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ActiveInbox 5.2 – Beautifying Gmail

February 26th, 2015

Focus in Gmail

After trying a complicated approach to ‘focusing’, with timers and other nuisances, we realised it wasn’t helping you stay calm – a key component of being able to focus.

So we stripped it right back, and simply removed all the distractions in Gmail (with the happy side effect of making it a much more airy, visually pleasing environment).

Just click ‘Focus Mode’ on the sidebar, or the eye icon next to Gmail’s Settings button.

focusing

Simpler Interface

The majority of the work has been 100s of little usability improvements – really refining the details. I believe every single element of ActiveInbox has been considered and tweaked.

Most noticeably, we made the Task Bar both more elegant, and more customisable for your needs. You can now resize the layout (by clicking the white dividing lines) to suit any size of monitor.

task_bar

And when you click ‘New Task’, it now makes the (reasonable, and time saving!) assumption that you want it to have the Action status.

new_task

Bug Fixes

The Previous Emails button (which appears in the Compose/Reply box) is now loading consistently; instead of regularly failing to attach itself.

previous_emails 2

Suggestions for a Better Experience

I recommend you alter some preferences, specifically:

  • Uncheck Show Review Bar at the top of Gmail and use the left-hand sidebar instead (click ‘< ActiveInbox' to get to our menu)
  • Check Show all Status Buttons even when TaskBox in Summary Mode, unless you have a lot of statuses. (We had a period where it was default to not show the buttons, and it turned out to not be optimal for most people).

Updating

I’ve pushed it out to the Beta channel for Chrome users (click to find out how to install).

If that goes well, I’ll publish it for everyone tomorrow morning.

A Quick Word on Mobile

We’re continuing to slowly bring more people into the beta (it’s steady, but as fast as we can!). You can sign up here.

Sign up to access the ActiveInbox beta app for iOS!

February 9th, 2015

iphone6-2014

The day has finally come! We have already started rolling out our iOS mobile Beta to a small group of testers and now want to start expanding it.

There are only about 1000 slots available for access to this beta testing stage so we are operating a first come first served waiting list.

If you are nervous about testing a Beta app or don’t want the hassle, you can choose in the sign-up process to be invited at a later stage of the Beta when most of the bugs have been ironed out.

(In-case you don’t know what I man by a ‘Beta’, we mean that this app is not a finished, polished app that you can download directly from the app store. It will be soon – but we need time to iron out any problems and improve it with your help first. You can find out more on the sign up page.)

Please SIGN UP HERE: http://www.activeinboxhq.com/mobile_beta.php

We’ll email you with an invite by 13th February if you get your name in quickly enough!

Thanks for your support.

 

Please note, the iOS Beta app is only available to paid ActiveInbox users due to the limited number of spaces.

 

PS: Our Android app will soon be ready to start testing also, and will be much more widely available at the Beta stage. However, as we have limited development resources, we are using the iOS app to develop the interface to a certain level first rather than working concurrently on 2 different systems. This means it could be a while before we release the Android Beta.

 

Gmail Hack: Join separate conversation threads together

January 29th, 2015

Ever had someone reply to an email using a fresh subject line and ended up with several different email conversations – all about the same thing, but at different stages of the conversation?

Annoying isn’t it.

Here is a great little hack you can use to get around this very common and inconvenient issue. And yes, it involves copy and paste! Technical eh?

  1. Chose which email conversation you want to be the main consolidated one – probably the most recent one where people are still sending replies, or the one with the clearest subject line if the conversation is dead.
  2. Go to the other conversations, scroll to the most recent email in it, expand the conversation history below, and copy everything from the top of the most recent email to the end of the history.Select the conversation history to copy it
  3. Go back to your conversation which you’ve chosen to consolidate and create a new reply at the bottom, sending it to yourself only. Paste in everything you’ve just copied and send.
  4. Rinse and repeat for any other old scattered threads on the same subject which you want consolidated.
  5. And voila. You have 1 current email conversation where you can see everything that has been said about the subject, all in one conversation view.

Remember – make sure you keep private emails out of the thread history within a conversation.

Any other Gmail hacks you use? Share them with the ActiveInbox community in the comments section below!

Business account signup now fully automated!

January 28th, 2015

About time, right?

 

We’ve now fully automated our signup process for ‘Business’ plans and individual ‘Starter’ accounts. This means we can start offering group discounts, centralised billing and team admin controls for groups of 3+ people again!

Don’t worry – if you want to chat we’re still here to help you with any questions you may have: sales@activeinboxhq.com.

The volume discount calculation remains the same – check it out with our slider next to the Business account option on our Pricing page:

ActiveInbox pricing options

 

Gmail tip: Keep replies within a group conversation private

January 27th, 2015
At the request of some fairly high profile users, we’re going to start posting some tips about using Gmail at work on this blog that you might – or might not – find useful. Feel free to pitch in with your own tips in the comments section below! 
Avoid that dreaded moment when a private email gets sent round to everyone in a conversation!

Sometimes you want to send a private message to only one person in an ongoing group conversation. You could just start a new conversation. But if you want to keep everything together, you can send a private email within a group conversation, without the others subsequently seeing it in the minimized email thread.

Private reply showing in thread history

First send your private message from the reply pane at the bottom as normal, just editing the Recipients. Once you want to continue the group conversation don’t use the reply pane at the bottom – it could include your private message also.

Instead, scroll up to the last group email in the conversation and click the reply button on that email. This way, your private email will be cut out of the thread and there will be no embarrassments!

better-private-reply

Always be sure to check the minimized thread list at the bottom of your email though before you end it to ensure there are no private messages included.

Lastly, make sure you’ve enabled the brilliant ‘Undo Send’ feature in Gmail (Gmail Settings>Labs>enable ‘Undo Send’). This gives you a 10 second window after you send an email to retrieve it for editing – perfect if you make a mistake like including a private message in a thread.

Enable Undo Send from Gmail settings

 

How to use Gmail as a time and project management tool

January 16th, 2015

The lovely folks over at Godel in Melbourne have written a nice piece about using ActiveInbox even if you are not bothered about reaching that ever elusive “Inbox Zero”. It’s a great read – and perfect to convince those reluctant colleagues of yours how great Gmail can be! The original is here.

Emails come and emails go

The inbox is a transient place; emails come and emails go, intermittently demanding all of your attention and interrupting your day.

As a project manager, my working life revolves around this ever-changing environment that consistently churns out pieces of sporadic data. I get an email, I read it, then I action it (most of the time… some of the time… I try?). Sometimes an email needs to be turned into a task in Asana or a ticket in Pivotal Tracker, maybe it requires an iCal reminder or maybe all I need to do is type a reply.

The inbox is hell

Like most project managers or people who deal with lots of emails, I had some pretty common problems:

  • More often than not, I was losing track of email threads and getting pulled away from the computer to come back to the screen and forget all about replying to that email.
  • Another headache came from the old chestnut of clients forgetting to ‘Reply All’ and getting conversations about various projects caught up in infinite threads going back to the dawn of time… Where is it? What was it about? Why is my brain spinning?
  • Once I’d replied to an email, that email disappeared in to the ether and if the client didn’t get back to me, it was easy for that inquiry, task or action to just never, ever happen.

There have been many articles written on various ways to deal with email hell. Some people like to zero their inboxes at regular points. Some people prefer to engage as many third-party tools as possible to filter communications via non-email pathways.

Personally, ActiveInbox has been a lifesaver. If you work with Gmail in the browser, this Chrome extension is a keeper. This little project management secret I was shown when I first started working at Godel has genuinely changed my relationship with my inbox. I have less anxiety about the influx of emails strangling my conscience on a Monday morning, and I can monitor projects and timelines with ease knowing I’ll never miss an email beat.

Activate your Gmail inbox

How ActiveInbox works is that it essentially turns emails into tasks and presents the actionable items at the top of your inbox where they’re constantly visible. Your important tasks stay in your attention radar until you remove the !Action label and the email returns to the inconceivable pile, most likely never to be seen again.

It uses the GTD (Getting Things Done) time management method, which basically uses the idea that if you move tasks out of your mind and break them down in to actionable tasks, you spend less time trying to recall them and more time doing them.

The right side bar tells you the status of your emails, and allows you to sort or group emails

Waiting on

It’s good to not always feel like you’re in high demand, especially if it turns out that you’re the one waiting on a client or colleague to get back to you. Once you’ve sent an email you know is pending a response before any further action needs to take place, you can mark this for the waiting list and not worry about it for a few days. Instead of digging through your sent folder to find that email you sent that you forgot about, your waiting on emails are given their own section in your inbox so you can quickly audit your blocked tasks. The pressure is off you till you realise it’s time to chase that person up again!

The waiting on label essentially acts as a ‘blocked’ status while you wait and you don’t have to do anything until:

  • A reply from this person appears in your inbox. You can do what needs to be done, and either update the status to be an Action for you to do, or finish it (by removing the status and a sigh of relief).
  • Once a week (or as frequently as you like), when you go into your waiting on list and chase up anyone that hasn’t responded. You can also group things you’re waiting on by person or project by adding additional tags.

Two simple options to choose from – ‘Action’ and ‘Waiting on’ and the ability to add a ‘To Do’ list or note.

Due dates

Another bonus of ActiveInbox is that if it’s time critical, you can set a due date for the thing you’re waiting on. This means on the day its due, it’ll appear on your today list and instantly become top of your inbox priorities – it’s like getting the email a second time. So when I tell a client I’ll check in with them next week about the progress on their designs, ActiveInbox actually has the decency to remind me on the day I promised, which saves me from having to make a calendar reminder (or failing to make a calendar reminder) to do it. You’ll always be one step ahead, with your tasks and priorities organised by a piece of software – rather than your (only human) memory.

 

Check the calendar for any emails that require action this week and review what outstanding tasks you have. You can also sync all your tasks to your real calendar to get an overview of your work, or export time specific tasks to a calendar event with one button.

To do lists

One of my favourite things to do is tick off my ‘To Do’ list. Because I am old school, and for other reasons unknown to me and my colleagues, I still keep a book of lined paper with me at all times, where I write down various notes from conversations and create my extreme low-tech to do list.

When I write down a task that I need to complete, I literally draw a small box next to the task and harbour some satisfaction from putting a big fat tick in that box. Writing down the task in the first place helps me remember it, but it also gives me some comfort to know that it is somewhere other than in my brain.

Most project management tools are some form of To do list, with various levels of bells and whistles attached. ActiveInbox lets you turn your emails in to a to do list – so when you come back to that email you can view what needs to happen next. Your email is quickly converted from a wall of text in to a set of actionable tasks – which I like to think works really well for a project manager.

Even though we have other systems that manage tasks, ActiveInbox works as a tool for project managers (or people with lots of emails) because the tasks on my list are largely to do with communication, assets, client relationships or other low-level tasks. Once something becomes a task for a developer, designer, or even for documentation, it’s moved out of my ActiveInbox and in to a shared task management tool.

Reminders & “better replies”

As you can see, ActiveInbox is like a loyal friend who makes sure you do things when you say you will and helps you respond to the emails by showing you other emails and tasks associated with the contact. This naturally improves communication with colleagues and clients because all the necessary information that ever was in email form is right at your fingertip, neatly summarised and automatically brought to your attention at exactly the right moment.

 

Inbox zero alternatives

For me personally, the emphasis isn’t so much on clearing out your inbox altogether. In traditional Inbox zero you would delete an email once it has been actioned. By using ActiveInbox I find it easier to read and action all my emails, rather than archive or delete them. Essentially once I’ve turned them in to a task or given them a date with ActiveInbox, I don’t consider them dead weight emails anymore – and they no longer play on my mind. Even if you don’t prefer to get to inbox zero, ActiveInbox can help you at least achieve inbox sanity. Maybe one day I’ll jump on inbox zero’s bandwagon – ActiveInbox certainly advocate it, and they’re pretty good at this stuff!

Have you installed it as a Chrome add-on yet? Because if you haven’t, you’re missing out on some serious organisational, stress free business.

In a nutshell, ActiveInbox gives you back control of your inbox. No more neglected or rogue emails getting lost in the ether or that nagging consciousness telling you there’s a deadline impending. I can now see my inbox as a bunch of goals rather than millions (well, maybe hundreds) of exasperating pieces of information. ActiveInbox turns integral discussions and plans in writing into organisable, actionable motion. You’ll always be one step ahead of the guy who doesn’t have ActiveInbox, that’s for sure.

BAM! And the inbox monster has gone!

ActiveInbox in light of Google Inbox

December 16th, 2014

In October 2014 Google announced a new app called Inbox, that seemed on first glance to follow a similar task based approach to email as ActiveInbox has pioneered in Gmail for the last 7 years. And to be honest, we were worried.

While I actually really like most of its design (and we will become increasingly in-tune with it), I was relieved to see that, Google Inbox is built for light personal use – for the moment anyway. And even if they open up for businesses, Inbox enforces a very opinionated and basic workflow, and will likely stay as a mainstream, general app.

ActiveInbox on the other hand provides a task management solution built for business people managing complex workloads in any situation. We are flexible and can be molded to your own existing workflow. Meanwhile we keep all the business critical features that Gmail offers like signatures, advanced filters or desktop notifications, within familiar reach.

More importantly, we exist only because of you, our customers. We work in harmony with our community when we develop new features because we know that everyone deals with their work and email differently, and there is always more to learn about staying calm and productive in today’s frantic work environments.

We are going to continue getting better and offering you ever more refined, intelligent solutions for organizing your emails and your work.

We’ve been very busy preparing new updates to ActiveInbox in the last couple of months since Inbox was announced, and everything will be going into beta before Christmas (including iOS mobile), with a public release to follow shortly after; and come the New Year we have some major new ideas to forge ahead with!

Inbox is a welcome reminder of our vulnerability, as we build ActiveInbox inside Google’s ecosystem. It has made us more determined than ever to deliver the ultimate solution to help you work more productively with less stress – whatever your job.

Google’s Next Big Ad Move Is Capturing Your Task List

December 15th, 2014

Google is gearing itself up to seize the hidden holy grail of ad targeting: task lists. A fresh emphasis on ‘Reminders’ in its new email app, Inbox, is a clear indicator of the huge potential ready to be exploited. There are a lot of hurdles, but capturing and utilizing your task list is an opportunity to rival search that has remained completely untapped. And Google is perfectly placed to exploit it, within their ecosystem of mobile friendly convenience applications.

Google’s famous search box is such an effective window into your brain at a critical moment in time that it is worth billions of dollars a year- $50 billion actually.

When you search for something you are open to solutions that can come through adverts – far more so than when you are browsing a website. That is why Search is still Google’s most lucrative platform. But it is rapidly losing its dominance in terms of overall ad spending because of the rise of mobile apps. It is a very significant trend that has had analysts wondering this year how Google will respond.

What does all this mean? Well first, consider this. The concise language we use to write down tasks is perhaps even more effective than search for targeted behavioral advertising. Just picture it. Your grocery list neatly entered each week. Or that flight you need to book to New York on Monday. There are companies out there drooling over the idea of their adverts being able to target the sort of information found on our task lists.

The real challenge though is in persuading enough of us to enter our task lists into Google’s servers and making their task manager the dominant one. We generally avoid digital task managers, despite the fact they reduce our stress by turning a daunting workload into a series of manageable steps. That is because they are often just another software program that takes effort and discipline to update. So how can Google get enough of us to start entering our tasks into their servers?

Integrating your task management into the key apps at the center of your life can break down that effort barrier very effectively. Email is a prime candidate because our inbox still plays host to a constant flow of key information and updates about our lives and tasks (despite claims that “email is dead” thanks to the rise of instant messaging). And, as with Twitter or Facebook, the next step to monetization can only come when they achieve mass adoption of their own digital task system.

Enter Inbox. It takes your email client – where you already spend most of your day – and makes it easy to capture the tasks flowing through it. Sure, Reminders have been around on Google Now and Google Keep for over a year. But Inbox is an attempt to truly integrate Reminders into your daily life.

Reminders are simple but also pretty sophisticated. They have powerful auto-complete abilities, and you can even tell Google’s servers exactly when you want assistance (perhaps from ads) by snoozing a Reminder so that it appears at a specific time or location. Reminder notifications appear through Google Now as well, which opens up interactions within the growing wearables market, and even Google’s new in-car system.

This is more than just prediction through algorithms and keywords. Google are getting you do the work for them by getting you to tell them what you want to do, when and where. The more task data you enter for them, the more useful any future Google-directed advert will be to you. And of course, the more likely you will click on it.

Inbox also already scans your emails for purchase receipts, travel and event bookings thanks to early partnerships with companies in various service industries.

But how is this fantastic set of new data going to be actually monetized? I mean, sure, Inbox has a lot of white space, but your not going to open your email one day and BAM! it’s full of pulsing banners ads showing you the latest grocery deals at your favorite supermarket. No, to make Inbox a beloved product it’s going to have to be a masterpiece in subtle advertising, probably resembling the Highlights emails you currently get as a card-like block in Inbox, which also appear in Google Now.

But the beauty of it is that we’ll actually want the adverts. That’s  because rather than being intrusive screen hoggers as most mobile ads are, Google is building the capability to help you actually get tasks done, when you need to do them, with incredibly accurate targeting.

Whether they ever achieve the widespread uptake of digital task management needed for this groundbreaking opportunity to work, rests largely on the success of one app: Inbox.

As Larry Page said in December: “We really need to say, “Well, if you’re on mobile, maybe it’s easier to call someplace, or it’s easier to visit the place, or it’s easier to have help with those things.” So maybe the ads should look a little different or work differently.” In other words, Google’s vision for the ads of the future is to make them actually useful – even to the extent that they mean you don’t have to search for nearby grocery stores because you already have a list of nearby stores and their opening hours in on your wrist or on your car dashboard.

If you’re wondering, “Great, but what does this mean for ActiveInbox and our task based approach to emails inside Gmail?”, read this.

Due Dates not syncing with your calendar immediately? You can force it!

October 14th, 2014

Google Calendar does not update calendars added by URL very regularly – more like once an hour than every minute.

That can be annoying if you are expecting your ActiveInbox due dates to be added immediately (e.g. so that you can head out of the office for a meeting and keep track of what you need to do with your calendar).

Don’t worry! There is a simple workaround that you can use for one-off updates.

  • Find your regular AIB Due Dates URL (e.g. https://aib-ics.s3.amazonaws.com/123.ics), and add ‘?fresh1′ to the end of it (e.g. https://aib-ics.s3.amazonaws.com/123.ics?fresh2). Then add it to GCal as usual.

  • Then in GCal, remove the old AIB Due Dates calendar.

Your calendar should then be right up to date.

If you want to do it again the future, change the number at the end of fresh, e.g. fresh2, fresh3, etc.

Taskbox Tweakin’ [5.1.6]

October 3rd, 2014

Clarification: we didn’t kill Status buttons!

We just changed the default layout to be more minimalist. But there is a way back:

If you go into the Preferences, and re-enable “Show all Status Buttons even when TaskBox in Summary Mode”, the statuses buttons are right there and one click away.

Nurturing muscle memory

The one thing I think we definitely didn’t get right in 5.1 was making the common routine of “add status, archive & move to the next email” easy to turn into a muscle memory.

To remedy this,

  • I made the status button always align with the Archive button (at the cost of hiding the subject until you mouse over it). This means that everything is always in the same position relative to each other.
  • I moved the Finish button (tick) to the end of the Archive/Spam/Delete line. That means the two most important buttons: Archive & Finish are in the two most memorable positions, but we keep the Gmail tradition of making Archive first.
  • Once you set your first task or due date, ActiveInbox now permanently hides the ‘+ Make Task’ help text.

Reducing visual weight

Our original goal with the Taskbox was to bring a coherent focal point to the “email task”, and that meant incorporating the subject.

The cost, as we used a background colour to tie it all together, was a weighty visual anchor that unsettled the human spirit.

To fix it, I just let go of my desire for theoretical coherence, and went with something that in practice feels just as natural – the subject now sits above the Taskbox, not in it – which feels a lot more airy.

Fixing Minor Glitches

  • The Taskbox now remembers the state you left it in
  • For a small % of users, the Taskbox was interfering with the subject line. It no longer does this!

A word about Send Later issues

We’ve had to move the Send Later feature back into beta for the next week.

We took this rather drastic step because for a % of the user population, and for reasons we haven’t yet fully diagnosed, it was randomly failing.

And trust is everything with this feature. Until we’re 100% sure that 100% of you can trust it 100%, we’re adding a warning label.

(If you’re interested, here are the details).

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