Email productivity hacks: Canned responses

Emails keep the work and conversations moving in the information age. However much the Whatsapps, the messengers and the BBM’s of the world have taken over, the pivotal role of emails as a key tool in the work environment has not diminished all that much. Given that context, your effectiveness in dealing with emails will have a strong bearing on your productivity and workmanship in the knowledge age.

Over the last one year, I have tried several tools and techniques in order to be able to better manage my emails. One particularly useful feature that I ended up discovering was Canned responses feature of Gmail. This feature becomes extremely handy when there are standard blocks of content which you will need to use often. I will go on to explain how I started looking for such a solution in the first place and how I’m presently making use of it.

When people had to visit Startup Village and once the meeting time and date was fixed, the next thing to be shared with them was the route information on how to reach Startup Village. Now this was a standard piece of information and it was no fun to type in again and again. Around the time when I had to send this out a couple of times, I had prepared this information and kept it in a word document and an attachment which contains a visual map. Now opening the document file and copying the information was a substantial improvement from the initial process of typing it out or searching it out from an earlier email. Nonetheless, it was still no fun and plain boring to do.

This is the point when I stared searching for a solution that would fix this. I don’t recall the particular keywords that I used to search but the searches first led me to Microsoft QuickParts and eventually to Canned Responses on Gmail. Given the un-intuitive name, I consider it fortunate to have stumbled upon this. I did fumble with the feature initially and once I got around to understanding how to use it, it was a revelation. Adding these repetitive pieces of information was not boring anymore. It was actually quite fun to just click on the corresponding canned response link and to see this block of text pop out in the email body! The only thing that can take it further in terms of fun and efficiency would have to be a keyword shortcut

Note: You can activate it from Google Labs under Settings. The Google Apps video explaining how to activate and use Canned responses is also provided below for your reference.

Now the major part of the problem was solved, but I was still attaching the PDF file which contains the route map (the canned response feature cannot take care of attachments). Though Mac makes it easier to find a file using spotlight and attach it to email, this was still a couple of more steps and adding any attachments takes time and bandwidth. And this is always reminded to you by the progress bar that appears by the side. I solved this issue by leveraging Dropbox capabilities. Basically, the file to be attached will be stored in the Dropbox public folder and the public link will be included in the Canned response text. This solution also suited me well in that it was lighter on the inboxes of both the sender and the recipient since it also eliminates the need to transfer the attachment over email.

I now use this to more instances that just the route information. Addresses, responses to specific types of queries, official documents etc are some of the use cases in which I have leveraged this feature. Responses to large number of introductory mails that was witnessed during Emerging Kerala time was also an instance where I made use of this feature to good effect. Though the initial discovery was based on a work related need, I now use this feature in my personal gmail account as well. I use this to store my home address, office addresses and my bank account information for easy sharing. What I could also use for is to share identity documents like PAN, Passport etc.

For most of the startups and small businesses that uses Gmail, this tool can be particularly handy. For other mail clients, there are counterparts available. I stumbled upon this solution and this feature by discovering QuickParts feature of Microsoft Outlook first through a Google Search. It took me some effort from that point to discover the equivalent feature in Gmail. During the time I was finding it difficult to find a Gmail equivalent of QuickParts, I was even considering moving to Microsoft Outlook as my primary mail client.