The Gmail Clean Inbox Workflow

Email is a good place to quickly engage in correspondence without getting completely distracted from your actual work. The Clean Inbox Workflow below revolves around quickly separating the emails you need to deal with from the ones you don’t, while still giving you the ability to find any email you’ve ever sent or received. Here’s how it works:

Step 0: Prerequisite

You might want to go through the Gmail Settings You Should Enable so that your Gmail is “dialed in” for the following workflow.

Step 1: Check Your Email

unreadcount.gifDepending on how many mails you get you may do this once, twice, or a few times a day. Try to avoid constantly returning to your inbox to check for new emails. Statistics show that  10% of received emails are items you need to take action on. The remainder just need to be archived for future reference (if at all). Don’t worry if they pile up, in the next steps you’ll see how to archive (without losing) them.

Step 2: Gut the Spam

Scan through the items in your inbox and click the checkbox next to any that are obvious spam. Once you’ve selected them all, click the Spam button at the top. reportspambutton.gifThis not only removes them from your sight, but it trains the Gmail spam filter to recognize messages like that in the future. (This also has an added benefit for those of you using Google Apps in your school or business, as the spam filter applies what it learns to the organization’s spam filter, so as a group you can help combat spam simply by marking spam as spam).

Step 3: Star the Action Items

Now scan through your inbox again. Gmail is nice enough to not only show you who sent an email, but the first 15 or so words of the email. gmailstar.gifWith this information you should be able to tell whether or not the message is one you need to take action on, or whether it can be archived for future reference. Simply scroll through the messages and click the little star icon for the items you know you need to reply to or take action on.

Step 4: Archive it All

selelctallandarchiveNow that you’ve starred the action items, you can go ahead and archive *everything* in your inbox. This is the step that feels so good. Keep in mind you’re not deleting anything, you’re just moving it out of the Inbox and into the All Email folder. Click the All link at the top of the email list, then the Archive button. You can also do this with with a quick keystroke by typing: “*-a” to Select All, then “e” to Archive (provided you’ve enabled keyboard shortcuts).

Once archived, your Inbox will be empty. It’s like magic!

Step 5: Go To Work

Now it’s time to get work done, which means you need to reply and complete tasks from your Starred folder. Do this by going to the Starred folder and dealing with the emails. Once dealt with, click the Star icon again: the star will go away and the email won’t appear in your Starred folder anymore. You can then Archive it form your Inbox, knowing it’ll always be in your All Mail folder.

Step 6: When You Need to Refer to an Old Email

allmail.gifTo access archived emails, you can browse your All Mail folder by clicking the link on the left of your Gmail. But this folder is most likely to contain thousands of unorganized emails. Instead, remember the Gmail motto:

Search Don’t Sort

It’s easier to find that past email by typing the subject, sender, or any keyword you can remember about the email in the search box and hit enter.


And that’s all there is to it! When you’ve mastered this workflow you’ll be able to keep a clean inbox while making sure everything that needs a reply gets one. replying-to gets a reply.

If you want to learn more:

I spilled (tea | water | coffee | chili) on my laptop – what can I do?

Eating and drinking around your laptop is a way of life, so it’s to be expected that eventually a spill will happen. When it does, what to do

One: Quick, save!

You might have a few seconds. Hit cmd-s on a Mac (ctrl-s on Windows) to save the file you’re in.

Two: Power down down down.

Press the power button until it shuts off. Unplug the power cord and if possible remove the battery.

Liquid conducts electricity so even a few drops can cause a “short.” A laptop’s main circuit board is a vastly complex series of designed electrical paths. When liquid allows electricity to take shortcuts between un-designed paths, that’s bad.

Three: Dry it off, upside down.

Let gravity help. If you turn your laptop over and liquid comes dripping out of any port – that means you have a serious case. Even still you can be hopefully that it hasn’t gone past the keyboard. Turn it upside down and give it some gentle shakes and taps.

Four: Take apart as much as you can.

Unplug anything plug into it, remove battery, and other removable components. Carefully unscrew any screws. If the screws are different lengths remember where they came from. Hint: use a piece of tape to keep them organized. The more you can take apart the better, but be careful not to break anything or do anything you can’t undo. If you see any obvious liquid, dry it up with a soft cloth or Q-tips. If there’s any residue, you might be out of luck.

Five: Assess for damage.

As you take it apart, assess it for damage. Is there a good amount of liquid inside the unit? If so, you have a serious case. Is it dry? cross your fingers.

Six: Let it dry out.

If you see any obvious liquid, dry it up with a soft cloth or Q-tips. Then position the laptop so any drips run down and out, and get a fan on it. Be careful not to blow moisture into the crevices of the thing, but get enough air moving over it to help anything evaporate. Let it sit over night or longer.

Seven: Know where your data is.

While it’s drying you’re really going to be wishing that you had backup. If you’re a Mac user and you have a functional/recent Time Machine backup you have little to worry about — there’s nothing better. If you use Windows and have a good backup solution then you probably don’t need to worry either. If you have no method of backup, then that’s a problem. Make a list of the things on the laptop, where they were stored, and how you might possibly recreate them. If there’s any precious cargo or mission-critical data, you should consider calling someone for advice. Particularly you might want to remove the hard disk to make sure it’s not wet or getting wetter.

Eight: Cross your fingers and try it out.

When you’re quite convinced it’s as dry as it can be, put it back together carefully, cross your fingers, and power it back on. If it works, consider yourself lucky. If it works and you don’t have backups, consider yourself extremely lucky and waste no time in getting a backup method in place.

Nine: If it doesn’t work.

If it didn’t work you’re going to need to take it to a shop or get a technician to come look after it. If you have precious cargo or mission-critical data you may need to look into a premium data recovery service like DriveSavers.

And you’ll also be thinking that next time, you’ll have backups. But also consider a combination of cloud-based solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive for files and documents, and SmugMug or PicasaWeb or iCloud for photos and video.

Learning your Bits and Bytes by Comparing GCI’s Internet Plans

If you live in one of Alaska’s large towns (or your small town happens to have a GCI fiber landing), you have access to some of the best residential Internet bandwidth available in the world today.

Depending on your plan, you’re allowed to transfer a certain quantity of data over your Internet connection per month. If you add up the size of all the emails, websites, streamed movies, downloaded games, and emoticons seen on the various screens in your house in one month, that all adds up towards your limit.

GCI measures your transfer in GB. Important: a GB is not to be confused with Gb. The big “B” is for bytes, and the little “b” is for bits. A byte is *eight times* bigger than a bit so it’s important to keep them straight. The reason there are two different sizes of b’s is because things just can’t be simple now can they? Traditionally bits are used to measure data traffic while bytes are used to measure data stored. It’s a silly, easily confused, and important to understand distinction.

At this point you should also understand that bits and bytes use the metric system, where names change sensibly every 1000 units. So a Byte is 1; a KiloByte is 1,000; a MegaByte is 1,000,000; and a GigaByte is 1,000,000,000. When you’ve transferred one GB over your Internet connection, that’s the same as saying you’ve transferred one billion bytes.

If you use up all the bytes GCI allots your plan, then you’re given two options. One option is you can pay for more bytes. The other option costs you nothing but your bandwidth is throttled back into the dark ages. If you remember browsing the web using a 9600 baud modem then you know what it feels like when you go over your GCI cap. GCI dubs this torturous web browsing experience as “no worries.”

Here are two of GCI’s plans (from Juneau) compared:

If you noticed that the Download and Upload speeds are measured in bits not bytes, then you get a cookie!

The “Data” number is the amount of transfer included in your plan. This is measured in GigaBytes. Note the plan on the left caps you at 300 GB while the plan on the right is twice that amount (600 GB).

That means in one month you could transfer twice as much stuff. For only $40 more. But here’s the rub.

The “Download” number is the width of your Internet pipe. This is measured in Megabits. The wider the pipe, the more water can fit through it at one time. Notice how the plan on the left has a 100 Mbps wide pipe, while the one on the right is five times wider at 500 Mbps.

So, while you’re allowed to transfer twice as much stuff in one month, you’re able to transfer five times as much.

If you’ve ever fallen asleep watching Episode Two of your favorite series on Netflix or Hulu in HD, and you wake up with Episode Nine playing, you’ve just transferred about 16 GB. This is the modern equivalent to leaving the hot water running.

The Age of the Makers

As we all know, machines are taking over the world. This is said tongue-in-cheek yet with a grain of truth. As we look at the future of jobs, it is clear that anything that can be automated, will be.

Over the last 100 years, the need for factory line workers and those performing repetitive tasks has been on a steady decline.


The growing sectors are those that can’t be accomplished by a robot or software. The service industry–nursing, teaching, fixing things–require hands-on multi-faceted engagement that machines just can’t do.

Creativity, as well, is a prized commodity, one smart parents and teachers are nourishing in modern students. This is particularly true when you consider how easy it is nowadays to take an idea and bring it to life.

Take the Sphero, for example. A modern idea made possible by creativity, 3D-printing technology, and modern manufacturing. The Sphero team was able to pitch their idea to Disney and won the rights to produce a working BB8 toy. They’re making a killing this holiday season.

Why you should be wary of Facebook quizzes

Those quizzes on Facebook are fun, and most are harmless. But some can be dangerous.

If you’re ever prompted to allow an app access to your Facebook, or to login with your Facebook credentials in an app or website, you should pay attention to what you’re authorizing that app to access.

Apps are developed all over the world by all sorts of people. You may have a higher level of trust in an app from a developer like Apple, Inc, and a lower level of trust in an app made by some kid in his basement.

Apps link to each other and share information, through a process you control. The information they share is stored in a variety of databases – some transient, some persistent.

Many of these databases are the targets of hackers. Or worse yet, they’re sold by unscrupulous app developers to spammers and phishers.

When you authorize an app to access your Facebook, you should measure the risk. To do this you’ll want to compare what the app wants access to with the potential of that app to be either nefarious or easily hackable. If it only wants to access your public profile, that’s generally harmless. If it wants to access your friend list, that means the names of all your friends will be shared with the app. If it wants to access your timeline that means anything you’ve ever posted to your “friends.” Same for photos, etc.

Now, you don’t want to live in fear. But consider minimizing your security footprint. EG: the larger the footprint, the larger the target.

Keep a small footprint by:

  1. Don’t put things on Facebook you wouldn’t want to get “out there.”
  2. Be as informed as possible and selective of which aspects of your Facebook apps you grant access to.
  3. Regularly remove apps you’ve given access to that no longer need it.

Check out the screenshots at the top of this post for more illustration.

Tips for Successful Emailing

Particularly in the workplace and schools, but also in our personal lives, being a savvy emailer will help you and your team reach optimal productivity. Here are a few tips for successful emailing we all should live by.


An Email is a Kind of Conversation

Think of email as a kind of conversation, distributed over time. The key here is the “over time” bit. Don’t be afraid to let an email “conversation” last a few days, or longer. You can also go back and pick up an old conversation where it left off when you have something new to add.


Group discussions in email should in general be at the policy level, so make sure to generalize situations and do not use individual student names or any personally identifiable information. One good rule of thumb is: when you write an email, even though it’s to a private group, imagine it being published in the newspaper.

Descriptive subject line

The subject line of an email should describe what the email conversation is about. Take care when you compose emails to write a descriptive subject line so folks know what the email and subsequent threads in the conversation are about.

One issue per email

The email conversation should be about a subject. And that subject should be what the email conversation is about. Just that one subject. One. This makes it easy for folks to sort, search, and find email pertaining to a particular subject. Don’t pile a number of separate issues into one email, it makes it difficult for folks to cohesively address the issue(s). Instead, create a separate email for each issue, each with their own descriptive subject line.

Don’t Thread Hijack

Thread hijacking is where you take an existing email conversation and reply to it with a whole new subject, not changing the subject line. Instead, start a new email with a new descriptive subject line, or look back through your emails and reply to the proper email conversation. This will help all of our inboxes make sense and make it easier to track issues.

Use Email for Conversations, not Content

Keep in mind everyone is busy and while email is an easy tool to jot down some thoughts, consider instead whether it’s more appropriate to jot those into a gDoc that can be linked in your email. EG: instead of a few paragraphs on the policy regarding underwater bead stacking, put those paragraphs in the draft policy gDoc and link to it from an email that says “here’s the initial policy on underwater bead stacking for your comments/edits: http://xyz.” (Check out this link, Google Docs in Plain English if you’re not sure what a gDoc is).

Pick a Good Profile Pic

For better or worse, your profile pic is there while people compose a reply to you. They’ll look at it while they type to you. Take a look at your pic, and imagine what it is like for others to see it while they’re typing. Are you staring them down confrontationally? Are you warm and welcoming and encouraging? If you’re not sure how your pic might appear to others, ask a spouse or friend. If in doubt, go with a nice picture of a flower.

The Size of Things

This isn’t a tech tip, but I think it helps in life in general to have a decent understanding of the size of things. So here are three links for you to check out:

Powers of Ten

The first is a video I watched in college called The Powers of Ten. It takes all the way from the size of our universe to subatomic particles. It’s pretty long for modern Internet standards (nine minutes) but worth it:

The Scale of the Universe

The second is a nice little interactive app by Cary Huang that lets you drag a slider to zoom in and out of the size of things. Like the Powers of Ten it can take you from the most macro to the most micro:


Observable Universe (in Pictures)

And lastly is a nifty little blog post from Zumfeed, “26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence.”

observable universe