The new Gmail is a time-saver!

Gmail logo

Essential redesign

Ok, apart from the much-needed makeover the new Gmail is absolutely awesome. A lot has been said about the snooze feature which is certainly very handy: if you think an email can wait, you just snooze it for a later date (think of it as a reminder).

The other important feature is the “expiry date” you can set on an email. After this date, the recipient cannot access it anymore (very useful for private messages or messages that are no longer needed after a specific date). However, the three features below really stand out for me and their importance hasn’t been stressed enough.

New Gmail, material redesign
Source: (Official Gmail blog)

Sidebar: Tasks, Calendar, Keep

A sidebar is crucial because when writing a message you need to be able to have your calendar open next to it so you can schedule your meetings and important dates. No need to open a separate calendar window and waste time or lose track of what you were about to say.

Your tasks and to-dos are also presented next to your messages so you can easily organise your day. Same for your Keep notes. Let’s say you’re running some errands outside and you take a picture of an item or note down an important address in Google Keep, something you need to email later on. When you sit down to write that email, your Google Keep notes are right next to you. How handy is that?

Visible attachments in your Inbox

This is true! You no longer need to open each different email individually to check if the file you’re looking for is there. Now attachments can be displayed under the title of the email in your Inbox. Just click on them and they are instantly downloaded on your hard drive. A time saver? Definitely. It makes you wonder why on earth this hadn’t been there in the first place!

AI in your email: Smart compose

This is the latest feature (you can enable it by going to the new Gmail settings and enable “Experimental access” in the General tab). What it basically does is auto-complete your sentences with suggestions as shown below. Neat!

New Gmail, material redesign
Source: (Official Gmail blog)

Should I switch from Outlook.com?

It depends. The classic folder-structure of Outlook.com seems to resemble more they typical business email clients. The interface might still look a bit cleaner for paid customers, but for free uses the big ads on the right-hand side of the screen are distracting. Outlook.com does have a wonderful Sweep function that can immediately get rid of emails with the same title or content. But then again, the improved Gmail functionality is hard to beat: who doesn’t want to have access to their calendar, important notes and tasks right next to them while composing a new message? Along, with the visible attachments right in your Inbox, the new Gmail could be a winner, saving you lots of valuable time.

The importance of not waiting for others

It is important not to wait for others, at least not always. Sometimes it is important to just do things on your own. This can be anything from having fun, travelling or taking a spiritual journey. Let’s say you want to stream a new series or movie online. You have flatmates or friends who’ve said they want to watch it with you but they keep finding excuses. They are tired or lazy that day, they’ve had last minute arrangements with their girlfriends or boyfriends, or they’ve just decided to make unimportant phone calls and gossip with other friends first. Well, screw them! All I know you could have watched not one but two new episodes of that series. Or two different movies and manage to get some work done in between (and we all know how much more productive we can be when there’s a treat waiting for us). As for us the most highbrow fellow, how many times did we want to watch that obscure film from that Scandinavian director but our dear friends (or others) kept asking us to wait for them. Why should our spiritual development (because that is what high art is all about) depend on the laziness of others?

If you’re like me, having to wait for someone usually makes you unproductive. Let’s say you arrange to meet with a friend downtown to grab something to eat or for a quick coffee and chat. Most people would usually try to get some productive work done until then. But if you’re the type of person who gets easily worried about things, your focus will be on the meeting, no matter how informal it is. What happens is you might start working or running some errands but your mind is going to be on that meeting. You are aware of time going by and the meeting approaching. Then you receive a text message from your friend asking you to meet one hour later instead. You are being polite so you say it’s cool and, what the heck, an hour later is fine. Still, you try to do something with your free time but you can’t focus 100%. And things get really bad when you receive a new text cancelling the meeting with some lame excuse. Then you start to get really upset. Not only have you wasted so much time when you could have been working or doing something you had planned to, but you also miss your chance to get out. Had you known in advance you’d have made arrangements with someone else instead.

When I used to live in London, I’d often go to classical music concerts or to the cinema, usually once or twice a week (student tickets were really cheap back then so it was easy for me). In the beginning, I’d usually ask friends of mine to come along. They’d say sure and sometimes they’d ask me to book tickets for them too. Of course, being really polite, I went ahead with the bookings. Only to receive a text message on the day of the event (never a phone call, always a text) with another lame excuse asking me to cancel the tickets. Sometimes it was too late for me to do so and I’d pay the extra cost. Of course, I’d usually text back and play it cool. “Sure no problem, I just don’t think I can get the money back for the booking at this time,” I’d say. Sometimes my closest friends would text back right away to reassure me that they would definitely pay the ticket price. But more often than not they didn’t.

I had learnt my lesson. After a few similar incidents (OK, after many similar incidents), I decided I would go to the events on my own. And you know what? If people wanted to come along, I’d tell them that I’d already booked my ticket (which was true). Sometimes they would join me anyway. But after a while, I realised that I got too much pressure from them. Quite often they wouldn’t like the concert or the movie. Feeling responsible for that, I’d try to cheer them up. You know, offer to go and buy them a drink afterwards, try to talk about a topic they like. That would work. But I’d feel exhausted after a while. So I took the decision to start going everywhere on my own. And guess what. All of a sudden I started enjoying more all these events without worrying what the person sitting next to me would be thinking. What is more, now I was even free to express myself. I’d laugh out loud with a slapstick comedy joke without worrying that my friend mightn’t have found it funny. I’d let myself be moved by the sheer beauty of a concert.

There are two incidents worth quoting here. The first one was a viewing of the Kieslowski Three Colours trilogy at an arthouse cinema. I went there with a good friend of mine. For those who haven’t seen the trilogy, I won’t give away any spoilers, but let me just say that the trilogy culminates in the finale of the last film (Red). I recall anticipating that moment, that great climax where the trilogy makes sense as a whole, and when that moment finally arrived my buddy burst out laughing. He was like, “Isn’t it funny how the director pulls this off at the finale?” OK, now… Funny??? Jaw-dropping, maybe. You could perhaps say magisterial. Virtuosic even. But funny, ha-ha funny???

I vividly remember another occasion: it happened to be my name day and to celebrate it I went to a concert of Beethoven’s 9th (either at the Barbican or the Royal Festival Hall, can’t remember which one). A friend of mine had joined me, someone who also shared a passion for classical music. I remember being totally moved by the slow movement and its emotional impact overwhelmed me so much, I was doing my best to hold back my tears.

After the end of that movement there was a brief pause, the perfect moment for me to reach out to get a tissue, sniffling, my eyes watery, at which point my friend whispered to my ear: “Oh dear, I hope you didn’t catch a cold on the way here!” For me, that had been the anti-climax of the whole evening and I still remember finding that comment so off-putting. Needless to say, I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the concert. The Ode to Joy turned out to be an Ode to Frustration for me.

 

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-wearing-white-top-sitting-beside-window-769584/

Milanote – Ideal Notes for Creative Work

I have been using Milanote since its beta stage before 2017 and I’ve found myself using it even more since it became widely available.

The Next Web wrote that “Milanote is the Evernote for creatives.” In order to visualise Milanote’s interface, imagine a big, blank canvas where you pin your ideas, images, quotes, drawings, checklists — things that are called cards. The difference between other note-taking apps is its aim.

True, there are a few good note-taking apps to capture your notes. But the thing with these apps is that once your note is stored, it’s sometimes lost in a plethora of tags and folders and it might take a while until you need to access it again. With Milanote you place your cards (i.e. notes) visually on a board, literally dragging and sticking them exactly where you want them to be. From then onwards, you can start working on them right away. Try connecting them to other cards or expanding your thoughts on them by adding images, URL links and lists. In a way, instead of just capturing and storing notes, you brainstorm and elaborate on them directly, thus making sure they will not end up forgotten under a pile of other notes.

Demo from Milanote website (https://www.milanote.com/example/creative-brief?from=brand-designers)

For the time being, you have the option to add notes, images, links, columns and boards. From these categories, perhaps columns and boards need some more explaining.

Essentially a column is a field where you can add formatted text, bullet lists, checklists and quotes. As for boards, think of them like a folder linking to a new board (a sub-board), or like a folder containing other files.

Lastly, there is also the option to draw lines and arrows. Needless to say, all the above options offer you some basic customisation tools. For example, you can choose different colours, icons or images, to distinguish between them.

How does that work in practice? Let’s say that I’m working on a novel and I want to create a character map, showing all the different character relations. I would usually create a new board icon for each one of my characters and use arrows in different colours to show the relationship with one another. Then each time I’d click on a character, I’d be taken to the characters sub-board where I could include an image for my character, a list of his personality traits, other characters associated with him, etc.

Another example would be to create a storyboard to function as a chapter outline, something like Scrivener’s cork board, where I’d map out each scene as a different note, complete with character profiles, descriptions and images, as well as a brief description. Then I could rearrange the scenes by dragging and dropping them on the main board.

Storyboard demo from Milanote website (https://www.milanote.com/example/storyboard?from=brand-designers)

There are plenty of options for all kinds of visual creations. Its target group includes authors, architects, designers, artists, engineers and many other professionals and freelancers — to mention only a few of the people who could benefit from such a cleverly designed piece of software.

Milanote also offers some basic collaboration features. You can share your boards with friends, or invite someone to view or even edit your boards.

All in all, this is a first rate product but I’d have to mention a couple of things some of you might consider as limitations. First, for the time being, there are no apps for Android or iOS, but these are coming soon according to the website. After all, you can always open your browser and work using the web version on your android tablet or iPad. Second, the price might be a bit expensive for some: The free version allows you to use 100 cards, which is a generous amount for say, outlining a single project. But if you need to work on more projects then you might need more than that. For unlimited notes, you need a PRO account which costs $12.50 a month or $9.99 if billed annually. Compared to Evernote’s pricing plan, which might not have the visual boards of Milanote but does have a ton of features, the price could seem a bit steep.

However, as it is, Milanote could become an essential tool for people in the creative professions. And while still in its infancy, it is a promising product with a great idea behind it and a professional outlook.

 

Featured image (c) Milanote website