If you use the Gmail mobile app and luckily manage to address every email in your inbox, you’re greeted with the following:
“You’re all done!” says something about how Google views email. Taking that same view of treating email like tasks rather than conversations might get you to pristine Inbox Zero more often.
Emails are distinctly different from verbal communication. When we talk to one another, the words hang in the air for just a moment, then disappear completely. Only our collective memory preserves them. Email, on the other hand, lasts forever. It won’t go away until you make it go away. Gmail’s Inbox app has been an evolving experiment for a while now, but its feature set is getting to a point where those looking to make email go away can gain some valuable tools. It’s also an example of an interface with a clear focus on actual user needs, rather that traditional expectations, an approach we value at Eastern Standard. If you’re looking to make the switch from Gmail to Inbox, here’s an overview of what’s new and how you can use it.
If you’re going to treat your Inbox as a to-do list, why have more than one to-do list? Tasks are a little-known feature in Gmail that have already made this somewhat possible, but Inbox’s Reminders are an upgrade that put your general to-dos right next to your email. Adding and managing them is very simple (simplicity being the heart and soul of Inbox), and they have Snooze and Pin options, just like emails. Reminders can also be created from existing email threads, eliminating the need to pop open a thread to remember why you haven’t archived it yet.
A semi-evolution of the “important” status in Gmail, Inbox has pins. Pins are used to highlight important emails or reminders, keeping them outside of Bundles so you can treat them individually and allowing you to filter your Inbox to see pinned items only. Unlike the “important” status in Gmail, no new threads are pinned automatically, so your filtered view of the Inbox will give you a static list to work on.
Snooze is an incredibly helpful feature in Inbox when used effectively, something only possible in Gmail when using plugins like Streak. Snooze lets you kick an email or reminder out of your inbox so it can come back at a point in the future when you can complete it or follow up if waiting for a response. You can also snooze emails to “someday,” which puts them in their own separate list you can refer to later.
Labels in Gmail are converted to Bundles in Inbox. This feature, in particular, will force you to change your email workflow if you’re used to labeling emails in your Inbox and archiving later. Bundles put all of the emails together as one expandable item in your Inbox, which is excellent for situations where several threads need to be handled together or for simply keeping your overall Inbox more comprehensible. However, this strangely can only happen for Bundles that have an automatic filter assigning new emails to it. If you have a Bundle you manage entirely manually, you cannot group items in the Inbox by that Bundle or assign items to that Bundle without removing the email from your Inbox.
This is brand new to the web version of Inbox and provides suggestions for near-instant email replies. It’s an interesting feature with some impressive predictive power behind it, but it’s only going to save a few seconds when it occasionally gets it right, so it’s unlikely to make or break your decision to go with Inbox.
Marking Emails As “Done”
This is not significantly different from Archiving in Gmail, but comes with a prominent, satisfying-to-click checkmark button. If you’ve worked heavily with labeling in Gmail, the prominence of the Done button and the limitations around Bundles may encourage you to archive threads without putting them in a Bundle, leaving your archive not as organized as it may have been in Gmail.
Being Productive With Inbox
If you want to use Inbox to get to Inbox Zero, while still effectively managing your emails, make sure to do the following:
- Set up automatic filters for all of your Bundles and turn on “Bundle in the Inbox” for each. Without this, Bundles serve as just an archive folder and won’t help you organize the things you actually need to do.
- Address everything immediately. Your options are: Address the email if the task is quick, pin the email if the task will take more than a few minutes, or snooze the email if you cannot address it now. Once your Inbox is just those pinned, get to work. Filter your Inbox to just pinned items if you don’t want to be distracted.
- Don’t waste time unnecessarily prioritizing. Gmail’s variety of stars (which you can enable/modify in your Gmail settings and use arbitrarily to mark email priority, status, or type) and Task list sorting offer two methods of prioritizing emails and tasks into several levels of importance. However, without those options in Inbox, I’ve found my time more efficiently used by no longer worrying about when I’m going to get to everything, but rather what I can do now. Those of you who have to be constantly aware of potentially urgent emails may need to keep a watchful eye on your Inbox, but your time is best spent working on priority number one, rather than deciding priorities two through 10.
- Use Snooze effectively. Try to choose a time when you can realistically address the email and if you can address it now, do so. Snoozing emails too much is only going to lead to more work, not less.
Inbox offers some great changes from Gmail and its feature set is a good example of attention to actual user goals. While there’s improvement needed before it becomes the new standard of email clients, it’s worth a try to see if it can get you completing your emails rather than watching them grow.