Thursday, February 28, 2008

Remove Backgrounds from Photos without Photoshop

Remove Backgrounds from Photos without Photoshop

By Amit on photoshop


Adobe Photoshop contains tools like the background eraser and an extract filter to help you quickly erase complicated background images from digital photographs.

Want to do something similar but without Photoshop ?

cut background image

Just upload your picture to FotoFlexer, an online photo editor, and open the Geek tab. There you’ll find an intelligent tool called "Smart Scissors" that works much like the Magnetic Lasso selection tool of Photoshop.

erase-backgrounds Draw a rough boundary around the image that you want to separate from the background and you will notice that "Smart Scissors" magically snaps the curves to the nearest edge (see screenshot on the right).

Once satisfied with the selection, click "Create Cutout" and you’re done.

You can use this free FotoFlexer service to extract picture of a particular person from some group photograph or you want to merge two photos - cut a portion from the first image using Smart Scissors and place in over the second picture.

The cutouts can be saved as JPGs or a PNG so I guess it maintains the transparency as well. Have fun.

How to Read Blog Articles Written Only By Your Favorite Bloggers

How to Read Blog Articles Written Only By Your Favorite Bloggers

best-bloggers TechCrunch, BoingBoing, PaidContent, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, AllThingsD.. these are definitely some of the best technology / media blogs on the planet. They are written by an army of qualified writers who keep churning out great articles at an amazing pace.

For instance, on a typical work day, more than a dozen new stories are published on TechCrunch - some are written by Michael Arrington himself while the rest by his team. This number is much higher if you follow gadget blogs like Engadget or Gizmodo.

While the content is good, a problem is that not all of us have the luxury (or time) to digest information at that pace. Hence we often see comments that say - "I stopped reading Blog X because the frequency of updates was very high."

So how do you deal with this problem without unsubscribing from any of your favorite blogs ? Well, a simple solution is to pick few favorite bloggers from a multiple author blog and just follow posts written by them. (Related: "How to Reduce RSS Stress In Your Life")

Let’s say you want to read Mashable but only articles that are authored by Pete Cashmore himself. Here’s how you can achieve this (total time taken: 1 minute):

1. Open Yahoo! Pipes and drag the "Fetch Feed" module onto the drawing canvas.

2. Type the URL of the Mashable blog feed in the input box and hit the tab key (see screenshot).


3. From the Operators group, drag-n-drop the Filter module onto the canvas. Type item.dc:creator in the rules box and set the value as Pete Cashmore.

You can add more authors to the same filter by click the plus icon near Rules. In same feeds, you may have to select instead of item.dc:creator - don’t worry, these are always listed in the drop-down.


4. We are almost done. Connect Fetch Feed pipe to Filter and then the Filter to the Pipe Output module.

Save the pipe, give it a nice memorable name and subscribe to the new feed in your favorite RSS reader or via email.


Here are two sample Yahoo Pipes - (i) ReadWriteWeb (shows stuff written by either Richard MacManus or Marshall Kirkpatric) and (ii) TechCrunch (will syndicate posts authored by Mike Arrington only).

And do check out this Yahoo! Pipes Video Tutorial on merging multiple FeedBurner feeds into one. This article is inspired by Ed Kohler.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Embed Images from Google Maps In Emails & Blogs Without Using Screen Capture Software

Embed Images from Google Maps In Emails & Blogs Without Using Screen Capture Software

By Amit on useful

It is now possible to embed live images of Google Maps in emails and other websites (like MySpace, Facebook or that do not allow JavaScript.

Earlier you had to take a screenshot of the Google Maps and save that as an image file but that’s no longer necessary as this Static Maps Wizard will let you create a still but dynamic image of any location on Google Maps.

For instance, the map of Hyderabad above is not a screenshot but a live image served from Google Maps using this URL.

You can place the Google Maps image in any web page using the standard tag. For embedding maps in web emails (like Gmail), simply compose a new message and drag the Google Map on to the email body. Thanks Tom Manshreck.

All Gmail Users Are Given Two Separate Email Addresses

Wow! All Gmail Users Are Given Two Separate Email Addresses

By Amit on spam


You probably know how to create multiple email aliases in Gmail by adding the plus symbol and dots to your Gmail username but there’s something more interesting.

When you create a Gmail account, you actually get two email addresses - one is the regular while the second email address has in the domain.

That means if your email address in Gmail is something like, all email messages that are sent to will also be delivered to your own Gmail account. That’s two for the price of one.

Like the Gmail plus trick, you can take advantage of these two domains so that less spam reaches your Gmail Inbox.

Give the address to your close contacts (put that in the visiting card) while keep the address for public (put it on your blog). Then set a Gmail filter such that all email messages with in the header go a special folder so you will never miss important email from close friends.

Add Google Talk Badge To Your Blog and Chat with Readers Live

Add Google Talk Badge To Your Blog and Chat with Readers Live

By Amit on gtalk

google-talk-websitesLike Meebo Me, Google Talk now allows you to chat with people who may not have signed up for Google Talk or a Google Account.

This is possible through a new Google Talk Chat Badge that bloggers can embed in their web pages to chat live with blog readers and other site visitors.

It really doesn’t matter whether your readers have a Google Talk account or not - they can talk to you through the web page as long as you are signed into your GTalk account. (Also read "Add Live Chat To Your Blog")


Another use of Google Talk - If you run a support website where you provide live support to customers via IM, Google Talk could be a wonderful option for you because its free and definitely very reliable.

The Google Talk chat badge on the blog will be automatically disabled if you set your Google Talk status as "Busy". And you chat with more than one person at the same time as each session will open in a separate tab (see screenshot).

Travel Without the Laptop, Carry Your Computer on a USB Drive

Travel Without the Laptop, Carry Your Computer on a USB Drive

By Amit on webaroo

usb drive computer Laptop computers are shedding weight but they still weigh a few pounds and carrying them around on the shoulders is often very inconvenient.

Do you really need that notebook wherever you go? Not always.

For instance, you are traveling for a business conference or an Internet café or a friend’s place that will definitely have spare computers but you need to carry the laptop just because it contains all your software programs, application settings and personal data (like docs, photos, music, videos, etc).

Are you are in a similar situation? If yes, it’s time to give your shoulders some rest – leave that laptop at home and just switch to a USB Flash Drive (or an iPod or any other removable disk).

We generally use USB drives to transfer documents and presentations across computers but these key chains can also be used for carrying software programs and other files. Here are some resources to help your turn that USB drive into a personal computer.

portable-apps-softwarePortableApps – This is a excellent collection of useful programs like Firefox (for web browsing), OpenOffice (like Microsoft Office), Pidgin (for chat) and GIMP (for photo editing) designed to run from any removable disk without installation. PortableApps also includes VLC Media Player that can virtually play all multimedia file formats.

Do checkout some other wonderful sites like and for downloading apps that can run off your USB drive.

MojoPac – This program turns any USB drive into a self-contained Windows XP computer. (Read: "Clone Your Computer on a USB Drive")

The first step is to to install the MojoPac software on your USB drive and then install (or copy) all the applications, games and other files onto the drive. Now just plug this USB device into any Windows XP computer and Mojopac will launch itself providing you a work environment that looks the same as your PC at home.

You will see all the familiar applications, icons and documents at the same locations where you expect them to be.


MetroPipe – The Portal Privacy machine at is a suite of Internet applications (Firefox browser and Thunderbird for email) that fits on your USB drive and lets you surf the web in a more private and anonymous environment. Metropipe can be useful when you are using the web from an Internet café or some other public terminal.

webaroo-web-search-offlineWebaroo – Like an offline browser, Webaroo lets you read websites and blogs from your portable drive even while you are offline. It works like this – you suggest Webaroo a list of websites and it automatically fetches them to the portable drive whenever you go online (full review).

These local copies of web pages are exact replicas of the original web version. You can now go offline but the web pages will always remain accessible from the USB drive. If the source content is updated, Webaroo will update the local version itself the next time you connect to the web.

Read: Read Your Favorite Websites Offline

A word of caution here – USB Drives are very convenient but at the same time, they are small so the chances of losing them also run high. You should therefore consider using a free program like TrueCrypt to encrypt data that’s on the portable drive.

When you are done working on your friend’s computer, eject out the USB drive and no traces of your computing activity are left on the host computer - your applications preferences, web browsing history and all data files are stored back onto the flash drive.

Embed Powerpoint Slides as Flash Presentations in your Blog without Spending a Dime

How do you share your Powerpoint presentation slides with friends and colleages in another corner of the world ? You either send them the entire PPT or PPS file or save the Powerpoint slides as a web page with Table of contents and upload it to your website.

Now consider the scenario where you want to embed the powerpoint presentation as a flash files in your website itself which visitors can click and play inside their web browser without having to download anything.

To convert your powerpoint slides to flash swf format, you can either use OpenOffice or invest in sophisticated software like Macromedia Breeze Presenter, Adobe Captivate 2 or Articulate presenter but if you don't have that kind of money, just read this tutorial:

All you need to have is the Powerpoint slide ready, a copy of Microsoft Powerpoint and a free Flickr account. We've also illustrated this PPT to SWF technique using Google Picasa Web Albums.

1. Open the ppt file in MS Powerpoint and save it in PNG format [File -> Save As -> Choose png in the dropdown]

2. You will be now asked if you want to export every slide or just the current slide - choose "Every Slide"

3. Each of your ppt slides would be saved a separate image file under a separate folder. The slides would be named as slide1.png, slide2.png..

4. The next step is to upload these picture slides to flickr. If there are more than 5 slides in your presentation, I would suggest using the desktop Flickr uploadr else you may directly upload it from the Flick web based uploader.

5. While uploading pictures to flickr, the best approach would be create a separate flickr set and upload all your slide images in one set. But if you don't have a flickr pro account, you can just attach a unique tag to all these images [something like ppt_google_tricks_03112006]

6. Now comes a slightly tricky part but again, it's very simple:

» Open your Flickr homepage and click any of the PPT slide images.
» The image opens in a separate page - on the right side you will see a list of tags associated with that image. Click the tag which we used in the step 5 above.
» Wow! You get all your ppt slides in one page now. Right click anywhere on the page and choose view page source.
» Somewhere at the top of the HTML source, you will find text that's of the following format:

7. We are almost done now. Copy the value of id and tags from the above text and paste it in the following iframe code.

8. That's it - put the iframe tag anywhere in your blog post or website. You can also add the height and width code to the iframe tag depending on your side layout.

The visitor get to see a thumbnail view of your slides, a control bar and the option to change the timing of the slide.

Flash Slideshows with Google Picasa Web Albums

The same can be achieved using Picasa Albums as well. Just upload the pictures to a new picasa album online using the picasa software. Now open the album webpage and click slideshow.

The slideshow would start playing in the same browser window. Just copy the slideshow URL from the address bar and embed that in your blog using the iframe tag again. It's very simple.

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Published on Friday, September 15, 2006 at

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Reader Comments:

This is an excellent post! I'm not fluent in HTML or code, so I have a few problems, but figured it out and made a screencast:

Great Job! I've posted about your nice hack.

Dude why wud I go thru all these complexities. I wud simply go to and directly upload and embed.
Try it.

Gaurav - you might want to read this story which I published just days after this hack.

Excerpt -- Just two weeks ago, we shared a simple hack to embed Powerpoint presentations slides in your website using Flickr slideshow or Google Picasa web albums.

We are delighted to say that our very popular Powerpoint hack is redundant as there are much better and feature rich PPT To Flash solutions available now.

hi Amit,

I tried this and got the message:

No such photos found.

I've copy and pasted the id and tags code as your instructions.

Any ideas?


Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to embed pictures into Gmail

You can embed pictures into Gmail. It takes a few steps to do it. Whether it's worth the effort is up to each person.

In your Gmail go to the top left of your screen and see where it says the words Gmail Calendar Documents Photos

Click on Documents and a new Window called Google Docs will open up for you see below

Now click on where you see New and a pull down window will appear

Click on Document and a new Window will open named Untitled Google Docs

Next Click on the Insert Tab and a Menu will open with this window.......Click on Image in the horizontal menu and a small Dialogue box named Insert Image will open up

Now .......with this dialogue box open you will click on browse and look for the Image on your computer or from the Web that you wish to send as a Preview.........once you find the image click on it and then click open ....your image url will show up in the upload space next to the Browse you will click on the insert image button at the bottom of the dialogue box

As you can see below I have chosen a signature tag as my image to insert

Next you will Copy this image by selecting it Ctrl A and then copying it Ctrl C or right click and copy........
You will then come back into your Gmail and click on Compose Mail and a new e-mail message will open.........
Paste (Ctrl v ) your image into the body of your email message like so...........
Once you have done that you can now attach the file that coincides with your preview that you would like to share with your groups.......

Figure Out If It's Malware at exeLibrary

Search engine exeLibrary demistifies the EXEs running in your Task Manager to help you get to the bottom of whether or not that cryptic process actually needs to be running (and whether or not it's malware). Just search any process when you're unclear of its purpose in exeLibrary, and it'll give you a detailed description of what the process generally does in return, including how to remove it if it's harmful (similar to previously mentioned TaskList). exeLibrary is a nice stop if you're looking to trim down your running apps and Task Manager is full of processes that read like gibberish to you.

Inbox Heaven: The Ultimate Email Setup

Inbox Heaven: The Ultimate Email Setup

Posted on 19 February 2008 by Nick Cernis

I had a dream.

A dream that email could be fun again. A dream that, instead of wrestling with my inbox every day, we could share the same bus and get along just fine.

Today that dream is realised and I’m going to share it with you. It won’t change the face of the planet or answer the Eternal Question (”have you seen my car keys?”), but it might just save you several hours a week.
The Quest For Inbox Heaven

About two years ago I was up to my nostrils in email and I decided that enough was enough. I made a blueprint for Inbox Heaven.

The perfect email setup should let me:
1) Check all my email accounts in one place.
2) Easily archive or delete email.
3) Flag actionable mail but keep it out of my inbox.
4) Access email from my mobile without loss of functionality.
5) Not worry about how much it’s costing.
6) Feel good about email again.

It sounded like a tall order.
The Experiments Began

I spent nearly two years experimenting. I’ve used .Mac mail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, Squirrel Mail, and some exotic stuff that would sound more at home on a Russian Space Orbiter (Laszlo Mail anyone?).

I’ve tweaked desktop mail apps like Thunderbird and Apple’s with all manner of widgets. I’ve tried 3 different versions of Outlook together with one version of Entourage, which actually made me break down and cry like a baby.

Shortly after what I now refer to as the Great Entourage Blackout of 2006, I sat down and had a chocolate Hobnob. Then it all made sense.
Introducing Inbox Heaven: One Inbox For Life

By the second year of messing around with email, I had already tried the right software. I just hadn’t used it the right way.

Inbox Heaven is a combination of two things:
1) Really smart use of a Gmail account
2) The 5 Inbox Heaven Rules

Your Silly Questions Answered

First, I’ll answer some quick questions. Yes — you, in the front row?

Q: But Nick, I’m already using Gmail!
A: That’s not a question, but great! Well done! Is your inbox always empty? Is it empty right now? No? You can almost certainly learn something from me, then. If you’re a Gmail master, read on anyway. You come to Put Things Off to avoid doing actual work under the guise of being productive, don’t you? Don’t blow your own cover now.

Q: But Nick, what if I don’t have a Gmail account?
A: You’ll need one. Sign up here.

Q: But Nick, I’ve heard Gmail is evil and will steal my biscuits?
A: Not true, my friend. Let me tell you the Truth about Google.

An Aside: The Truth About Google

Just because Google’s logo looks like it was designed by a committee of clowns, it doesn’t make it evil. Its motto is “don’t be evil”, for goodness sake! It would look pretty stupid if it turned out to be using humankind’s frantic search for cheap iPhones to power its coffee machines, wouldn’t it?

Gmail is free, has one of the best spam protection setups in the world, and I’m telling you today: if you use it the way I’m about to teach you, it’s the single best email productivity system in existence.

Google Doesn’t Have an Army of Gremlins. Yet.
Google’s Dark Secret

Who cares if Google is smuggling gremlins to a secret bunker in order to launch a subterranean attack and take over the Earth in 2143? Not me! I’ll still be smiling when they arrive at my doorstep, happy in the knowledge that — yes — the gremlins might have come for my Hobnobs, the true source of all power, but at least I’ve got Gmail.

Let’s Get On With It. Please follow along with me. This isn’t going to mess anything up, so if you don’t like Inbox Heaven after a couple of weeks, you can still go back to whatever crappy system you were using before.
Setting Up Inbox Heaven

Before we get to the rules, let’s set everything up so it’s working smoothly.
Step 1: Get A Gmail Account

The whole system only works with Gmail, using online webmail access only. You will need a Gmail account. (Sign up here.) Don’t try to adapt your existing desktop mail client or webmail system to use Inbox Heaven. It won’t work. You need Gmail, and you need to be using it in your browser (NOT with a desktop mail client). Trust me!

If you feel let down by this step or were expecting some kind of undiscovered golden mail application from Zenland, I’m sorry, but you’ll thank me later. (Besides, everyone knows Zenland is empty, smarty pants!)
Step 2: Point ALL Your Email At Gmail

This is really, really important. I can’t stress it enough — if you skip this step, Inbox Heaven won’t work for you.

We’re going to get Gmail to check ALL of your email accounts. Yes, even the one you use at weekends for your other life. Yes, even your work email. And the one you set up just for eBay. And the one for all your fan mail and love letters. Sheesh! How many do you have, anyway? It doesn’t matter. Just bin the ones you don’t need and point the rest at Gmail.
How To Point All Your Email At Gmail

Have no fear! It’s really simple.

First set up sending: We’re going to register all your email accounts with Gmail so that you can send email from your other addresses as well as your Gmail one. When we’re done, people won’t even know you’ve sent it from Gmail*. Not that you should be shy about that, of course.

Sending email from other accounts
a) Login to your Gmail account.
b) Click “settings” in the top right.
c) Click the “accounts” tab.
d) Under “Send mail as:” click “add another email address”.
e) Run through the step-by-step guide that pops up.
f) Repeat for all your accounts.
g) I recommend changing the “when I receive a message to one of my addresses” radio button to: “reply from the same address the message was sent to”.

(*Update: Barry left a comment below to let me know that, when a recipient is using Outlook, they may see your Gmail address next to your business one. If this bothers you, be sure to check my reply.)

Next set up receiving: Now we’ll tell Gmail to check all the accounts you’ve just set up to send from. You don’t even have to forward your mail from those other accounts. Gmail can just check them for you. It does this automatically every 10 minutes.

Receiving email from other accounts
a) Login to your Gmail account.
b) Click “settings” in the top right.
c) Click the “accounts” tab.
d) Under “Get mail from other accounts” click “add another mail account”.
e) Run through the step-by-step guide that pops up
f) Repeat for all your accounts.

(Update 2: Libby and Jason note that receiving from Hotmail accounts doesn’t work. There are a couple of workarounds. See my response to Jason in the comments if you’re a Hotmail user who’s itching to switch. Diane also wrote in to mention that those with unpaid accounts might have trouble. I’ve found a fix, here.)

That’s Step 2 done! You can now send and receive all your email from Gmail.
Step 3: Turn Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts On

You don’t have to do this if you’re only happy being fairly productive, but if you want to be really get cooking in Inbox Heaven, you’ll need to turn Gmail keyboard shortcuts on. (Hint: it’s the third option down on your “settings” page.)
Step 4: Have a Clean Up

By now most of what you need is sorted and in place. If you’ve setup Gmail to check your other accounts like I’ve told you to do, or if you’re an existing Gmail user, you’ll probably now have an inbox full of email.

Once you’ve read this article, the first thing you should do is have a good clean up to get that inbox empty. If that means spending 4 hours clearing 1043 emails, then just do it. Find that time somewhere so that you’ll be able to continue winning the battle against your inbox for good.
Step 5: Banish Your Old Mail Application

Remove it from from your Mac’s dock or PC’s shortcut bar. If you use webmail from some other provider, stop using it. We won’t be needing you anymore, lousy unproductive systems of yesteryear!

You’ll be accessing Gmail and composing email from your web browser or phone only from now on — trust me, it works really well.
Step 6: Install Google Notifier and Gmail for Mobile

These are the two apps that make the Gmail experience complete. Of the two, the only one I insist you install is Google Notifier. If you’re not using Notifier, you’re not using my system, so don’t complain to me when it doesn’t work for you.

Get it here, install it, login using your details, and then tweak the preferences as follows:

a) On the Account tab in the preferences, make sure “Start Google Notifier at Login” is checked.
b) On the Gmail tab, make sure the “Compose mail in:” drop down says “Gmail”.

I also recommend you install Gmail on your mobile phone.

That’s it! Now you’re all set up.
The Inbox Heaven Rules

These rules are a combination of my own experience using and refining Inbox Heaven, with inspiration from Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation, which was in turn sparked off by David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

I’d also like to acknowledge that I’m not the first person to suggest using a Gmail account as your only Inbox — I’m just the first to put all the steps you need on one page, add a picture of a gremlin, and glue it all together with some concrete rules to keep you on track.

The 5 Rules

Rule 1) Delete as much as you can. If in doubt, delete it.
Rule 2) If it needs action within two weeks, star and archive it.
Rule 3) Archive anything else that you’ll need after two weeks.
Rule 4) Twice a day, take action on all your starred items.
Rule 5) Delete, archive, or star-and-archive every email as it comes in.

Important Points

1. Starred email is your to-do list. The starred list you check twice a day (or more if you like) is a to-do list for your inbox. It should only contain items that are actionable — they need a reply or a follow-up call or some other input from you.

2. Your inbox should stay empty. Forever. If you find your inbox is backing up with email, you’re doing something wrong. Once you’ve scanned an email, you should be doing something with it! Don’t leave it in your inbox to sort out later.

3. Any email that needs starring must also be archived! This is really important. Actioning email is a two-step process. You must first star it. Then you must click the archive button. This removes it from your inbox and places it in your starred “to-do list”.

4. Step away from the reply button! All you’re doing is acting as an email filing monkey. You’re just deleting email or marking it as actionable by starring and archiving it. Unless you can shoot off a reply very quickly with just a few sentences, only reply to email when you review your starred items.

5. When I say file all email as soon as it comes in, relax. You don’t have to literally jump on every email as soon as you see it pop up in Google Notifier. (You did install that, right?) You just need to keep beating it with a stick to keep it in check.

6. Learn and use the keyboard shortcuts. This will make Inbox Heaven even better for you. Here’s a cheat sheet from evhead to help.

7. Don’t succumb to labellitis Use labels sparingly. If you label all your email as it comes in, it will hinder more than it helps. The majority of my email is never labelled. I only attach labels to email that I need to quickly scan as one list (like customers with unpaid invoices).

8. Use your labels like folders. When you do label an email, use a hierarchical structure. The way I use labels is to imagine them as folders, separated by a hyphen. For example, I use the initials “PTO” for important Put Things Off email, then have a list of “subfolders” separated by a hyphen. For example, I currently have “PTO-advertisers”, “PTO-book”, and “PTO-guestposts” amongst my labels.

I have the same for other areas — each one gets an initial for the project and a subfolder separated by a hyphen. Try it — it makes your labels really easy to scan.

9. Be ruthless. Be hard on your email. Chances are high that you can probably delete most of what you receive. If you’re wavering, it’s OK to hit archive instead of delete, but err on the side of destruction if you’re unsure.

10. Stick with browser-based email only. Don’t go back to your desktop email client if you once used one. Weaning yourself off it will feel odd at first, but keep trying. Remove all shortcuts to your mail application from your desktop. Inbox Heaven’s rule of separating your inbox from your desktop by handling email only in your browser is a key step towards making you more productive.

11. If you can, action email before you even open it. Try to make a decision on email before you’ve even read it. Gmail writes the first line of an email next to the subject, right there in your inbox, so you can often make snappy decisions about what to do with incoming mail.

12. To compose an email quickly, use the Google Notifier shortcut. To compose an email, just click on the notifier icon, and click “Compose Mail”. A new window or tab will open in your default browser.

13. Don’t forget to unstar email when you’ve dealt with it! Finally, don’t forget to unstar email when you’ve actioned it. There’s a big button at the top of starred email that says “Remove Star”. Use it! Your starred email should only contain email that requires further action from you.
Why It Works

I’ve been using Inbox Heaven for a while now, and it really works. It works for several reasons:

1) Gmail was designed with productivity in mind. All credit goes to the Gmail team at Google. Their web interface was designed to process and action email quickly. When you use it properly with the rules I’ve given you, it really works.

2) Removing email from your desktop altogether creates a better working environment. Email belongs in your browser and away from the desktop. Enough said.

3) Dealing with email as it comes in keeps your inbox empty forever. While other email systems leave email in your inbox and star only the three most important items or file them away into complex sub-folders, Inbox Heaven lets you keep a simple list of actionable email.

4) The starring system works excellently as an email to-do list. Remember the rule: if it needs action within 2 weeks, star it and archive it.

5) It’s relatively simple. You really don’t need a complex folder hierarchy of actionable items to be productive with email. Just one starred list of actionable items you can refer to.

6) Keyboard shortcuts work much better than drag-dropping. Forget ajaxified supa-dupa drag it here and drop it there style interfaces. They look nice and are great to play with, but for processing email quickly, nothing beats the keyboard. So turn on the keyboard shortcuts and learn them.

7) It works from anywhere. Since you’re no longer tied to a mail application, you will feel at home with Gmail via the web interface from wherever you are. And the mobile Gmail application is just as powerful as their browser-based version too.
What You Should Do Now

If you haven’t been following along, scroll back up and give it a go. Seriously — it will make you fall in love with email again!
Let Me Know How It Goes

I’d love to hear from people who’ve converted to Inbox Heaven — once you’ve used it for a couple of weeks, pop back and leave a comment below. If you’ve got some other tips, feel free to shout up!
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80 Comments For This Post

1. Gravatar Jay F.H. Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 1:26 pm

I have about 12 email addresses all pointed to one Gmail account with the ability to “send mail as” for each address.

Man I love the Goog.
2. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Twelve! That’s a scary amount. What sort of dark alternative lives are you hiding, Jay? :) No, wait — I’m not sure I want to know!
3. Gravatar Jay F.H. Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Let’s just say if I accidentally put “Batman” in that Name box up above, it wouldn’t be far off.

…actually I just like to create a new Gmail address for each of the sites I maintain. Sounds strange, but it actually makes the organization easier for me.
4. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I use your method, Nick, and it works. Living proof and testimonials and all that stuff. Gmail *rocks* if you use it properly and to its fullest potential.

I’ll add a tip for Firefox users - go get the Signature plugin. From anywhere in your email, one right click lets you select the best signature for the email address you’re using for your reply.

Now, the only thing that’s missing on Gmail is the ability to have a signature that rocks with a little bit of bling. Any ideas, Nick?
5. Gravatar Yaili Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Nice post, but:

1. What should I do with the hundreds of archived emails I have (and need) in Outlook right now?
2. And what if I need to go back to some email for reference material, information on a project, or some other detail, and I don’t have internet at the moment?

These are the 2 points I’m most curious about.
6. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:09 pm

@Jay: That makes sense. I’d not thought of using a single Gmail account in that way to check other Gmail accounts. Good plan!

@James: Another Gmail convert! You’re all crawling out of the network at last. Thanks for the Signature plugin tip. It was all that was missing for me! The experience is now complete. The plugin is here: Signature Plugin for Firefox

@Yaili: Migrating from Outlook will be a gradual process if you’ve got hundreds of archived emails. When I migrated to web-based Gmail from, I would occassionally have to fire up Mail to retrieve some information, but over time, I used the old archive less and less.

Just start using web-based Gmail today, and treat Outlook as a library of your more dusty email. Disconnect it from the net so it’s no longer checking email when you fire it up and use it for reference only.

Re: referring to email without a ‘net connection. I can honestly say it’s never been a problem for me. I print out or make notes from any emails I need whenever I go to a meeting. I also have Gmail Mobile on my phone — you can access archived and starred email from it too, and search through the lot. It’s really very powerful.

To sum up: you’ll probably find connectivity isn’t a problem. Invest in the best local and mobile internet connections you can right now. If you work on the web, you owe it to yourself to have a cheap high-speed connection that’s always on, wherever you are.

As internet connectivity becomes even more universal, this will become less of a problem too. Thanks for chiming in and let us all know how it goes.
7. Gravatar Yaili Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just bought a shiny new iPod touch that integrates smoothly with Gmail too. I just think the idea of having all our reference material stored in a virtual mailbox is still a strange concept for some of us to grasp (like having my files in G Docs).
8. Gravatar Jay F.H. Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Lifehacker offer a really awesome Firefox extension that I believe also includes adding signatures. It’s called Better Gmail 2.
9. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:22 pm

@ Jay - Yeah, that’s a good one too. Unfortunately, it did my Gmail more harm than good when Gmail started frigging with the new and old version. I might test it out again, though, surely it works better now.

But no, I don’t think it includes adding signatures in the way that Signature does.
10. Gravatar Jay F.H. Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:34 pm

@James Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t do the Sig. thing, but it does work beautifully with the new Gmail version.
11. Gravatar Mich Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Hate to spoil the fun, but how long does Google take to catch up? Granted, I just moved my e-mail accounts over this morning, but Google keeps showing me old messages as new. Then I went to check my e-mail by (gasp) actually logging into AOL and I find that I have new messages waiting. What’s the deal?
12. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Gmail is very rapid, actually. We’ve tested it to see the lapse in time, and if it doesn’t arrive in seconds on a high-speed internet, then there is something wrong.

Keep in mind that Gmail is often not to blame. There are many PCs that have conflicting settings, plugins, addons and whatnot that affect other issues. For a while, my Gmail was absolute crap (right around the old version/new version time) and I was cursing them up and down.

A month later when I finally decided that I couldn’t work this way, I wiped my computer clean of plugins and addons and certain programs. The culprit? Not Gmail at all. Some innocent little THING screwed up my world.
13. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 3:02 pm

@Yaili: I’ve not used the iPhone Gmail offering. Does it let you star email from the application? That would be pretty much essential for me. If not, I guess you could always use the web interface via Safari.

@Jay & James: I’ve used Better Gmail 2 and experienced some odd rendering quirks and crashes, but perhaps it’s better now. I’ll give it another shot. The Signatures plug-in is working nicely though.

@Mich: Gmail checks your other accounts every 10 minutes. (If you go the the accounts tab on your preferences page, you can show a history of retrieved messages by clicking “view history” next to the relevant account. You can also force it to check ahead of the 10 minute cycle by clicking “check mail now”.)

And yes, you might find the first time it checks your AOL inbox that some read mail will be marked as unread. Just deal with it in Gmail — once it’s synced again the second time all should be well. Sadly I don’t have an AOL account — let me know if you have any problems.
14. Gravatar Joanna Young Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 4:34 pm

This is the funniest account of how to manage e-mail that I’ve ever read - and therefore the one I’m most likely to try and use :-)
I am still a bit worried that they might get the biscuits though…

I got put off the thought of gmail after I read about David Airey’s hacking saga

Does your route to inbox heaven get us round this potential risk?

15. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Thanks Joanna. The security hijack thing scared me too, but it’s now been fixed with some help from the Gmail community. Details here: Gmail vulnerability fixed.

Don’t worry about your biscuits. Just keep them in a locked tin labelled, “not biscuits”. It fools the gremlins every time.
16. Gravatar Nathaniel Scott Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Great tips here. I was surprised to see how closely I was to the plan already. The only thing, I think I suffer from labelitis. Scheduling a dr. apt now. I’m going to give your suggestions a try.
I use a lot of filters. I don’t remember reading about that. Would you recommend them? What i do is filter it so it is automatically archived and labeled when it comes in. That way my inbox stays empty almost all the time. And all the related emails are grouped already when i go to deal with them.
17. Gravatar Sterling Okura | bizlift Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 5:45 pm

@Nick - Good stuff. Laughing and enjoying a clever article on productivity is sooo much more entertaining than actually being productive.

I currently use most of the steps and have rules that auto label to sort by client. I like the idea of hierarchal labels with the dash. And starring before archiving for a to-do is a good idea. I’m off to tidy up my inbox.

p.s. what is a choclate hobnob?

@James - I use a greasemonkey plugin for the bling sig. If anyone knows of a more elegant solution please share.
18. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 6:06 pm

@Nathaniel - thanks! Filters are great — I use them too, but they’re not an essential part of Inbox Heaven. It’s very easy to get carried away; you can quickly spend most of your evenings thinking of new filters to apply to incoming mail. Few of them are foolproof, and there will always be something that slips through the net.

That’s why I concentrate on teaching people to clear out their inbox in an easy way, rather than fiddling with their settings and tinkering away. Automating the crap out of everything is great, but it’s like fighting a never-ending battle! You constantly have to think of new filters to automate every new case that comes your way. You might as well just file stuff yourself!

@Sterling - Thanks, man! Happy tidying. I can’t believe you haven’t experience the sweet ecstasy that is the chocolate Hobnob! I tell you, if I didn’t stand a good chance of getting locked up for posting a packet of what, in my opinion, should be reclassified from “biscuity snack” to “Class A drug”, I’d be off to the post office in a snap.

Image the softest, smoothest, oatiest biscuit you can dream of layered with a generous crust of milk chocolate. In England, if you’re common, you dip them in your tea. Mmmm, heaven!

I became blinded by sadness when they announced that they were to be discontinued but, thank goodness, it was a false alarm! (Read the gripping story and see a photo here: A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down.)
19. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 6:19 pm

I agree - don’t get carried away with labels and filters. I thought they were the greatest thing, wasted a whole day color coding all my labels, and lived happily for all of… three months. Now I have Harry going through my email to reduce the 60 labels that I have so I can actually find something.

More is not less.

@ Nick - Ikea’s oatmeal-chocolate sandwich cookie. Crispy, sweet, good. And I live nowhere near Ikea. It’s sad. Really it is.
20. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 6:26 pm

James - exactly! Over-use labels and you’ll have Inbox Haystack instead of Inbox Heaven.

Ikea do biscuits now? Do they come pre-assembled?*

*Yes, it’s a cheap gag, but someone had to say it.
21. Gravatar Yaili Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Of course this little wonder allows us to star emails! :) It can be done either via the built-in mail app or Safari, but the app is much better.
22. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Drat. That makes me want an iPhone! I really don’t need one though - I’m holding out for a phone that will run Android!
23. Gravatar Barry Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 7:52 pm

“When we’re done, people won’t even know you’ve sent it from Gmail.”

Is this true? I tried exactly this approach and all of the messages I sent show up to Outlook users as “…sent on behalf of…”. Now we all know that Outlook really is the work of the devil, but bearing in mind it’s used by the majority of the business community (i.e. my clients), this really makes this approach a bit of a no no for me :-(
If I’ve got it wrong, let me know because I’d love to work this way!
24. Gravatar Shannon Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Great article! Does anyone know if there is a way to export emails or ‘conversations’ to text documents from Gmail? My present workflow is to organize email to project specific folders, then archive messages to a project folder when the project is complete. I like to keep a record of the client correspondence. I wasn’t able to find anything to support this after I had a quick look through the Gmail interface. Thoughts? Solutions?

25. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 8:40 pm

@ Shannon - Exporting can’t be done. But there is a nice little trick…

Go into any email. Right click. Choose Save Page As and then select .txt file.

Want another? Open an email, go to Print and then when the print window opens, choose Print to PDF from the dropdown of available printers.

You can even zip those PDFs when you’re done for better file storage. :)
26. Gravatar Jason Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for the tips Nick … already trying my best to incorporate much of this, but always good to have encouragement. Sadly, it doesn’t work perfectly for all email accounts. Hotmail uses HTTP access (I know, there are way more reasons than that to ditch Hotmail, but for the moment I haven’t gathered the strength to do the mass change of address email on that account).

The other one I can’t do much about is my university email address. It is set up as an IMAP account, which Gmail can’t (yet) handle properly. If I could access other IMAP accounts in Gmail, I’d be golden. Anyone have any tips for that?

Incidentally, if people are out there who would like to archive old Outlook-bound email messages to Gmail, I have found a quick way. Set up Outlook to access Gmail via IMAP (read the online tips on how to do this). This is only temporary, Gmail is way better online. Once Outlook has synced with your Gmail account, you can simply move your messages into whichever Gmail “folder” (Outlook sees labels as folders) you wish, using the Outlook “Move” command. This is fairly quick, and has the added advantage of retaining the original From: and To: information, rather than forwarding the mail to yourself.
27. Gravatar Bas Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for this useful post! I just finished cleaning up my inbox and it already feels like I am on the stairway to Inbox Heaven. :)

Just a tip regarding multiple signatures for Opera users (the Firefox crowd already has the plugin): you can create notes (Ctrl Alt E, or open the panel) and insert them into any form by right-clicking and selecting the note from Insert note.
28. Gravatar berry Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 10:25 pm

have a look at
29. Gravatar Joshua Hughes Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

There’s nothing quite like a chocolate Hobnob ;-)
30. Gravatar Karen Swim Says:
February 19th, 2008 at 11:59 pm

OMG, I think I may love you! Thanks to Joanna Young for stumbling this post. I had just opened a gmail account last week and now is it possible that you have unlocked the mystery that I have sought for so long? Have you cured the clutter that chokes my productivity? I have taken the challenge and will dutifully report back. Thank you for putting it all in one place. The grammy goes to……

Very gratefully, Karen Swim (at gmail of course!)
31. Gravatar libby Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 2:21 am

hello. Nick, or anyone, gmail is having issue connecting with hotmail to transfer my inbox. Any suggestions as to why? (I apologize if it was mentioned in the plethora of comments to this post, I am not able to read through them right now…)

32. Gravatar Skellie Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 2:31 am

I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for you Nick. Speaking from the perspective of someone who gets quite a bit of email, I just want to flag one thing to be wary of:

Dealing with email as soon as it comes in works only if you don’t get a lot of email. If you get a lot of email, I’ve found the system to be unsustainable. If you’re constantly being interrupted by having to deal with email it becomes very difficult to focus on one particular task for long enough to become strongly focused. And while it’s technically possible to resist the temptation of the blue email icon until you’re done, I found it incredibly hard to do so. The only solution that worked for me was to uninstall Gmail notifier and start processing emails once or twice a day.

As you start to get more and more emails I’d be interested to see if you make some changes to the system, but if it works for you at the moment, that’s great. I’m just flagging something to watch out for.
33. Gravatar The Cubicle Guy Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 2:39 am

That’s a good email solution. Already use gmail for all personal uses. Only use work mail for work stuff.

I don’t worry much about the gmail hacks, ‘coz I don’t really leave my self logged in. I have GTalk which notifies me of new email and allows to check it there but otherwise, the browser is logged out.

Back to the topic, Nick, good workflow.

Should help cut down on email time for a lot of people. :)
34. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 10:10 am

Thanks for the great response all! Here goes:

@Barry: My apologies! I wasn’t aware of Outlook’s “sent on behalf of” quirk. The problem appears to be with Microsoft’s incorrect handling of mail headers as a pose to Gmail. There are two workarounds I can think of:

a) Use Gmail under your own business domain. Info here: Gmail for business
b) Sign up for another Gmail account using your business domain as the username. For example, if you send email from a business account at “”, you could sign up for a gmail account called “test” or “”. You can then use that as your primary account, and set it up to check personal gmail accounts. It’s not ideal, but it’s a quick workaround that will reduce the effect of having your gmail username appear in business email.

Personally it doesn’t bother me — I’ve been sending email via gmail from my business domain to Outlook users for over a year. None of them have mentioned it to me, and I’ve not lost any business! I’ll update the article to link to this comment - thanks for mentioning it.

@Shannon & James — It’s a good question Shannon, and a great tip James. Thanks for adding it.

@Jason — thanks for the Outlook migration tip. That’s sure to help some folks out. Lifehacker has a tip about checking Hotmail accounts from Gmail using the Notifier that berry linked to. You can also look into Hotmail forwarding.

Are you sure your University doesn’t also support POP? It’s unusual for IMAP setups not to include it. I would recommend asking them if you haven’t already.

@Bas — Thanks for the Opera tip. I’m a big Opera fan.

@Joshua — Yay! Another hobnob fan. :)

@Karen — Thanks for stopping by! Look forward to hearing how you get on.

@libby — It seems Gmail won’t connect to Hotmail directly just yet. You might consider using one of the Hotmail forwarding services available. I’ll add a note to the article to this effect.

@Skellie — Thanks very much for the warning! I probably get about 200 emails a day right now. I don’t check them all as they come in religiously, but my notifier count rarely gets above 20 before I process it. I dread to think — how many are you receiving these days?

@The Cubicle Guy — Thanks for the kind words. GTalk sounds like a good alternative to Notifier. Does it have a shortcut to compose an email in your browser? This is the killer feature for me for any webtop-to-desktop email bridging app. I recommend staying logged into Gmail and just password-protecting your computer — it saves so much time.

Yikes! I’m off to put the kettle on. Keep your thoughts and feedback coming all.
35. Gravatar Barry Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 11:54 am

@Nick - The problem for me is that I have one regular gmail account, and three GAFYD accounts (two business, one personal). My solution is to use good old Apple Mail, and have each account set up to use the correct SMTP log in. I have it replicated on my iPhone too.

I’m gonna go get some Hobnobs to help me think through the best solution :-)
36. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 12:06 pm

@Barry: Yes! Turn to Hobnobs — it rarely fails! In all honesty, it’s a tricky problem that would require Google’s help to address. There’s a lengthy discussion here detailing what Google could do to solve the problem, intermixed with some heated debate about whose fault it is in the first place.

I will look into it some more but, I’m afraid to say, if having your Gmail address appear in the sender bar of your clients’ Outlook applications is a no-no for you, you might be better off taking a deep breath, sticking with your Mail iPhone setup, and taking solace in a nice box of hobnobs until the problem is remedied.

It certainly makes more sense than using Gmail to receive all your email and then having to trip over to your GAFYD accounts to send it. I’ll report back if I find a better solution.
37. Gravatar m_s Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 12:52 pm

thanks for this - great tips. would love to hear more on your labels ideology. i have recently started living out of my gmail account (after using various clients on windows and mac, like you) - actually, i’m using mailplane at the moment, but feeling pretty ambivalent about that. anyway, if you’ve the time, i’d love to hear more about how you use labels, and why that way. thanks!
38. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

@m_s — You’re welcome! Here are my thoughts about labels:

The concept of labels (or tags) is great. Being able to quickly tag email with relevant keywords can help you dig those emails up later. But there are two big problems with the way most people use these tags.

1) The main problem comes when you’ve been labelling email for a while. What happens is that you end up with hundreds (even thousands) of keywords that encompass an incredibly broad range of subjects. This makes it very hard to scan and apply tags.

2) You have to be very disciplined and have a good memory to use tags effectively. Once you have 50 or so tags, you need to remember that you’re tagging all money-related emails with “finance” and not “money” or “cash” or “dosh” or anything else. It’s very easy to end up creating additional tags to label things you’ve forgotten you already had a tag for! You end up with duplicate labels that often describe the same category.

My simple hyphen system attempts to get around these problems. By using labels like these: PTO-guestpost, PTO-book, PTO-adsales, I can quickly scan a list and apply a label when it’s absolutely necessary.

It maps very logically — you simply think, “OK. Which area does this email belong to? Oh - it’s about Put Things Off. Great, now which ’subfolder’ should it fall into? Oh - it’s an ad sale. I’ll label it PTO-adsales so I can tot them all up when I do my monthly PTO books.”

I’m simply taking the power of tags and applying a folder-like principle. It eliminates some of the problems I’ve talked about above and adds order to what would otherwise be a long list of indecipherable keywords.

Of course, Gmail lets you add these tags automatically based on subject or email content using “filters”, so you can automate much of the process and your Inbox becomes virtually self-filing.

Hope that helps — let me know if it’s gobbledygook!
39. Gravatar m_s Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

thanks, that’s a generous response. let’s see - i have about 18 live labels: maybe that’s not too bad. i read somewhere (can’t remember where, wish i could!) someone saying that he only labelled items that still required a response, and then he removed his labels and archived. i use one big documents folder and have everything in that tagged (with finder metadata), and it works brilliantly, thanks to os x’s spotlight and other programs like filespot and leap. but just dumpin’ all my mail into an archive with no way of finding exactly this message when i need it? a step too far for me. of course, it’s not no way - not at all - i have that considerable google-fu at my beck and call. but maybe i don’t trust myself enough to remember who something came from, and then labels are a pretty cool way of finding every message related to this or that project. or maybe i’ve missed something?
40. Gravatar Mary Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 6:24 pm

I have to disagree with the “delete as much as possible” idea. This may be beneficial if you are approaching anywhere near the space limitations, but I’ve been using Gmail for over a year and have only recently reached the “1% of total space” limit. I’ve had several times in the past (using other email hosts) where I deleted an email I thought I wouldn’t ever need again, but then, well, needed it later on. I agree with deleting junk — like stupid emails from coworkers with pictures of kitties or clever “workplace jokes”– though.

Also, I like to use filters- what’s the point of saving emails (or even having email correspondence at all) if you can’t find them again? I use basic folder categories (”Family”, “Work:[insert job name]”, “University Listservs”, etc.) and apply filters whenever I get a new unlabeled message, either by using the sender’s email address or keywords as the basis for sorting. If you don’t label and file your emails, then of course this step won’t save you any time — but if you do, then I have found that this is the most efficient way for me to do it.
41. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 7:19 pm

@Mary — Google actually promoted Gmail on the basis of never needing to delete an email again when it first launched. Archiving everything works OK, but if you get a lot of email, you’ll fill your allocated space faster than you think. You’ll also experience other side-effects, like searches taking longer.

Filters are great too, but I know people who get a little obsessive over them. I find the Gmail search functionality so good that I’ve not needed to label most emails. I can still find everything within seconds.

As always, use what works for you! My advice is just a starting point.
42. Gravatar Sterling Okura | bizlift Says:
February 20th, 2008 at 8:12 pm

@Mary - I delete only spam and crap, but archive every business related email. Its great to be able to look up a discussion from over a year ago. I also send a quick email summary after phone conversations. Having everything documented in gmail helps avoid misunderstandings down the road.

My account has tens of thousands of emails and I’m only at 44% usage. Unless you get a ton of huge attachments, the 6 Gigs goes a loooong way.

@Nick - Wooohooo. I finally found Hobnobs at our local World Market store. But they were sold out of the chocolate ones. So close…. :-(
43. Gravatar Adam Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Something I’d add. I like to use for reminders of those tasks, etc that I would definitely forget to do. I know about when (two weeks, one month, next year…) I need to address it again. Then I can archive the email (that once was a task) until I get the reminder and I can resurrect the task.
44. Gravatar Mike Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 4:28 pm

OK…so there is one thing I haven’t seen addressed…attachments. I receive loads of attachments. Some of them are summarily rejected by Gmail, being bounced back to the sender. Very bad form. This is what keeps me tied to our corporate email client…Lotus Notes (shudder). Any ideas?

What if somebody tried to attach chocolate Hobnobs and they were bounced?
45. Gravatar Karen Swim Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 4:50 pm

I have implemented all of your tips and for the first time in well ever, I am enjoying the sanity of an empty inbox. I have also picked up some great tips from all the comments here.
@Adam, thanks for the tip! I was using Toodledo but it has its missing pieces. I think Sandy with the Inbox Heaven method may set me off on a new level of productivity.

Nick, when you wrote this I bet you didn’t count on spawning a whole new community of people. You may need a discussion forum for this topic! Thanks again for the helpful tips!

46. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Just goes to show how many people use Gmail and how many *should* be using Gmail!
47. Gravatar David Lano Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 5:55 pm


I have been using Gmail as my primary port for incoming and outgoing email addresses for quite some time now. However, I had never really considered the archiving feature and its advantages with organizing starred items as to-dos. Excellent advice! Thanks!
48. Gravatar Joel Falconer Says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 11:59 pm

I adhere to the empty inbox philosophy myself, but I found that from a productivity point of view, there was nothing worse than having Google Notifier installed. Once you know something’s waiting for you it’s hard to resist the urge to go and have a look and disrupt your train of thought. I schedule 2-3 email clearing sessions per day and avoid using it at other times unless I need to send a message.
49. Gravatar Charlie Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 6:25 am

This is the bitchenest set of tips ever! Okay, maybe not ever. But it’s still super handy. I was doing about 98% of this before, but thanks for pushing the other 2% home. (Did you see that fast math?)

Thanks for the tips, Nick, and long live shortcuts!
50. Gravatar The Cubicle Guy Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 8:11 am

@Nick, GTalk sits in your system tray and pops up a little box in the bottom notifying of any new emails. Then in a few seconds the box fades out. If you’re on the computer, you can see it. If not, it will go away but change the system icon to show an M. When you click on the client, in the bottom row, it shows an M (The envelope with the red M for google) and a number next to it which shows how many emails. If you click on this, it will open the browser and log you in and show you the email. At this point you’ll be logged in. Otherwise you’ll be logged out.

The cool thing is that the client is logged in but not in the browser and hence the browser isn’t saving cookies marking you logged in. Although, it’s not all that big a deal. Who really stores their personal banking info in their gmail anyway, right?
51. Gravatar Chris Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Good article. However, it’s not made clear as to *why* Gmail is a requirement to a desktop email app or why Gmail in inherently more productive than a desktop app.

Rule 1) Delete as much as you can. If in doubt, delete it.
Rule 2) If it needs action within two weeks, star (label, color,
categorize) and archive it.
Rule 3) Archive anything else that you’ll need after two weeks.
Rule 4) Twice a day, take action on all your starred items.
Rule 5) Delete, archive, or star-and-archive every email as it comes in.

All of these can be accomplished with most any email app really. It’s not so much the app as it is the process. Plus, what good is an app that can’t access your email that is unfortunately trapped in an Exchange account? Perhaps I’m wrong but Gmail doesn’t play with Exchange does it? Does Gmail has a rule system? I have an elaborate set of rules that will automatically create tasks out of emails, set categories and redirect certain emails to certain people. It really saves me time and a lot of manual processing and reading.

Perhaps I’ve missed something. Could someone could summarize why webmail is inherently more productive than the email app?
52. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 3:37 pm

@Sterling: Woohoo! Now to find the chocolate ones. (They’re worth it).

@Adam: Good tip. I’ve dabbled with Sandy too. I’m planning to do a review of online assistants in future.

@Mike: The only time Gmail should reject attachments is:
a) If the attachment is over 10MB (in which case, tell your senders to use a service such as or
b) If the attachment is an .exe file. Gmail rejects all Windows executable files, even if they’re zipped up. This is a security feature. No-one you know should be forwarding .exe files anyway.

If Gmail is rejecting any other attachments, its a problem — I’d recommend you get in touch with Gmail support about it.

@Karen: Hooray! Glad it helped. Perhaps one day there will be an Inbox Heaven category within a PTO forum! No plans just yet though…

@Joel: Yep, you still have to be fairly disciplined, but Notifier is a must in my opinion. If you’re really struggling to stop it from distracting you, I recommend people turn off audio and pop-up notifications in the preferences. Personally I leave these on, but it’s an individual thing.

@Charlie: Thanks. Glad there was something you could gleam from it all!

@TCG: I don’t use instant messaging clients much, but that sure sounds neat. I’d be worried for people in offices about security issues, though, but I guess GTalk is no different from Notifier in that respect.

@Chris: Some good questions! Let me see if I can help.

1) Does Gmail work with MS Exchange accounts?
If your Exchange server supports POP, GMail should be able to check it in the way I’ve described above (Info here).

2) Does Gmail have a rule system?
Yes. It calls them “filters”. Info here.


You also noted that I didn’t mention why you should use webmail exclusively. Good point! Here’s an addition that should explain my position.

Why use webmail instead of desktop mail?
In my experiments with various mail clients and webmail offerings, webmail always felt more productive over desktop mail. I think the reasons are numerous:

a) It separates your email from your desktop work. This is a personal thing but, for me, removing email from my day-to-day work on the desktop creates a much better working environment. Having that tiny barrier of loading up a web page rather than flicking to a mail application prevents me from reading or sending mail unless I really need to.

b) It works the same wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an office or an internet café, or if you’re checking email on your phone. You don’t need to learn several interfaces or let your remote working hinder your productivity. It looks and feels the same everywhere.

c) You don’t need to store mail locally. You would be surprised how much disk space some mail applications take up. When I deleted Entourage and its database, I freed almost 2GB from my hard drive. Yes, disk space is as cheap as chips these days, but why use that space when you don’t have to?

d) You don’t ever have to migrate. Once you’ve switched to Gmail, you never need to archive or transfer your mail ever again. If you only upgrade your kit once every few years, or reformat your machine occasionally, this might not be such a big deal. But it’s a massive bonus if you run a small company with several machines and multiple users.

e) It updates itself. Webmail enjoys all the advantages of most web-based apps. There are no maintenance or upgrade issues. You don’t have to install security updates or worry about plugin-integration when new versions come out. It all happens quietly in the background, without wasting your time or energy.

Why is Gmail’s webmail better than most?

a) The Starring system is built-in from day one. Yes, other webmail has the ability to flag email, but it doesn’t allow quick access to all flagged items in the same way that Gmail does. And yes, you can create a folder of “active” email that requires your action, but it’s not fully integrated into the setup in the same way that Gmail’s is, with its “star” and “archive” buttons.

b) Starring an email simply creates an alias. When you star a mail in Gmail, all you’re doing is creating a shortcut to that mail. When you click on “starred” mail, you’re just showing a list of all those shortcuts. You don’t have to actively file email into folders and complex hierarchies. Gmail just uses stars and labels as aliases instead. There are only two folders powering it all — “inbox” and “archive”. It’s simple and it works.

c) Other Gmail advantages The list could run on and bore your socks off! Attachments integrate with Google Documents perfectly, the spam filtering is excellent, the virus scanning is quick and powerful… Before I sound even more like an advert, I’ll leave it there!

So yes, while you can implement my 5 rules on any email system, and substitute starring and archiving for other more complex methods, my experience suggests that it simply won’t work as well as if you exclusively use Gmail’s webmail setup.

Hope that helped and wasn’t too wordy for a Saturday!
53. Gravatar Joshua Hughes Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 3:41 pm


You beat me to it! I’m also pretty bemused by this. I couldn’t see anything mentioned that I couldn’t do using a desktop application?

Personally I think it’s a little risky using Web-based email all the time due to the dependence on an internet connection. What happens when your broadband goes down, or (perhaps less likely) the Gmail system crashes? With webmail you don’t have that copy (a backup!) on your computer, allowing you access to old emails whatever…

And my other issue is the time it takes to log in. Once I’ve fired up my Mac in the morning, I literally just click on the mail icon and within 30 seconds all new email is waiting for me to read. Webmail has never seemed that easy - but perhaps I’m just being cynical ;-)
54. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 3:48 pm

@Joshua: I must have just replied to Chris before you posted!

Re: connectivity. If your broadband goes down that often, switch to another provider! If you’ve got information in email that’s so important it needs to be backed up (like attachments) you should probably be saving those emails as txt files and storing attachments locally.

Re: speed. When you stay logged in it’s only a little bit slower to bring up a Gmail window than it is to bring up a mail app window. I find the difference is enough to put me off reading email unnecessarily, but not enough to inconvenience me otherwise.
55. Gravatar Joshua Hughes Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 4:03 pm


I know - I was WAY too slow with that one ;-)
When I was talking about a connection going down, I wasn’t meaning I struggle with that problem very often. In fact I’m pretty lucky - haven’t had a glitch for about 3 months. But as for saving txt files and important attachments? Gosh - that would seriously cripple my productivity. I was on the phone the other day to a client who wanted me to look at a .doc file he’d sent through about a month previous, and in barely 10 seconds I’d searched, found, and opened the relevant attachment. I just don’t think you can do that with Webmail.

And as for logging in, I just think it’s such a nuisance. I know some people like to have that barrier (as you mentioned) but for me I just close my mail program when I want a break.

Obviously it’s all very ambiguous, and everyone’s got there own way of working that works for them. I just prefer to keep things close to home ;-)
56. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Yup! There is no universal ‘right way’. It’s whatever way works for you. :)
57. Gravatar LivSimpl Says:
February 23rd, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Great post - I use Gmail pretty much exactly how it’s described here and it works wonderfully (managing 5 accounts). I automatically label mail from each account so it’s easy to sort through, as well as using a label for “To-Do”, and then coloring those messages using the new color label feature so they stand out, serving as a reminder to get ‘em done.

Gmail can also be used as an effective place to store and transfer files. I wrote a post about that (4 Problems and 5 Solutions for Using Gmail as Online Storage if anyone’s interested.

Long live Gmail. :)
58. Gravatar Matt Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:10 am

Basically what I do except I use Gmail’s IMAP now to check my mail in Thunderbird on computers I have in my house, and the webmail Gmail for all else. I don’t care about it being on my mobile.
59. Gravatar Nick Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:44 am

This is a fantastic article which I’ve just followed and will hopefully save me a vast amount of time.

I tried to link my Gmail account to my companies Exchange webmail system but keep on getting error messages :(
I guess the only trouble this leaves now is getting calendars setup correctly. I’ve always wanted to sync my work and pirate calendar but found it almost impossible! Anyone got any ideas?
60. Gravatar Anschauung Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:49 am

Nice ideas in principle, but I really see how this is any different than say, IMAP Thunderbird Nostalgy. All you’re really doing is cutting out the distractions and keeping your keyboard shortcuts handy, no?
61. Gravatar Brian Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 1:00 am

Loving Gmail as well and you didn’t mention one great way to enhance it, using Greasemonkey scripts:

Gmail HTML Signatures
Custom HTML signatures for each email account in Gmail

Google Account Multi-Login
Allows you to switch between multiple google accounts using a drop down

Also, there is a really sweet Firefox extension for RememberTheMilk which puts the RTM to-do list in a column along the right-hand side of your inbox. The sweet part is you can create tasks from email by using tags. And there are some other cool features as well, like putting RTM events in Gcal:

Finally, there is another Greasmonkey script which puts Google Calendar in the bottom of your Gmail window. Just click on the Calender link at the top left to toggle it on/off:
62. Gravatar Timothy Andrew Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 1:10 am

By trial and error, I live with this setup too. And I’ve had complete peace of mind. Plus, as far as I know, GMail is the only email app (web or desktop) that has the conversations feature. That makes it so easy to check what you were saying fifteen minutes ago. The normal email apps only attach the ‘Quoted Text’ below your message.

Gmail is the ultimate email app! :)
63. Gravatar Debbie Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 3:30 am

Did anyone get this to work with a hotmail account? I tried the suggestion about going to my hotmail account and setting up forwarding. But I got the following error from hotmail: “You’re only able to forward mail to a custom domain or an e-mail address that ends in,, or Please try again.”
So in other words, they don’t want you to forward to gmail!!!!
This is a bummer since for a brief moment, I thought I could consolidate my 2 gmail accounts and my 2 hotmail accounts all into one place :( I guess I’ll just stick with Outlook which can read all of them.
64. Gravatar aw Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 5:32 am

“Just because Google’s logo looks like it was designed by a committee of clowns, it doesn’t make it evil. Its motto is “don’t be evil”, for goodness sake!”

That’s pretty naive, IMHO. Google is no less “good” nor “evil” than Microsoft or Apple or Yahoo (don’t you think “good” and “evil” are pretty irrelevant words to use when describing a corporate entity?). If you think Google provide Gmail out of the goodness of their hearts then I believe you’re dead wrong: your email and personal data (note I don’t say “private”, because you gave privacy up the moment you handed that data over) is a treasure trove for them. Don’t try and convince people that Gmail is anything other than another way for another corporation to make money (remember, that’s what the shareholders want).

Personally, I host my email myself, and use sup ( - conversations, archiving, labelling, starring, FAST full text searching, etc., at the console/over SSH) to read it, and greylisting ( for spam filtering. Works like a charm for my 20,000 mail messages, and I feel a LOT better about the privacy of my data than I would if Google had their hands on it. I realise this is out of some people’s league, but I’m just illustrating a relatively secure alternative.

Oh yeah, and my inbox is always empty.
65. Gravatar bboing Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 6:08 am

google might not be evil but they do hold a lot of info about you. see
66. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 10:07 am

@Nick — check with your company if they support access via POP (and ask them to turn it on if they don’t). Gmail uses POP to check accounts.

@Anschaung — Thunderbird’s a nice app. I’d recommend anyone who doesn’t see the advantages of webmail just to give my setup a shot for a week. You can always switch back.

@Timothy — you’re right! Gmail’s conversation feature is a winner. There are several mail apps that offer something similar. Apple’s own lets you view threaded conversations by changing an option in the preferences, for example. Gmail handles it better though!

@Debbie — use IzyMail to forward your hotmail.

@aw — of course Google are making money off it! So they should be. They’re probably hosting millions of accounts. I have no issue with someone making money off something they’re giving away for free. I ran my own mail server for over a year, so I’ve got experience from that angle too.

@aw & bboing — you’re absolutely right to be wary of your privacy. It’s a personal choice, and you’re right to guard it. For me, the convenience Gmail offers far outweighs any ads they serve. And I feel my data’s safer with them than all of the alternative offerings.
67. Gravatar Stephen Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 11:08 am

Good discussion on how to integrate various e-mail accounts into Google. I have recently started doing similar, but the techniques here go farther.

Recently posted about integrate more than just email. To really make everything convenient, e-mail, IM, calendar, etc. would ideally be integrated for access just like the gmail access described here.

Any suggestions on how to take this to the next level?
68. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 11:27 am

@Stephen: Your post about general integration is a good one! My take? I think this is a process that will occur naturally over time. The web is gradually heading this way, anyway — with the abundance of APIs, initiatives like OpenID and great plugins such as Sxipper, it’s only a matter of time before the level of convergence you’re looking for is here.

But right now, I’m afraid it’s just a case of waiting it out!
69. Gravatar Ronald Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 11:49 am

Since over a year you do not need an invite for gmail to sign up. Just sign up (

While doing so, also sign up for Google Apps and you won’t need an Exchange mailserver either!

70. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 11:58 am

Thanks Ronald! I had no idea — I’ll update the links accordingly.
71. Gravatar Timothy Andrew Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I wish there was some way by which greasemonkey would work on other browsers. Because, I’m hooked on Safari. :)
72. Gravatar James Chartrand - Men with Pens Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

@ Brian - Those looked good in theory, but a couple of the comment threads are full of others saying, “This doesn’t work…” The multiple login isn’t secure, either. Not a big deal for me, but for some people, it could be.
73. Gravatar Brian Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

They work just fine for me over the last few weeks :)

Really, the best one to have is the RTM extension. Really changed my life. If you have it, you can set it up so that when you star an email it automatically put its in your to-do list. Then you can really have a clean inbox and you don’t need to go back and keep checking your starred items to see which ones you feel like doing today.
74. Gravatar Barry Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

@Timothy Andrew - Have a look at GreaseKit :-)
75. Gravatar Tess Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Hi, just found this post through Lifehacker three hours ago and now have a TOTALLY EMPTY in-box and all four accounts pointing to my main one. Thank you.

My question: I installed Notifer but it says “Cannot log in to server, the server’s certificate is invalid”.

Any ideas?
76. Gravatar Nick Cernis Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Thanks for popping over and trying it out, Tess. Regarding “invalid certificates”, have you checked to see if your system date and time is set correctly? Info here: Invalid Certificate Error

If that doesn’t do the trick, shout up and I’ll have another think.
77. Gravatar Timothy Andrew Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

@Barry - Thank you so much! This is the first time I’ve heard of GreaseKIt….amazing! :)
78. Gravatar Nick Miners Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 4:02 pm

This system works really well now that Google Notifier is working. Sadly my work email address is controlled by someone else (my employer) and until I work for myself (which this site is hopefully going to help me do) I can’t merge ALL my accounts as the Outlook server is behind a very secretive firewall. :(
But on a brighter note, I was sat next to someone at work the other day who had, and I am not exaggerating, over 2,000 unread emails. Y to the Ikes!
79. Gravatar Barry Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 4:42 pm

@Nick Miners - I used to use a rule in Outlook to forward all of my work emails to a GMail account, that was set up to send as if from my work address. You get the ’sent on behalf of’ problem I mentioned in an earlier comment, but if you can live with that it should be fine.

I used to work with someone whose email management strategy was to let them build up until he had about 500 or so in his inbox and then delete them all. He claimed that in a year the only issue it caused him was turning up to one meeting that had been cancelled!
80. Gravatar Nick Miners Says:
February 24th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Thanks Barry - I’ll give that a go.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Best 5 Free Online Photo Editors

Top Web Browser Online Picture Editing Sites

Free online photo editors provide a great way to quickly and easily do basic picture editing. Best of all, you save the extra steps and the drain on your computer's speed required by using photo editing software. If you've ever just wanted to resize a picture for emailing in a couple clicks, an online photo editor is a great option. The sites on this list of the best free online photo editors were judged on depth of features, ease of use, attractiveness of the site, and a coolness and wow factor.
1. FlauntR Free Online Photo Editor
FlauntR Free Online Photo Editing Site
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This is a premier online photo editor with a stylish and attractive interface and thousands of one-click effects and photo editing options. This site features fun and easy options such as cool and funky frames for images, all the way to more advanced editing such as hue and brightness adjustments. The thing that truly makes this site standout is the integration with sites where it's popular to share images, from Blogger and Facebook to Windows Live Spaces. With the site's ProfilR editing tool, you can create profile pictures in one click for 30 different social networking sites. This online photo editor is just plain cool.
2. Picture2Life Free Online Photo Editor
Picture2Life Free Online Photo Editor
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Picture2Life's online photo editor is quite slick, and has a pretty amazing mix of features. It even beats high-priced, memory-sucking photo editing software programs for some tasks. For instance, you can get a drop shadow effect for a picture in a matter of a couple clicks, versus the convoluted steps that can be involved in certain software programs. You can even download a browser extension so you can right-click a stock photo to edit it in Picture2Life, where you can crop, resize and add effects and then save it to your hard drive.
Visit Picture2Life Online Photo Editor
3. Picnik Online Photo Editor
This is the most pleasant online photo editor to use. The site is attractive and there is no head-scratching about how to edit your picture. On the downside, the free version of the site features only the basic photo editing options like cropping, resizing and adjusting color. To get more effects, a $25 annual fee is required. Still, the free version is well worth using, especially since you can easily email photos to a variety of sites like Wal-Mart Photos, Snapfish and AOL Pictures.
Visit Picnik Online Photo Editor
4. Phixr Online Free Photo Editor
The site looks a little retro, and it definitely won't win too many design awards. But Phixr gets bonus points for its simplicity of use. Uploading a picture is easy, and the photo editing interface is ideal even for beginners. You can mouse over each photo editing icon on the left for explanations like, "Convert this photo to sepia-tone, making it look old." The cool extra is the ability to click a button below your edited photo to automatically upload it to your account at a variety of sites like Flickr, Webshots and Livejournal.
Visit Phixr Online Photo Editor Site
5. Online Picture Editor
There are no fancy bells and whistles and you won't get dazzled by the web site's design. Sometimes simplicity is best if all you just want a quickie way to resize a picture right in your browser. You simply browse to find your image, choose a percentage of its current size or a pixel length, get an option to convert it to black and white, and submit. Your resized image appears at the bottom of the page for you to right-click and save. If all you need to do is resize (and that is such a common task with digital images), this is the ideal site to do it quickly and easily.
Visit Online Photo Editor