. Although new tech like HTML5, CSS3 and web workers are squashing those limitations every day, they’re not gone yet. Additionally, a lot of folks think that mail tasks should happen in a mail tool, not a browsing tool. Academic? Maybe, but there’s something to it. Enter Mailplane.

Mailplane is a peculiar hybrid of web and desktop app. It’s essentially a smart wrapper for the Gmail web site, that provides some neat features like drag and drop attachments, multiple account support, formatted signatures, Growl notifications and an altogether more native feeling experience. I’ve been using Mailplane for a good two years with no complaints. Without it, I may not be quite so bullish on Gmail.

Mailplane is available for $24.95 (with a free trial) »

Gmail Labs: Multiple Inboxes

You may have noticed the Gmail labs section in the past, but it’s not unlikely that you skimmed the list and found very little of use. After all, it’s a big, long list of sometimes goofily-named items presented with no discernable order. There are some gems in there, though, if you look.

My absolute favorite is Multiple Inboxes. This feature divides your inbox screen into up to 5 boxes which you populate with search operators. For example, my main screen has the following boxes: Inbox, Starred, Projects, Drafts, Archive. This is invaluable in keeping my inbox at zero and my life in balance.

Here’s an official writeup of the feature »

Missing features? Not anymore! (Better Gmail 2)

I’ve recently made the move from Firefox to Safari 4 and, so far, I’m happy — but that’s a topic for another post. If you’re a Firefox user, you’ll want to grab Lifehacker’s Better Gmail 2 extension to seamlessly add powerful UI tweaks (row highlighting, custom icons, hide Gtalk, etc).

Read up on Better Gmail 2 »

Make it pretty (“Shiny” Theme)

The “Shiny” theme for Gmail not only makes the whole thing prettier, but does a better job of setting apart the more important information. You’ll like it, trust me.


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