Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Google Productivity Tips and Tricks for Educators and Otherwise

A few months ago I led a session on Increasing Personal Productivity at The Google for Education Southern Summit hosted by the Lovett School. I incorporated several principles from David Allen’s book called Getting Things Done1 and correlated his principles into the use of Gmail and Google Calendar. The idea was to help teachers and administrators increase their productivity using these free tools. In a world where we are bombarded by information, continually connected, faced with increasing demands and expectations, it is extremely difficult to accomplish the “stuff” on our plate each day. It is no wonder that a growing percentage of our students and adults suffer from anxiety due to the chaotic and hectic environments in which we are all immersed.
My friends and family will tell you that I frequently take on more than I should and I suppose that is a character flaw but, in my defense, I do enjoy my busy life. Admittedly, sometimes the stress that often accompanies my “bring it on” decisions is not very pleasant. I know that I am not alone. I think many of us have more to do in a day that can reasonably be accomplished. In an effort to get a better handle on the things on my plate, I picked up this book to help me prioritize and put some structure around my responsibilities. 
My favorite suggestion was the idea that we should only handle things one time. Allen says that as mail (or in my case email) arrives we should Delete It, Do it, Delegate it or Defer it. I decided to apply his suggestion to the (literally) thousands of emails in my in-box. So how does it work? When an email arrives, you can either Delete it, Do it if it takes less than two minutes, Delegate it if possible or Defer it to a later time. The items that I defer typically go to my calendar or a “To Do” folder that I have set up in my Gmail. This process actually works and it does truly help with my productivity. Some of the other things within Google that I recommend include the following: 
Use Labels, Folders and the Archive Button I love to use the Archive button to rid your Inbox of the plethora of email that many of us seem to accumulate. You can still search for your email and it is still under “All Mail.” I also started setting up labels and folders in my Gmail. As email arrives you can set up a label so that all email from a particular person or topic can be tagged with color coded (optional but cool) labels. When you create a label, Gmail automatically sets up a folder. When you Archive an email it can be quickly accessed from the folder as well. I assigned a red label to my boss so that when I get an email from him, I notice it right away. Using Labels and Folders is a great way to get control of your email.
Enable Labs to Increase Productivity In Gmail or Google Calendar, there is a gear looking button on the right of the screen. Click on that gear and then click on “Settings” to access the Labs tab. Labs may not be around forever but I have used several for a few years. You must enable Labs for them to become activated. A few of my favorite Gmail labs include Undo Send, Calendar Gadget and Canned Responses. In Google Calendar, some of my favorite labs include Year View, Jump to Date, Gentle Notifications and World Clock (this is nice if you work with people in different time-zones). 
Configure the Extra’s Under Settings I have set up Gmail Offline access by downloading the Gmail app. This allows me to respond to email when I do not have Internet access and then emails are sent when I am connected. Entering your location will enable you to see a weather icon on your calendar. You can set up several time-savers such as syncing your mobile phone, setting up and sharing a family calendar or even importing your favorite sports team or holiday calendar into your personal calendar. Managing your calendar will help free you to spend time on the things that are truly important to you, rather than having needless demands on your time dictate your life. 1Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. New York: Viking, 2001. Print. First published in Southern Distinction Magazine vol. 3.2