This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series A better workflow for e-mailed tasks

One of the biggest contributors to e-mail clutter are those messages you hang onto not because you need to read them (again) but because they are acting as de facto task reminders. Indeed, many of these implicit tasks don’t need to hit your inbox in the first place: with a better workflow, you can ensure they go directly to the context where you can act upon them.

In 7 Days to Inbox Zero, I recommended creating a “workflows needed” folder to round up all those e-mails that you suspect could land somewhere more useful than your inbox, or be processed more efficiently once they land there. In this series, I’m working my way through one of the biggest (former) contributors to my own inbox clutter: Google Docs invitations. When I noticed how many of the messages in my “workflows needed” folder were actually invitations to Google Docs, I figured there had to be a better solution.

And when I assessed how I actually use Google Docs (step 1 of 5 steps to moving task management out of your inbox), I realized that it would be much more useful to see them in the same context as the rest of my documents: namely, in my documents folder. With a little Googling, I found a blog post on Right Now in Tech that described using Syncplicity with Dropbox in order to sync Google Docs to your desktop. (The Dropbox part isn’t necessary to get Syncplicity to keep Google Docs in sync with your desktop, but since I already use Dropbox to back up my Mac’s documents, it’s great to have a way of keeping Google Docs synced to a folder inside my Dropbox folder.)

Thanks to the availability off a Mac client for Syncplicity, the process is even easier than Right Now in Tech describes. Here’s how you can set up Syncplicity to back up Google Docs to your Mac (it looks like the process for a Windows machine is very similar), and to ensure that any changes you make to a document on your computer automatically get synced back to its Google Docs version.

  1. Sign up for the free version of Syncplicity. Make sure that you sign up using the e-mail address that you use for Google Docs; if you have multiple Google accounts, and use Docs in all of them, you’re going to have to pick just one for this purpose. (Sorry!)
  2. Download Syncplicity’s Mac software, and install it.
  3. Create a folder called GoogleDocs inside your Dropbox folder.
  4. Find the Syncplicity icon in your Finder’s menu bar, and then click and hold for the drop down menu that lets you “Add Folder…” to the list of folders Syncplicity syncs for you.
  5. Log into Syncplicity in your web browser, and select “Google Docs” from the main navigation bar at the top of the page.
  6. Hit the big button that says “Link to  Google Docs”; if you have multiple Google accounts, you’ll be prompted to choose the one that you want associated with Syncplicity. As per my recommendation in step 1, choose the Google account you use most often with Google Docs (I recommended making this the same account you use to sign up for Syncplicity, just to avoid confusing yourself.) Click “grant access” when prompted.
  7. Syncplicity now gives you some options. Under “Which Syncplicity folder would you like to sync with Google Docs?”, click on the “Existing folders” drop-down, where you should find the GoogleDocs folder that you already added to Syncplicity in your menu bar. I recommend leaving all the other settings on their defaults. Click the Finish! button, and you’re done setting up Syncplicity.

Syncplicity should now download everything in your Google Docs account to that Google Docs folder you just created on your computer. If you edit one of those files on your local machine, it will automagically get synced back to Google.

The beauty of this system extends far beyond e-mail de-cluttering. I much prefer editing documents on my local versions of Word and (especially) Excel to working in Google Docs, and the automatic sync makes that choice effortless. Best of all, I have access to Google Docs during those (admittedly rare) moments when I’m offline, though I wouldn’t make use of that to work collaboratively on a Google Doc that was going through rapid team-based edits, since it could lead to version confusion (at least for me).

Now that I’ve got Google Docs automatically synced to my machine, I don’t need to see all those clutter-y e-mail invitations. In my next post in this series I’ll talk about how to get rid of them.

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