In the Blog

Requisition me a beat

October 8th, 2008     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

This week’s Wired Wednesday is in response to a request (oh yeah, we totally roll that way). The request was, and I quote: “do a productivity one. Like the desktop thing… little organizational things like that”.

I probably shouldn’t reward Captain Vague with doing what he asked for, but I’m a softie for requests. So here goes…

Gmail: It’s all about the colour-coding baby I am an independent consultant. A business of one. I’m like that Street Cents segment where there’s a chick sitting at a desk in the middle of the road, and she has a sign that says “Me, Inc.”

Which is cool.

It also means that I receive and process a quantity of email that would make a person (i.e. me) weep.

Since I do not yet have a helper monkey, I have to find ways to keep back the tears.

So T.G.I.Gmail for existing, and for answering the prayers of a hundred thousand million people who need Big Storage, and Pick It Up Anywhere Accessibility.

Here are two of the things things I do with my Gmail that make my world a cleaner, more orderly, and more colourful place. Labels and filters:

  1. Labels At this exact moment I have about (:counts) 15+ labels applied to my mail. Like the folders on my desktop, I could easily have more, but I try to keep this number small enough to be relevant. I find that the “I shouldn’t have to scroll” is a good rule of thumb to limit the number of categories.

Each of my regular clients has their own label. As do newsletters I actually intend to read (see: David Suzuki Foundation). Personal admin stuff gets a label, sites (like Shameless) get a label, archived mail from past jobs gets a label, big projects get a label, Christmas gets a label (I have got to stop being everyone’s elf. Damn my convenient urban shopping location).

But just sticking a label on it isn’t enough. It doesn’t get cool until 2 more things happen: I change the colour, and I set up a filter.

Aesthetics are important to me. They’re a big part of good GUI design, and customizing the aesthetics smooths out the impersonal edges of technology. I can’t work on a computer with the default desktop image, and until Ive reskinned my Firefox, nothing productive will be happening.

So I colour-code. I change the colour of the label to reflect the contents. My Shameless filter, for instance, is red text on a pink background. My client labels are the same colours as their logos. And so on. Retentive? Heck yes. But I do love making order out of chaos. And colour-coding my inbox means that just a tab-flicking glance will tell me who’s writing.

Which means my inbox looks a little like this:

(Shrunken’n’blurred for privacy. Because whatever Harrison Ford seems to think in that incredibly annoying scene in Patriot Games, ain’t no tool that can enhance like that.)

For bonus points, I also use Archive like crazy. Labels + archive is Gmail’s roundabout way of saying “folders”. Which confuses the… fibre out of new Gmail users. Who spend the first few hours (days?) going “but where are the folders?”

You can create folder equivalents in Gmail by creating labels. Create a label with the name you would have used for a folder. Then if you want that message out of your inbox, you apply the label, and hit Archive.

Gmail’s default layout shows all your labels in a handy list down the left side. Almost like… folders….* *except completely different as Gmail’s labels are in no way similar to folders or the folder concept. Gmail reserves the right to make these sorts of interface changes at their sole discretion and to not offer the folder option with or without consultation of their userbase. Accept Terms of Use?

Colourful labels are just step one. The Inbox is my work queue, as soon as work’s been processed, off the email goes to the archives. Where it can sit quietly out of site. Paring the inbox down to look more like this:

  1. Filters (scans back up). Good lord. I’ve rambled too much already. So I’m saving filters for next time. Filters are even better than labels. Filters are the floofy pom-poms on the mittens of labelling. Filters! YAY!

Until then… (taking a cue from Stacey May), “Hermes Bureaucrat Song” @here — Nerd Dance Party!

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