Use Gmail plugins to increase productivity

Intro/disclaimer: Gmail is the best email platform available today, hands down. I am under the assumption you already use Gmail, and these tools will just make you a little quicker while you work. If you haven’t been using Gmail, don’t tell anyone – just sign up, it’s free. You can thank me later. If you are stuck using Outlook or Lotus Notes, there are some ways to make your life less miserable, but you won’t find them here.


ActiveInbox Logo

This plugin rocks! It provides power tools in the familiar Gmail environment to power through your email and keep track of actionable items. The underlying concept uses Gmail’s labels as a tagging system for your email, so you can get that inbox down to zero, and not worry about forgetting anything!

I love the review bar at the top that allows me to quickly review the emails I have marked as actionable, as well as the ones I am waiting on responses from others.

ActiveInbox Review Bar

This video shows all of the cool features ActiveInbox provides:

Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang's Send Later FeatureBoomerang does some incredible things like send an email later [see screenshot]. I mainly use this so I don’t look crazy emailing at 2am, or so it hits my boss’s inbox at just the right time. I use it to return emails to my inbox at a certain time, so I get a timely reminder when something I need to work on something. I often use the “Only if nobody replies” to make sure others’ respond in a timely manner as well. Once I hit send, it is off my mind!

The free version has been sufficient, and when I run out of my monthly quota, I get a very forgiving “Give me one more message!” option which I use liberally. Thanks, Boomerang!

Gmail Labs and Standard Features

These are not technically plugins, but I have enabled a few Labs features under Gmail’s settings that make it an even more powerful email system.

  • Send and Archive: this saves me a click and a few precious seconds for every email I reply to!
  • Insert images: next to drag and drop attachments (which Gmail now has in Chrome), this was the last feature that I cared about from my Outlook days – I don’t even look back now.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts: these are must-use to maximize your email processing efficiency (G, then I to go to inbox. E to archive. \ to begin typing a search)! Like Michael Hyatt points out in Yes, You Can Stay on Top of Email, using the keyboard is much more efficient than switching back and forth to a mouse or trackpad. To see all the available shortcuts, just type a ? in Gmail.
  • Undo Send: I can move so fast through Gmail now, sometimes an “Oops” button is helpful. 🙂
  • Archive, don’t delete: that trash can icon should just be removed from Gmail. The Gmail search is crazy powerful, and I can find any message in seconds by searching. Again, off my mind, in my searchable email system.

How do you make your email work for you, and keep it from becoming overwhelming?

5 cheap ways to get audiobooks

Photo by Jonas Tana

I love books – they are the best way to learn and grow. Dave Ramsey is fond of quoting Charlie “Tremendous” Jones who said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things, the books you read and the people you meet.” As I have mentioned before, I like to feed my brain. However, I have to confess: I don’t enjoy reading. I get stuck. I move slow. I am A.D.D. (or something like it).

So I “read” audiobooks. In the car, when running, doing yardwork.

Books and audiobooks cost money. Sometimes I think I am more Dutch than many of my friends and neighbors here in West Michigan. I like to get a deal, or even better, I like to get things for free! Note that some of these ways are only cheap if you have generous friends and family.

  1. iTunes Gift Cards – ask for these for birthdays and Christmas…and don’t spend them on the latest Angry Birds version or Katy Perry album! iTunes has a huge library of audiobooks
  2. – again, best if someone will shell out $21 for a 3-month subscription here. You use your monthly credit to buy 3 “free” audiobooks during your trial period, then cancel the account if you don’t want to pay the $15/mo. You get to keep the books on your computer/iDevices forever. Good stuff.
  3. – they offer a monthly free audio book, some better than others…but hey, free!
  4. – they offer free audio for many of the popular Bible versions, both on their mobile app and on their website. The greatest book of all.
  5. The public library – This one truly is free (after taxes), and the library has stepped it up by loaning digital downloads as well as a huge selection of audio content on CD. Request anything your library doesn’t have, and they’ll usually be able to get it from another branch or order it.
  6. Bonus method, Google it – I’ve tried various sites and iPhone apps for “free audiobooks,” but they all seem to offer up classics like The Art of War and other less relevant works in the public domain. If this suits your fancy…

Discounting illegal methods, let me know if you’ve found a goldmine for audio content that I’ve missed!

H/T to @warnerchad for prompting this post.

Podcasts I love

Podcast Icon
Image by Colleen AF Venable

“Growth is what separates living things from dying things,” say Blanchard and Miller. “Growth brings energy, vitality, life, and challenge. Without growth, we’re just going through the motions.”

Our brains need to be fed to grow, which then enables us to lead. Books are by far the best way to do this, and I will cover my love of audiobooks in another post. Podcasts are a little more digestible (and free!), so they often fill my commute/exercise time with brain food!

  • APM Marketplace – a weekday podcast that does thorough coverage of the economy and how it impacts me. I also get my dose of liberal in with this one. 😉
  • This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt – it has been fun watching Michael build his platform after stepping down as CEO of Thomas Nelson. He always covers topics that interest me: leadership, productivity, and social media in this podcast. It is a bit repetitive if you read his blog, but I don’t typically.
  • The Dave Ramsey Show – my personal finance hero, and a straight-shooter. His baby steps have gotten our family out of debt and on the road to financial peace. Here I get my dose of conservative. 🙂
  • HBR Ideacast – I love this business/leadership podcast! It is forward-thinking and ultra-relevant to business and work.
  • Wall Street Journal This Morning – this one used to be my daily news podcast, but I rarely have time for more than one daily podcast anymore, so I grab this one when I need some filler. Good news coverage, a little right of center.
  • The EntreLeadership Podcast – Dave Ramsey’s new book and movement, and I’m a sucker for good leadership material.
  • iTunes U – I’ve tried to get into the wealth of free educational content available from various universities, but it rarely sticks…just no time for watching video, I guess.

I often find mine through iTunes “top ten” lists – what ones am I missing out on? Are there other apps worth making the switch to (like Stitcher instead of using iTunes)?

Find interesting content on Twitter

Twitter LogoWhen you register for Twitter (a big assumption that you have – if not, get on that!), you are encouraged to find friends and topics that interest you and follow them. That is a good place to start, and you can read your stream/feed to see what those folks are saying. However, you will fairly quickly realize that:

  • You are following people, not topics. Those same people that tweet about one topic that you care about may also tweet about ten topics that you don’t.
  • You can’t “keep up” with your home feed. There’s a lot to be said, and not all of it is worth reading.

So how do you find interesting information to read/interact with on Twitter? That could mean people talking about innovation within 15 miles of me, mentions of my brand/service/product, or all tweets about an event. Here are 4 ways I find good content:

  1. Twitter searches

    These work. I have sold actual products, gotten billable freelance work, learned from and interacted with people I never would have met without Twitter’s powerful real-time search engine. The easiest way to use this is to head to and type in something you care about.

    In the example above, you can also go to Advanced Search to find people talking about innovation within 15 miles of your location. Pretty cool!

    Innovation Search on Twitter

    Pro tip: Just click the gear icon in the top-right corner and click “Save Search.” Now when you click in the search bar at the top of the screen, you can see the latest posts that match your saved search.

    Twitter Save Search Command

  2. Hashtags

    An easy way to group conversations by “tagging” them with a keyword. You may have seen these tags before with the “#” symbol in front of a word. The most common and useful example of this is a conference such as South by Southwest, where you can watch the conversation about the event by clicking the hashtag #sxsw. Another cool example is a hosted Twitter chat about digital and email marketing on Thursday mornings at 11am EST, hashtag #NexusChat.

  3. Google Alerts

    This isn’t strictly for Twitter content, and I will cover this tool and the others below in more detail in a later post about monitoring your brand, product, or reputation. Simply go to Google Alerts, type in search terms to monitor, and all the power of Google will be delivered to your inbox when a new match is found.

    Pro tip: If you want to limit the content to Twitter (or any other site for that matter), just include “” after your search terms.

    This site is awesome, and for more than just Twitter. It allows you to search blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc in real-time to help you monitor your brand/keywords. It can also create email alerts (similar to Google above) for social content. Best of all? It’s free!

Honorable mentions


    Another free site that searches across multiple social channels for your terms.
  2. The #Discover tab

    Twitter’s attempt at curating content you care about and show trending topics. The signal-to-noise isn’t very good though.

What ways have I missed? How do you find content you care about?

Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World

Platform Book CoverI recently finished the audio version of Michael Hyatt’s new book, Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World, and I loved it! I’ve spent some time building up a social media platform, but he made a really good point about building a “home base” (a website/blog) where I own the message and the branding. I’ve had in my Google Apps/GoDaddy shopping cart so many times over the past 5+ years, yet chickened out each time. This book inspired me to buy it, and to commit to building a blog and writing on it.

Another point Michael made was to build the platform before you need it, and that was driven home in an informal interview where I was asked to provide some examples of my writing. I didn’t have anything longer than a tweet! Talk about embarrassing…

I hope to share things I learn in the business world, in social media, in building web sites, in my Christian walk, and in leading my family. I hope some of this helps you in your journey as well!

Now on to figure out what the “wow” product is that Michael says to start with…other than my own ego. 🙂