10 Steps to a Gmail Makeover

It all started a couple of weeks ago at the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators. Hank Thiele and Cory Pavicich did a fifteen minute segment on how to effectively use your Gmail. I have to admit, that even though I’m a major Google Apps user, I was still pretty much relying on Microsoft Outlook to keep myself organized. I must have been crazy.

When Hank and Cory started speaking I had over 14,000 e-mails in my inbox. I am happy to report that as of today, just about 14 days later, I am at inbox zero. Here’s what I did:

1. Archiving
I was not archiving my e-mails at all. When you archive an e-mail it moves out of your inbox, yet it will still come up in your search results. All you have to do is click the Archive button when you are in an e-mail or select a group of e-mails and click More Actions – Archive.

2. Delete
Once I started searching through my e-mails, I realized how much junk was in there. I deleted all the Mailer-Daemons and the solicited coupons /ads / catalogs that had expired.

3. Labels
I created three Labels (or folders) for my mail. The easy ones to quickly lower the number in my inbox were Labels for Twitter, Facebook and my administrator. I started with Twitter and did a search for anything from Twitter and then created a label named “Twitter” and moved it all there. I then did the same thing for Facebook and for my boss.

So, I am proud to say that about 30 minutes after Hank and Cory were done with their presentation, I had reduced my inbox from over 14,000 to about 8,000 just with the first 3 steps.

Over the next week or so I took the following actions to further reduce and organize my inbox:

Filter by e-mail address, subject, keywords, etc.

4. Filters
I created filters for mail coming in and applied them to existing messages. I took a look at the mail each day to see what I was receiving and created Labels and then filters based on what was appearing in my inbox. This took a few days as different e-mails come on different days of the week and it’s easier to organize your inbox a little at a time.

5. Mark as read
I went into each of the Labels that I had created and selected all the mail in the Label. I then “marked as read” and Archived all the messages in each of the Labels to ensure that none would remain linked to my inbox.

6. Colors
Since I accumulated numerous Labels, I began color coding them based on my personal system. But the colors are definitely helpful and if you use the filters, much of your mail will appear in your inbox with the colored Label attached to it. This helps me make a decision quickly as to whether or not it needs my immediate attention.

7. Delete some more
It did get to a point that I was not sure which Label to move some e-mails into and I did not want to make a “Miscellaneous” Label, so I needed to either select where to put things or make a decision as to if it was okay for me to permanently delete them. It was tough at first, but did I really need registration confirmations from January 2008?

8. Starred messages
Since I was used to using the feature in MS Outlook that allowed me to flag e-mails for follow-up, I needed to find a replacement in Gmail. The Starred messages feature in Gmail would accomplish exactly what I needed with a couple  of additional features. I took a look at what I had marked in Outlook that still needed attention and Starred it in Gmail. I then click on the “Starred” button and was able to view all of my Starred messages regardless of their Label.

9. Check out a few more things
Subscribe to the Office Gmail Blog to keep on top of new features as they are released as there is an entire Gmail Labs section that is worth taking a look at. While logged in, click on Settings and then on the Labs tab. Here you will see all the Gadgets that have been developed for Gmail. By default, they are set to “disable”, but you can choose those that you would like to enable and then click “save changes”. One that I chose to enable was the “Green Robot“. It changed the icons in the Google Chat window to indicate whether someone was chatting from an Android phone (which I frequently do).

10. Be Decisive
Hank gave a very wise piece of advice. He suggested that when you get a new piece of e-mail, make a decision about what to do with it. Give it a Label. Read it. Delete it. Archive it. But, don’t just leave it there. It took me 14 days to whittle down from 14,000 e-mails to zero. I feel like I’m going to be more responsive to people now as they are not going to get lost in the shuffle. Well, I hope so anyway.

Do you have any Gmail tips to share? I would love to hear them. Please share them here.

Feeling Googley at the NJECC Annual Conference

This will be the third year I present at the NJECC Annual Conference. This year’s theme is “Teacher as Learner” and Will Richardson is delivering the Keynote. The lineup of sessions is phenomenal with topics on music technology, using technology to assist English Language Learners, Google Apps, Virtual Worlds, and many other uses of hardware, software, web 2.0 applications and the concepts behind using them to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.

My session, This is Not Your Grandmother’s Google, is described in the program as:

It’s time to go beyond Google.com. Discover Google’s Wonder Wheel, Similar Images, Insights for Search, Custom Search Engines, and Language Tools and learn how to find resources effectively and efficiently.

Click to view on Slideshare.net

Many of the resources I will be sharing during our session:

Of course it always depends on who attends, what questions are asked and what our needs are. We’ll be using the hashtag #NJECC tomorrow if you would like to follow the conference. I’m looking forward to seeing many familiar faces there and having the chance to make the acquaintance of some NJ educators that I have not yet had the chance to meet.

What My Droid Does – Part 4

Image Source http://segmentnext.com

I have been traveling quite a bit lately and relying on my Droid to keep me organised, connected and occupied. I also have had the opportunity to tap into many educators in my PLN face-to-face to find out what apps they are using on their Android phones.

I must admit that the only feature I had been missing since switching from Blackberry to the Droid was the ability to tether. A while back I had purchased Tetherberry so that I could pull data from my Blackberry and get access to the Internet on my laptop even when I was not in a wireless environment. When I first purchased my Droid back in November, this was not yet an option, but since browsing the web on it was so easy, I decided it was not a deal breaker.

When I was out in San Antonio a week ago, Cory Pavicich and I spent some time tinkering with our Droids. We were a little frustrated with the wireless at one point during the event we were attending and I noticed that he had Tweeted that he had tethered his phone. I asked what app he was using and he gave me the link to PdaNet. I installed the free version and was tethered to my Droid in just a couple of minutes. Verbiage on their site indicates that you must pay for the full version of PdaNet if you want to browse secure web sites, but I have been able to access both http and https sites with the free version so far. (Note that since I installed this free tethering software I did receive an invitation to download the Android Beta Test from Tether, formerly Tetherberry.)

Image Source http://2.bp.blogspot.com

I learned about Gesture Search from Dana Nguyen, a Googler (someone that works for Google) I have the honor of working with Dana when I present at the Google Teacher Academies. She also has to same Android phone as I do, so I know that I can also count on her for some great tips. You can download Gesture Search in the Android Market or from the Google Labs page. It lets you search your Android-powered device by drawing alphabet gestures on the touch screen. It allows you to quickly find a contact, a bookmark, an application, or a music track from hundreds or thousands of items, all in one place. You must have Android 2.0 or above for this application to work.

Dana also started my quest for the perfect flashlight app. Everyone that owns an Android phone or an iPhone has some variation of a flashlight app. But Dana introduced me to an app that utilized the built-in camera’s flash to shed light rather than the phone’s screen.  My application of choice is the free one called MotoTorch LED

This application will allow you to use the LEDs as a strobe light and as a MORSE CODE sender should you need to. The app is free, but there’s a paid version available in the Android Market as well that is identical, should you want to donate money to the developer.

Another Android user at the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators was Miguel Guhlin.  The first app that Miguel introduced me to that I hadn’t heard of was Handcent. At first I didn’t see the value of using a different SMS app. But then, after a few days of using it, I don’t think I could go back to the texting app that came installed on my Droid. Here are just a few of the features that Handcent offers:

  • Group send SMS
  • Different themes and different conversation bubble styles
  • Additional font packs you can download in the Android Market

Miguel also told me about Bloo. I was asking about an alternative Facebook app and this was what he suggested trying.  So when Corey and I had some down time at ASCD the next day, we both installed and gave it a try.  I did have some trouble as every time I went to went to read a Feed it would ask to “Enable Permission”, but this is addressed on their blog at http://fbandroid.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/i-am-alive-and-so-is-1-4-4/.  I still would like to see Facebook messages handled better, but I’m sure we’ll see that soon.

I certainly don’t want to leave this one out. The next day I went to the circus with my family and I was sharing some of the apps I had learned about with a family friend and he showed me Key Ring by Froogloid. My wallet is much lighter now that I’ve digitized all my discount/reward cards. All I have to do is display the barcode on my Droid and I receive my discount. Check out this video from http://www.wirefly.net/. You just scan your cards and select the store they are from, and you are set to go.

Social Networking in High School

Is the average high school student able to define social networking or give an example of it? I thought most would use Facebook as an example, but during a recent visit to a local high school, one freshman student used e-mailing his teacher in First Class as an example.  Many of his classmates were of the same opinion as he, so it opened up a much-needed conversation during which this classroom full of 20 students spoke about where they preferred to network with each other.
Their preferred places to communicate with their friends:
As for social networking in schools, the students felt that there were just too many places to have to check already (a complaint that teachers share themselves).  It was the one topic of conversation that period that everyone in the room seemed to agree on. The complaint was that in one subject area the teacher would use Moodle, the next Google Apps, the next Diigo and that ultimately they forgot to check something and missed turning in an assignment.
Image Credit: http://treatingyourself.com

When asked which network would be the preferred place to use for school, students had a tough time coming to a consensus. We posed a similar request as to which gaming system the majority of the class would prefer to use (ie X-Box, Wii, Nintendo DSi) and they could not make a decision either. We reasoned that teachers felt the same and found it difficult to find a content management system or collaboration tool that satisfied every staff member in a building which resulted in all these different tools the students had to use.

The conversation ended with a link to a Wallwisher we had set up in the hopes that those that didn’t particate in the conversation might take a stab at it this way. They didn’t really. The comments left were from the same boys (the young ladies remained very quiet during our session together) that shared their opinions during class and the tool, in this case, didn’t reveal anything that our talk hadn’t uncovered. But it did introduce the classroom teacher to an easy way to post a question or topic and have students share answers.
Yet another place to have to check for information.