Advanced Email Tips: Automate your inbound email workflow
October 9, 2018
October 9, 2018
Having a sound email sorting methodology and making use of your service provider native features might be enough for some but if you are a heavy user of emails, you will need to go even further. Indeed, emails power-users quickly find themselves in need of an email workflow to process incoming messages in a timely fashion.
Luckily, email is so common that it is integrated everywhere! From your to-do list to your note-taking app, most of them provide support for emails. If they don’t, you can build the integration yourself using tools such as IFTTT or Zapier.
Once we have covered the tools and services you can use to make your email processing workflow more efficient; we’ll finish with some last tips and advice. Let’s start with the most straightforward yet potent email integrations you can use.
MAKE USE OF THE “EMAIL TO” FEATURES
Integrations between emails and your other productivity apps are incredibly useful. While most email services come with a calendar bundled in (at least for Gmail and Outlook), you are probably using many third-party apps on the side such as a note-taking app or a todo list. Most of them offer an email integration:
SAVING THE CONTENT OF AN EMAIL FOR FURTHER REFERENCE
Both Evernote and OneNote provides a simple solution to save your emails for further use: it’s as simple a sending a mail to a specific address.
Here’s the page detailing the process for OneNote and here is the one for Evernote.
Both lets you decide in which section/notebook your note should go as well as other advanced features using symbols in the subject line. Using such features, you can save and sort your note in one simple email. Here’s how the subject syntax works for Evernote:
Email Subject: [Title of note] ![optional date for reminder] @[notebook] #[tag]
CREATING A TASK FROM AN EMAIL
A similar feature as the one depicted for the note taking app above is usually available on project management tools and todo list.
Trello, for instance, lets you create a card by email. The subject line will be the title and the body of the mail the content of the card. You can also assign the card or tag it using @ and # respectively in the subject line. You’ll find more details and formatting tips on their help center.
Many project management solutions have a similar feature: here is the documentation for email submit on Asana, on Avaza, on Kanban Tool. If you are using another service, you are probably a search away from discovering how to do the same.
ADVANCED EMAIL WORKFLOWS WITH IFTTT
To push the automation and the optimization of your email workflow even further, you’ll need more than the built-in integrations offered by the services you use. The good news is that we now have tools to connect pretty much any service to one another, you’ve probably heard about them or using them already. The two most common are If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier.
The two work the same way; they let you connect two apps or service through a chain of conditional statements. Both services, IFTTT, in particular, are used in various scenarios such as IoT. We’ll stick to using them for emails today.
They support any email provider and offer an advanced integration for Gmail and Outlook. You can create your recipes or use ones already made by others.
The possibility they offer are almost infinite, what follows is some suggestions to help you get started and demonstrate their potential to streamline the processing of your emails:
STARTING WITH THE BASICS
Automatically sync starred emails to Evernote: pretty explicit, yet super handy depending on what you use the starring feature for.
Save emails labeled RIL (Read It Later) to Pocket: if you have colleagues and friend frequently sharing articles with you by email this is one a simple yet very effective one.
The label trigger is interesting since IFTTT connects with so many channels. You can for instance create a slack label to share specific emails on your slack in a click.
AN EXAMPLE OF AN ADVANCED EMAIL WORKFLOW
So far, we kept it simple with two steps applets, but you can do much more with IFTTT. Let’s delve into the mysteries of it:
Automatically sync Gmail emails with receipts, orders, & invoices to a Google Spreadsheet: this one is a killer for freelancers, small businesses or even if you work in a large business and your job involves a lot of invoices. It’s also a good demo of a three-step formula. Here’s the breakdown:
- Trigger: You receive an email containing a receipt, order or an invoice in the subject line.
- First Action: It saves its first attachment in the drive folder of your choice.
- Second Action: Then it lists the bill/receipt/order in a Google Sheets, along with any relevant info you might need (sender of the email, date…)
With no effort, this recipe helps to keep your bills and invoice neatly organized.
GOING EVEN FURTHER WITH GMAIL AND IFTTT
The integration with Gmail is useful and you can take it much further. For instance, you can use “New email in inbox from search” as a trigger, using all the search modifiers we covered in our Gmail-specific article.
THE LAST STEP TO BECOMING THE ULTIMATE MAIL PROCESSING MACHINE
If everything we gave you is still not enough (how many emails are you getting every day, hundreds?) we have a last trick up our sleeves: keyboard shortcuts. They are available (although maybe different) for all means of viewing your emails: be it directly through the web service or using an email client.
For Outlook users, here’s a single page one presenting the main ones:
WHAT ABOUT PHONES AND TABLETS?
Phones and tablets are unfit to process email efficiently. If you’re want to implement an efficient workflow to deal with your incoming emails, it will have to be on a computer.
TYPOS WON’T CUT IT IN A PROFESSIONAL SETTING
Smartphones and tablets were designed to consume (content, videos, social) before anything. They are not suited for production in a professional context. Typos will always leave a bad impression and your recipient don’t really care if your email is “Sent from my [your] iPhone”. We leave the topic of the impact of such signatures to The Atlantic, the HuffPost, LifeHacker and other media who seem quite fascinated with it.
MOBILE: THE GATEWAY TO NOTIFICATION OVERLOAD?
Besides, setting up your mailboxes on your smartphone is like opening the Pandora box. If you are savvy and fine-tune your notifications settings, you’ll be all right, but you’re the 1%.
Most people never change their notification settings on their mobile, despite being interrupted by them many times every day. The fear of missing out on an important notification is so intense that they would rather get spammed by notifications on a daily basis not to miss the unicorn.
The phone addiction is already bad enough for productivity, let’s not fuel it more.
The Dscout research also found that average users spent 145 minutes on their [Android] phones and engaged in 76 phone sessions per day. As for iPhone users, Apple recently confirmed that its device users unlock their phones 80 times every day. That’s about as much as six to seven times every hour.
– Putting a Finger on our Phone Obsession – Michael Winnick at Dscout
Of course, there are situations where you need to access your email and answer them from a mobile device. You can get your phone ready for these times by setting up your email account, disabling the automatic synchronization of emails and all forms of notifications on email. It’s near to impossible to enforce an efficient email workflow on a smartphone.
You’ll be prepared to handle email occasionally from your mobile device without ruining your daily productivity.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to deal with incoming emails. Depending on the volume you get, your professional situation, how long you can take before processing your emails and many other parameters the most efficient answer to your particular case will vary.
All through the first part of our email series, we presented you with a methodology, useful services, and tools to deal with your incoming emails faster. To make the most of it, you’ll have to pick, choose and adapt our tips to your specific situation. At Gwapit, we have a vested interest in the discussion as we’re developing a solution to help our users prioritize their notifications be it emails or something else.
GWAP YOUR WAY OUT OF THE EMAIL NOTIFICATION FLOOD
The tips and integrations we suggested are efficient but require quite a setup. Moreover, to make the most of it, you’ll have to change the way you deal with emails and remember all the tools you put in place (such as the labels and what happens when you use a given one).
At Gwapit, we approach the issue from a different perspective. Our goal is to craft one single dashboard where you’ll see the notifications coming from your mailboxes as well as the other apps you use in your work. From here, you’ll be able to prioritize them according to your rules by creating custom filters (“groups”) to sort the incoming storm. The benefits are quickly apparent after the setup phase.
Intrigued? Come to try the product and maybe build it with us? Gwapit is currently in beta, and available for free. Early users that provide us with feedback and suggestions can rack up months of free usage (even up to a lifetime!) once the app is released.