To recap on previous posts, two great tips to reduce the avalanche of email hitting your inbox every day are to unsubscribe from all unnecessary lists (and be wary of joining new ones), and stop using email internally by switching to an instant-messaging application for internal communications with your staff.
Now you have less email, which messages should you read first? Get this question right and you will send your most valuable contacts faster responses, miss fewer of their emails and appear more professional.
Email programs don’t usually show much innovation year to year, but Google made a recent addition to Gmail which is hugely useful in showing you your most valuable emails.
Users can choose to add tabs to their inbox and Gmail will automatically sort their emails by each tab. Incorrectly sorted emails can be dragged into the appropriate tab and Gmail will remember the sender’s new category next time.
This auto-sorting feature does a brilliant job of separating the wheat from the chaff. The five tabs are:
Users can select all five tabs or only those relevant. Gmail returns to the old inbox style when a user deselects all categories.
Here’s how Gmail sorts your emails, starting from the last category first.
- Forums shows messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists.
- Updates receives personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills and statements. Password reset notification emails also show up here.
- Promotions catches all deals, offers and other marketing emails.
- Social collects emails from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services and other social websites.
- The Primary category is for person-to-person conversations and emails that don’t appear in other tabs.
Now that all your emails are automatically sorted for you, you can turn to each tab in the inbox when you’re ready. The majority of the time you will just leave Gmail on your Primary tab so you can check in on the hour to respond to personal requests.
The other tabs can wait for specific tasks. Do you allocate half an hour for social media each day? Then jump in the Social tab and see what people have been talking about.
Do you like to read your industry news over lunch? It should be waiting for you in Updates. At the end of the day or when you want some downtime you could flick through the Forums tab to read your favourite mailing lists or check out Promotions for some specials.
Compare this segmented approach to the single inbox where you would have to process mentally each email as it arrives, regardless of the time of day or activity.
Auto-sorting is a masterstroke. Hopefully other vendors will move towards it too. In the meantime you can set up rules for your inbox that automatically send emails to folders; a manual process that has to be repeated each time you join a newsletter or other source of emails, but it is well worth the effort.