When new Gmail features pop up most folk (in my experience) click the ‘later’ tab, putting off the inevitable need to change to a new way of working with their emails. This happened en-masse when Google introduced the new compose system – instead of emails being written using a compose window that took up most of the content area in Gmail they are written in much smaller windows that pop up a bit like chat windows. Personally I love embracing change, but I can certainly understand why some people are happy to remain just the way they are thank you very much. Incidentally I find the new compose method incredibly useful because I can work on several emails at once without obscuring the inbox view or opening lots of new browser tabs.
Gmail categorised inbox tabs – why you need them.
Whereas putting off the inevitable mandatory move to the new Gmail compose system is probably not the biggest dent you could put in your productivity I think choosing not to use the inbox category could well be a mistake. For years now the advice from the productivity gurus has been to ignore your emails, at least for a part of the day, which is a nice idea but in reality I’m not sure many of us can actually resist the temptation to try and clear our inbox. The logic is sound; trying to clear your inbox is like trying to plug a mile while breach in a dam with thirty thousand needles.
Email filtering, tabs and the joy of business blinkers.
Filters are a great way of teaching Gmail to automatically sort incoming mail, but the issue has always been that you have to deal with regular emails on a case by case basis (unless you use smart labels, but lets not confuse the issue), they don’t take account of one-off emails that don’t require your immediate attention. If you get a lot of mail (hey, who doesn’t) then setting up filters can be time consuming and can lead to a situation whereby you have hundreds of filters but still can’t hold back the deluge. There’s a better way: embrace the (oh so temporary) chaos and switch to the new categorised inbox tabs system.
Switching to inbox tabs allows Gmail to create far more effective filters than you could ever manage by yourself. Emails sent directly to you or emails that appear to be important are still delivered to the inbox (a.k.a. ‘primary’ tab), but promotional emails and social networking related emails will manifest in tabs across the top of the screen instead of clogging up your inbox. The system appears to learn quite fast what should and shouldn’t be treated as primary mail. If you spot an email sitting in a tab that you think is inappropriately categorised then grab it and drop it into the tab it should appear in – this helps Gmail learn, and Gmail learns fast.
But what about those business blinkers?
If you really can’t resist having a crack at your email inbox you’ll now find the task a lot more manageable, you’re still getting the same amount of mail but now the mail that can wait a while isn’t getting in the way of messages that need dealing with immediately. Business blinkers.
I now check my ‘social’ and ‘promotions’ emails just once or twice a day (usually 0n my phone) and deal with all the notifications in moments instead of taking time out from working on more important emails to clear the chaff.
So don’t be scared, embrace the chaos, I very much doubt you’ll regret it.