July 9, 2018

Computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Marketer Gary Thuerk sent what was possibly the first mass spam email in 1978. It’s been all off-the-mark pitches, agonizing back-and-forths and typos galore since then. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are 11 tools, tips and features to clean up your email inbox.

Gmail: I know from our analytics that well over half of you use Gmail as your main email client (I should also disclose here that Google provides funding for this project at Poynter). Gmail has a ton of great features that many of us don’t use.

Ever send a message and realize seconds later that you spelled something wrong? Turn on the “undo send” feature by clicking the gear in the top right, then settings, then enable “undo send” about halfway down the page. Mine is set for three seconds and it makes all the difference.

Subscribe to a few newsletters that you’d like to label as a visual cue? Or get frequent pitches from someone you’d like to send to the trash? Or maybe you’d like to get a big, red label on all emails your boss sends? Open an email, click the “more” button up top and select “filter messages like these.” You can apply labels with different colors or shoot them straight to the trash heap.

Lastly, if you’re anything like me, you occasionally forget to follow up with a source or colleague. Search your inbox for emails you’ve sent that haven’t received a reply with this great tip from Melody Kramer.

Boomerang & Inbox Pause: Got an email you’d like to schedule for later? Or maybe you’ve received an email that you’d like to have disappear for now but show up a day or two from now? Gmail and Outlook users can use Boomerang to do both.

Sometimes the deluge of emails is just too much, especially during big projects and sprints to finish something. Inbox Pause can help with that. The tool “pauses” email for a short period of time, sending an “I’ll be back soon” message to anyone who sends an email your way at that time. Set up filters to still get important messages from bosses or sources. It’s like a do not disturb sign for email.

OnePitch & InMoat: Two new tools, both still in beta, promise to make the pitches in your inbox more helpful. OnePitch currently caters to tech reporters and offers a daily email based on specific topics important to that beat, allowing users to get as specific as “IPOs about agricultural technology” or “studies and surveys about artificial intelligence.” Pitches are limited to 280 characters and three easy-to-read bullet points. Reporters can request sources, too. InMoat is similar but works via Gmail folders. It’s currently in a private beta that focuses mostly on journalists working lifestyle-related beats.

Calendly: Cut down on the back-and-forth of scheduling meetings with Calendly, a tool that allows users to pick from pre-selected open time slots on your calendar. It integrates with most calendar apps and can even send out contact information, including links to Google Hangouts or Zoom.

Grammarly: Never send an email with a misspelling or typo again with Grammarly, a powerful plugin that goes well beyond the autocorrect features you probably already have. I use the free version, which points out the most common (and most embarrassing) issues.

Inbox by Google: My experience with Inbox is still pretty limited, but it seems like a total reimagining of email. Inbox highlights emails it thinks are important and looks and functions more like a task list. It can also group emails with similar topics or themes to unclutter inboxes. If you use Inbox, I’d love to hear your opinion.

Email Debt Forgiveness Day: If worse comes to worst, wait until April 30 and then go nuclear by celebrating Email Debt Forgiveness Day.

Digital News to Know

NO DEAL: There are so many reasons why striving to be the “Spotify for journalism” is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea (two chief concerns: Spotify is still bleeding money and most artists are paid very little for their work). I’m not surprised that Blendle, a news service that has long attracted that moniker, is struggling to keep publishers aboard. The European “digital kiosk” sells articles from multiple publishers one by one, instead of requiring a subscription to multiple publishers. Several major publishers have left, calling the service “financially unsuccessful” and pointing to its weak multimedia capabilities.

DON’T GO PRO: When it comes to Instagram Stories, consider going a little more “Blair Witch” and a little less “Avatar.” The Guardian created a wide variety of Stories — from static posts to quick videos to full-produced videos with scripts and studios — and found that extra polish doesn’t lead to enough payoff to justify the time and money spent. Focus instead on static graphics or quick video explainers on news topics, which the Guardian found had a 45 percent completion rate.

#SAVEYOURINTERNET: A European Union bill that would have imposed some of the strictest copyright laws in the world was voted down last week. Currently, if a user posts copyrighted content on a website, the owners of that website are only legally liable once they become aware of that content (if I were to post a copyrighted film scene on YouTube, for instance, YouTube would only be liable if and when the film studio filed a copyright claim). The law would have shifted more of the liability to the website to police for copyrighted content. The New York Times pitted the bill as “technology against media, platforms against publishers.”

ON MY RADAR: “The fusion of business, technology, and ethics is, in essence, unfolding at a rate that appears to outstrip our ability as citizens to have meaningful and careful conversations about the effects of our actions on others.” I gasped at the brevity and pertinence of that sentence. If you’re concerned about how rapidly evolving technology is changing the way we function as a society, start with this column from MIT Sloan Management Review. Then listen to this episode of Common Sense by Dan Carlin. Then let’s all be kinder to each other.

GET SOCIAL: “Twitter is sweeping out fake accounts like never before, putting user growth at risk,” this headline from The Washington Post reads. I say good riddance. I’ve been doxxed and the subject of blatant trolling. And so I applaud Twitter’s expulsion of nearly 70 million troll and bot accounts in May and June.

TIPS FOR YOUNGSTERS: “Because I never set out to build a business, I made nearly every mistake along the way. Fortunately, I started young and had plenty of time to learn on the job.” Dave Benton, owner of a California-based design firm, shares those mistakes and the lessons he learned along the way. A few of his tips are design-specific, but most apply to any career in any field. One I wish I took to heart a few years younger: Make time to meet people. So many opportunities come through people you’ve made an impression on.

REAL NEWS: My colleague, fact-checking reporter Daniel Funke, used a tool called who.is to track down notorious hoaxer Paul Horner’s empire of fake news websites. He used it again when Horner died and his websites began to disappear from the internet. We’ll cover this tool and two dozen more in our online training session on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern (did I mention it doesn’t cost a penny?)

  • Speaking of cool stuff from Poynter, the early bird period for our Media Innovation Tour ends on Friday. We’re traveling to places like Quartz, The New York Times, The Washington Post and more to see their latest innovations and how they came together. Bonus: I’m helping to lead the thing this year, so you’ll get to spend a week with me.

Try This! is powered by Google News Initiative. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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