My Favorite Gmail Extension : How to Get Things Done Faster with ActiveInbox

October 14th, 2012

Image Credit : AGBeat

Back in 2006 I wrote about how I got my Outlook Inbox to ZERO emails, and how it changed my life. Today I don’t use Microsoft Outlook but I have successfully fully adapted the “Getting-Things-Done” (GTD) principles to Gmail, and if you’re interested in dealing with email overload in Gmail, read on :)

The solution is ActiveInbox, and I’ll get to what this Gmail plug-in has allowed me to do:

  • I have ZERO emails in my inbox even though I receive upwards of 200 emails a day on average – which means everything is sorted out in a coherent manner.
  • I choose to only see the emails I’m supposed to act on today (This is only true with the paid version)- which means I weed out everything that need to be done later and focus on important tasks due right away.  Nothing gets missed or accidently forgotten – ever.
  • I never lose track of emails where I am awaiting a reply – which means less stress when trying to follow up.

So here’s how a normal workflow runs for me once you install the ‘Active Inbox plug-in’:

  1. Check email only once per hour or so, nothing more.  Processing your emails in bulk is much less distracting.
  2. Open the unread email. 
  3. Archive everything that does not need a reply or action after you read it.
  4. If it’s a 2 minute reply, just hit reply and archive the email. 
  5. Click the ‘Waiting On’ button if you’re expecting a reply (Set the deadline date if you’re on a paid version so you can follow up easily).
  6. If it’s something that can wait till later, click the ‘Action’ button to ensure you act on it before you archive (Again, set a deadline date if you’re on the paid version – this will allow you to later filter out only the tasks due today, tomorrow etc.).
  7. Once your inbox is empty, just do/follow up everything which is due today, or re-assign it to a later date. 
  8. Say goodbye to email overload.

Easy right? 

Here’s a 4 minute video which should give you a lowdown on the look and feel of the whole thing.

Video Bonus:

If you’ve got an hour to spare, this is Merlin Mann talking to Googlers in Mountainview back in 2007 about the concept of ‘Inbox Zero’

This is undoubtedly my favorite Gmail extension of ALL time.  It works for both Gmail in Chrome and Firefox (Sorry Internet Explorer users).  The free version is pretty good, but if you use Gmail a lot- especially for work, upgrading to the plus version is a must have.  At $24.95 a year, it is worth every penny, and remains one the very few web services which I have actually paid for. 

Friedbeef’s Tech is Back :)

September 3rd, 2012


Hey all,

This is probably the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from blogging since I started, but I’m really glad to be back – and the regular posts will resume shortly.

Long story short, I collapsed doing a half-marathon on June 24th 2012, and have been recovering ever since. For reasons which are still sketchy, my heart stopped and at one point, I was literally dead for more than 10 minutes. I really have to thank God (and everyone that was praying – including my whole church) that no permanent damage occurred especially to the brain, and I’m on the road to a full recovery (even back at work now).

I just want to say BIG THANK YOU to every one of you for your prayers, visits, gifts, wishes, notes, Facebook, email and Twitter messages (I read them all), and encouragement throughout this whole ordeal. It really meant a lot to me and my family during this tough time, and it helped me recover much faster.

Finally, also big thanks especially to YOU, as reader of my blog. It’s because of people like you who visit my site, that I’ve been able to meet so many new wonderful friends, both online and in real life. Because you read my work, it gives me the drive and passion to keep going on, no matter how busy I have always been, and you’ve changed and shaped my life for the better.

Anyhow, sticking to what I set out to do with this blog in 2005 – I’m truly honored that so many of you have read, and continue to read – and I hope to continue to be helping people “solve everyday problems with simple technology” for a very, very long time :)

How To Find the Perfect Color Palette For Your Website

July 19th, 2012

When a visitor lands on your website, you have only a couple of seconds to make a lasting impression. (A positive lasting impression, I might add.) The easiest way to turn a reader away from your website is to have an annoying color palette with disjointed colors that don’t complement each other. A bad color scheme does two disservices to your blog: makes it look ugly and makes it harder for readers to concentrate. Essentially, without a solid color scheme, your blog takes a hit in terms of aesthetics and functionality. These seven different online tools and communities will help you easily find a color palette than you can draw from for years! You generally have six colors in a palette – you can use these to design email submission forms, header tags, links, logos, and more! Finding a color palette for your website is a must.

Tools For Finding Great Palettes Created By Others
1. Colour Lovers Design Community For Finding Pre-Created Color Palettes

The easiest way to get your website set up with a professional color scheme, in my opinion, is to use one that somebody else has made. The chances that another website is using the same scheme is low, and it wouldn’t be a problem even if they were. Colors on different WordPress themes make the sites look completely different all the time! For example, while you might be using the provided blue for links, the other site may be using it for titles and header tags. Note when you’re picking color palettes and designing your website that you should have two types of text on your site: clickable and un-clickable. All clickable text should be one color, and all un-clickable text should be another color. This makes it much easier for readers to navigate your site. Colour Lovers lets you choose from thousands of palettes, and you can sort the creations by certain colors! For example, if you know that you want purple to be the primary color of your site, typing in purple will bring up tons of relevant palettes! You can even search by a specific HEX #, but this will probably not give you a terribly huge pool of results to pick from.

2. Kuler Offers Color Palettes As Well As A Creation Tool

I decided to put Kuler under the category for find pre-made color palettes, since I really like their selection more than I like their creation tool. Like Colour Lovers, you can search designs by using a keyword or hex #, and there are plenty of palettes to browse through! You should easily be able to find one that fits the tone of your website perfectly. It’s very similar to Colour Lovers, but using Kuler in conjunction with the prior tool will give you a larger selection of palettes to choose from, ensuring that you end up with a quality set of six colors. The tool on Kuler allows you to choose a base color and then to move the other colors around this base. I would rather use some of the tools I talk about later which let you automatically generate colors, so I would pay more attention to the pre-created palettes on Kuler.

3. ColorBlender For Viewing Many Color Palettes At Once

Color Blender is another awesome source for web design color palettes. Unlike Kuler and ColourLovers, http://www.colorblender.com/ lays out their palettes in a way that allows you to see many of schemes at the same time. This gives you a better idea of how your palette would compare to other sites in terms of brightness and intensity. Picking colors while isolated from other examples is a recipe for design disaster, and ColorBlender prevents that from ever happening with its unique design. Furthermore, you can search ColorBlender by Hex # and RGB scale, but not by color. (Example: you can’t just type in orange and get results.) ColorBlender is an awesome site, and second only to Colour Lovers, in my opinion.

4. InspiredMag’s List of 50+ Sites With Great Color Schemes

If you’re looking for some “real world” examples of color schemes, then look no further! There are more than 50 sites on this list by InspiredMag, and all of them have great color designs. Reading this post is a great way to find color schemes that work for your niche, and for comparing your created color to a similar shade. (If you’re trying to create a certain color, opening this page in a new tab and then comparing to a certain site would probably help a lot!) Visit this post by InspiredMag and get your creativity flowing!

Tools For Creating Your Own Color Palettes
5. 5K Lets You Choose Base Colors With An RGB Slider

ColorMatch 5K is one of the best ways to create your own custom color palettes. Often when designers just try to handpick colors and put them together into a scheme, things don’t turn out as planned. With ColorMatch 5K, you are presented with an RGB slider that lets you choose a base color. Like the aforementioned tool in Kuler, you can create five other colors to go with this color. Why is it better than the Kuler tool? It’s much easier to use. Instead of picking the five other colors and running the risk of messing up a set of complementary colors, ColorMatch 5K automatically chooses the complimentary colors for you, and it’s pretty good at doing so. I only played with it for a couple of minutes, and I devised a few awesome color palettes. (Just so you know, the color palette that I use on my personal website about geek culture was one that I obtained from Colour Lovers.)

6. ColorCombos Color Palette Tool Creates Sample Designs


Seeing a color palette in the typical form – six colors lined up next to each other – is nice, but it’s not as good as what ColorCombos can do. Here’s how I would suggest using ColorCombos: use a tool such as ColorMatch 5K to create your color palette, and then check how it looks by using ColorCombos. This site allows you to view a color palette as something other than a list of colors – it will use your colors to add color to an image. They allow you to choose from a cupcake, paintbrush, paint can, pencil, and more! This is a great way to see what your colors will look like on your site, and not just how they go together. ColorCombos also has color palettes that you can browse as well as a color creating tool, so this is the real deal.

7. Color Scheme Designer

Color Scheme Designer is the best color palette creator on the internet. (Says me, but I’ve seen a lot of color palette creators.) You get to choose a base color yes, and from there on out things work much like the ColorMatch 5K, with one exception – you get the ease of creation plus the customization! You can choose from mono, complement, triad, tetrad, analogic, and accented analogic for creating your palette! You should try out the tool in order to see what each of these do, since they are difficult to explain. This is a wonderful tool for creating amazing color schemes in just minutes!

This post was guest written by the talented Jack Kieffer who also runs a blog called ‘Autism Plugged in‘ which reviews apps that deal with Autism. Thanks for submitting a post to help Friedbeef’s Tech to keep on going :)

5 Free Web Tools to Ramp up Team Collaboration

June 22nd, 2012

handshake

Team collaboration online can be a painful thing: dissociated emails, scattered attachments and miscommunication can make even the most angelic of teams devolve into an unproductive mess. Whether you’re working on a school project or a multi-million dollar investment portfolio, if you’re pining for a way to get your team to work together effectively on the cloud, here are a few nifty solutions for you:

1. How To Stay On Top Of Things With Your Team With Your Mobile Device

With the increasing prevalence of the iPhone and Android, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that your colleague or potential business partner has a smartphone or tablet in his or her possession; especially if you’re working in the fields of design, software or entertainment. Do and Asana are two of the most innovative social productivity apps to ever grace the App Store, and are excellent tools for helping the whole team stay updated all the time.

Where they excel is in their innovation of providing an on-the-fly platform where team members can be brought up to speed 10x quicker than you normally would be able to. With push notifications, a chat client, a to-do list, and a desktop app, you can just imagine how much faster tasks can be communicated along among your team members.

2. How To Keep Track Of Your Project’s Progress At a Glance

Trello is a unique and innovative method of team planning which gives you a visual representation of the multiple projects that your team is presently working on. It works by acting as a sort of pin-board which allows you to pin “Cards” (which you’ve presumably categorized by your different projects) onto it, where you can track the progress of everyone’s individual tasks in all the projects at one glance. Think of it as providing a bird’s eye view of your entire to-do list.

Using the proprietary Card system, you can organize people, dates, tasks and plans as and when you need them in a visually stimulating way, similar to how you would use a regular physical pin-board to organize your work flow, except with the added power of social networking.

By this, it means that when a team member has completed his or her task, they can update you via their own Trello, or even suggest better ways of performing the task by editing the original Trello. To put it simply, it’s a way of archiving all those pesky emails on updates and suggestions in a logical and coherent way for everyone.

3. How To Draw Diagrams & Flowcharts In A Collaborative Environment

Diagrams and flowcharts make for excellent feedback tools on historical performance or as teaching guides; unfortunately, creating them using Microsoft Visio can only be best described as “suffer now so it’s easier later”, putting off many a fresh entrée and robbing valuable time from even the most task-oriented team manager. Thankfully, there’s Cacoo, a free online diagramming solution which caters extensively with the layman in mind.

Firstly, it makes diagram and flowchart drawing a breeze (compared to Visio), enabling you to produce visual feedback for your team in an efficient manner. Secondly, it provides a cloud-based platform so that everything you create gets instantly shared among team members. And thirdly, it allows for real-time collaboration on your diagrams – so your team can work at different workstations on the same diagram – instead of having to meticulously pass a completed sheet from one person to another, saving time and frustration and improving communication at the same time.

4. How To Have “Face-To-Face” Conversations With Your Team Members

If you missed Google Wave, and want an alternative, Co-Meeting provides a very similar experience. While the features provided are not as in-depth as Google Wave, it definitely harkens one back to similar feelings of productivity, and is as great a communicative tool in almost every way. As far as recommendations for online team-collaboration go, this is on top of my list.

5. How To Share Files With Team Members… Without Email!

Tired of sending emails with attachments back and forth, and losing track of half of them, half of the time? I don’t doubt that anyone who regularly uses a computer for work hasn’t experienced this kind of dilemma, and it’s high time we found a way to overcome it.

The solution comes in the form of Dropbox, a highly innovative desktop client which automatically uploads anything you put in its allocated folder upon the moment you click ‘save’. This is like magic for a single user – and with the ability to share Dropbox contents with other Dropbox users, it creates a web of inter-connected people with a host of amazing benefits.

For one, everything you edit from the moment you click ‘save’ gets instantly uploaded to the cloud, so your team members have instant access to the most updated form of documents or spreadsheets at any point in time. Secondly, this completely negates the need for thumbdrives, saving precious time (and for particularly sensitive information, money) as you work on-the-go to meet pressing deadlines. If nothing else, it’s completely free, and creates an extensive network with which to share your assignments, financial reports, to-do lists and what not with your team members in a completely hassle-free way.

This post was written by Aaron Pek

5 Great Ideas For Creating Successful Landing Pages

June 2nd, 2012

plane landing

Landing pages are very different from other generic pages of a website or blog because of the very reason that they are goal driven. A landing page, which is sometimes also referred as a “lead capture page” or a “lander” has specific goals, geared towards the publishers business strategy.

In short, landing pages are created to convert site visitors, leads and prospects into customers or clients. The more conversions a landing page generates, the more successful it is.

The copy of a landing page is a critical factor as far as click through rates are concerned. You can write a descriptive copy of 2000 words and throw it on your landing page but there is a high chance that it will convert poorly than a 100 word copy. Remember that landing pages are not typical blog posts and hence, the usual rules that apply to blog posts and article pages may not go very well with a landing page copy.

Most publishers are under the impression that the more descriptive and useful a landing page copy, the better will be the conversion. This is nothing but a fallacy and in most occasions, you will see that a really poor and short copy is performing better than its descriptive counterpart. 

In this article, we will explain why some landing pages converts and what are the general traits of successful and convincing landing pages.

1. Do One Thing Well

It is very important to do one thing really really well. Most of the times, publishers make their sales copy noisy by adding too much information. This will confuse your leads as the more options they have, the more likely is that he won’t click a single option and prefer quitting.

Remember that one landing page should have one focus and only one focus. Do not try to achieve everything from a single landing page, there are chances that you won’t achieve anything and the lead will be offended with your ambitious endeavors.

Let us take an example to understand this:

The above page looks attractive, has a substantial amount of content and calls to action. But there is a big problem in the root – too many options. The focus is missing.
A typical visitor who is interested in weight loss tools, should be shown weight loss tools and only weight loss tools. The Food recipes thingy in the main navigation is thus useless and should be removed.

Also, the publishers should create a separate page for testimonials and instant call back as they are getting in the way of the focus of the page, which is weight loss.
Now lets take a look at another landing page which has a clear focus


The above page has a single objective – capture the email address of the visitor. There are no other options to try and hence, the conversion rate will be much higher.

2. Headlines

A headline makes a huge difference and convinces the customer about your product. If you design an excellent landing page and throw away a poorly written headline, the desired conversion will never happen.
The moment a potential customer lands on your landing page, he will read the headline first, . A headline also reflects what you are offering, so it is an important factor which decides whether visitors are getting your message or not.

Write short, attractive and catchy headlines which conveys the message and forces the user to click. Do not write a very elaborate headline or stuff it with words that are found only in the dictionary. Use simple, yet convincing language.

Let us take another example to understand the effect of great headlines on landing pages:

Case B has a more convincing headline which focuses on the benefits while the focus of case A is shady and partly useful.

3. Prove Your Credibility With Testimonials.

Testimonials are a great way to gain trust and attention from first time visitors and it is a proven way to establish yourself as an authority. However, a landing page should never be crowded with testimonials all over the page. It is considered a good practice to create a full featured page for testimonials and place a link of the testimonial page on the landing page.

Please bear in mind that the testimonials should come from genuine users and should never be faked. A single mistake and you will lose all credibility in one instant.
Here is an example landing page which retains its focus and gains visitor trust through a brief yet compelling testimonial

4. Call To Action

Without a proper call to action, your landing page is only a show piece. Your landing page must have a clear “call to action” which equals what you want the visitor to do, once they have gone through your landing page’s copy. The less calls to action a page has, the better it will convert because the click through rate is inversely proportional to the number of calls to action on any given landing page.
Placement is also very important and the call to action should blend with the existing design of the copy. Never use aggressive colors, ugly fonts and dark backgrounds. Your call to action should feel easy to the eyes and it should invoke “a sense of action”.

Before you implement a call to action on your landing page, ask yourself – what is the single action I want my visitors to do? Here is a good example, where the publishers wants to gain fans for his Facebook page and hence, he has placed the call to action right in the center.

5. Split Testing is a must

Split testing (also known as A/B testing) is a way to test two different versions of a page on similar situations and track which one converts better. You never know which design is going to work and which copy is going to annoy your visitors. Assumption in internet marketing is a big No No and you should never pre-judge your visitors, their behaviour or needs.

Split testing takes a lot of time and perseverance, never hurry and arrive to a conclusion based on your assumptions. make small changes to your existing copy, put up the new copy on a separate landing page and track conversions using Google Analytics. If this copy performs better, tweak it again and make a new landing page and test it again. This rigorous procedure has to be continued until you have achieved your optimal conversion rate.

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for a customized resort destination site for businesses and individuals called vacation secrets, and who also consults for a printing company that offers a variety of smartpress options.