Smart Reply, and Other Email Hacks for Managing Your Inbox


Smart Reply, and Other Email Hacks for Managing Your Inbox

Every member of your team spends too much time on email. A recent study from AtTask discovered that the average American spends 55 percent of their workday on tasks outside of their job role, including email, meetings, administrative tasks, and interruptions. The same study revealed that 14 percent of most work days is spent using email — nearly a seventh of all time spent in the office. For the quarter of us who receive more than 100 emails a day, that figure is higher. Of course, much of that communication and collaboration is necessary for completing work, but if the majority of a work day is not being devoted to primary job duties, something needs to change. 

Increasing your team’s productivity with smarter, faster replies is an easily adopted method for spending less time in your inbox. Most daily emails deserve personal, unique responses, but many do not. Even short emails require a handful of minutes that add up quickly. The good news is you don’t have to start from scratch with every response, and new email technology can expedite the process, allowing you to rinse, repeat, and get back to the task at hand.

Google’s Smart Reply and Outlook’s canned responses are just a few of the many email hacks that can save you and your team dozens of hours every week, increasing your productivity and performance. Testing this new technology and implementing a few older, tried-and-true methods for expedited responses can add value to any industry. Smarter email management entails more than an email folder system, so try a few of these email hacks for quicker response times.

Google’s Smart Reply

What began as Google’s April Fool’s joke in 2009 has become workable technology as of this month: automated email responses. Smart Reply for Gmail’s mobile app utilizes an artificial intelligence system that has chronicled and analyzed billions of emails, sussing them apart to determine likely and suitable responses. The result is a plugin that offers a selection of suggested replies for each email received and deemed suitable for the system.

Unlike the iPhone’s ability to decline calls with a set SMS explanation, Smart Reply is more than just a list of potential responses. It processes each email, determining its primary purpose, and then offers what it believes to be appropriate replies. If a colleague emails you and requests a meeting, Smart Reply may suggest you write back: “Sure, what time are you thinking?” or “Sorry, I can’t. I’m too busy.”

Like with all intuitive software, the system isn’t perfect. Long emails, contributing to complex comments, are not suited for short responses, and Smart Reply knows this. It will not suggest sentences for emails such as these, but like predictive text it can come in handy when answering messages that require little more than a yes or no. If you (like many of us) manage your email daily with your mobile device, try Smarth Reply for a week and see if it frees up more time for your primary responsibilities.

Canned responses

As impressive as the new Smart Reply technology may be, it isn’t always necessary. Microsoft Outlook and Gmail have offered canned responses for years, allowing users to select pre-written replies, similar to the options that appear when declining a call. For project managers who find themselves writing the same email over and over again, this quick hack will save time when no customization is needed.

Google and Outlook both require you to create and customize your own canned responses so they better conform to your voice and needs. If you regularly receive emails asking for your address or phone number, or whom to contact for a quote, you can create templates for replies. To use the plugin in Gmail:

  • Click on the gear in the top right corner of your Google Mail window.
  • Select Mail Settings, and select the Labs tab.
  • Find Canned Responses and click Enable.
  • Click Save Changes at the top or bottom of the page.
  • Compose a new message, then click the arrow in the lower-right corner. Choose Canned Responses from the menu, and Save > New canned response.

In Outlook:

  • Create a new message in Microsoft Outlook.
  • Compose your message in the body section.
  • Highlight the text and click Insert tab.
  • Click Quick Parts.
  • Choose Save Selection and write a title or name for the response.
  • Click Save, then delete the message.
  • Click Quick Parts to find and insert your canned response.

Keyboard shortcuts

Like with your desktop, memorizing and using keyboard shortcuts in your Gmail or Outlook can expedite the process of sending and moving through emails quickly. Anytime you can keep your fingers on the keyboard is an automatic time saver. 

If you don’t yet, implement these keyboard shortcuts in Gmail (which are turned on by default) and consider the long list of shortcuts accessible in Settings:

  • Send message: Ctrl + Enter (Mac: ⌘ + Enter
  • Advance to next window: Ctrl + . (Mac: ⌘ + .) 
  • Go to previous window: Ctrl + , (Mac: ⌘ + ,)
  • Add Cc recipients: Ctrl + Shift + c (Mac: ⌘ + Shift + c) 
  • Add Bcc recipients: Ctrl + Shift + b (Mac: ⌘ + Shift + b
  • Change “from” address: Ctrl + Shift + f (Mac: ⌘ + Shift + f)
  • Focus main window: Shift + Esc

The list of Microsoft Outlook keyboard shortcuts is significantly longer, but begin with these:

  • Send an email: Ctrl+Enter/Alt+S
  • Reply to an email: R
  • Delete an email: Del
  • Archive: E
  • Mark an email as junk: J
  • Move to a folder: V

Implementing these email hacks for quicker replies is just one way to make your team more productive and efficient. A collaborative work management (CWM) tool like Smartsheet can save even more time by providing a nearly email-free method to project management.  Sync discussions, attachments, and calendars in your Smartsheet to avoid jumbled information in endless email threads. Smartsheet also integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Google so you can add and update tasks, budget details, dates, and more without ever leaving your inbox. See for yourself how your email can be more efficient by starting your free Smartsheet trial today.


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