By Helena Li
What is it?
Earlier this year, I discovered a tool that greatly increased my productivity and organization - Google’s Inbox website. It’s actually created by the Gmail team and is simply a different interface for your email that turns each email into a task to be checked off - who doesn’t like checking things off?? The rationale is that instead of keeping all those hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of emails visible in your inbox and cluttering your visual organization, we can view each email as a task that requires your attention and once you have dealt with it, it should disappear from view (you can still find it any time). The goal is to complete all your tasks (aka "zero out") your inbox. As many of us spend a lot of time on email, it should serve us instead of own us.
Now, prepare to be reacquainted with your sanity. (Tangent: If anyone is a fan of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this tool will be your best friend.)
Here is a one-minute video introduction to Inbox so you can see it in action:
I need it NOW
If you want to follow along with the features I highlight, go to www.google.com/inbox and click on the “Get Inbox” button. It will open your email in the Inbox interface, but don’t worry, you can get to your familiar Gmail as you always did, at any time through www.gmail.com. If you want it on your phone, you can download the Inbox app (I use it for my personal email also, and you can add multiple accounts - life-changing, I tell you).
If you decide to always log in to the Inbox interface as I do, just go through www.inbox.google.com instead of www.gmail.com.
Beware that when you first see your Inbox, all of your emails will show because you haven’t checked anything off. If you decide to use Inbox, take a few minutes to checkmark all your old emails, which you can do by the month instead of one by one (so thoughtful, Google is). When I first did this, it recognized that I was simply clearing everything out and automatically checked everything off after I started checking off whole months, so I didn’t have to back-check years.
Ok, but what’s so great about it?
Here are the top 5 features of Inbox that I think will be most useful to managers, teachers, and staff. Some of these are simply re-named from Gmail and function very similarly (and looking much better), while others are enhanced or new functions.
To preface, let me briefly go over the anatomy of your Inbox interface. The emails are chunked and visually separated by time in reverse chronological order. The top section will always be “Today” down to “This month” and then by previous months if you have active ones from those months. It helps to see them separated instead of one giant dense list.
Each email message itself has 5 buttons that show when you hover on the email or expand the email:
You’ll get to know these buttons very well as you use Inbox. They are: Pin, Snooze, Delete, Done, and Move.
(Pro tip: You see the PDF attached to that email? You can open attachments - PDFs, files, docs - without actually opening the email and scrolling through it!)
#1: The To-Do
This is my favorite feature, and I admit, has become addicting. It’s so satisfying to check off the emails and see them go away, which has actually increased my enthusiasm for tackling my emails aka tasks.
Each email is essentially an open loop that we want to close, and many of them simply take a glance to be marked Done. It’s very intuitive to use - once you’ve read the email and completed any actions associated with it, mark it Done by clicking the checkmark button and it will be housed in the Done section instead of your Inbox section. This is very similar to Gmail’s Archive function, but who even used Archive?
Your Inbox section is prime real estate and should only be for emails that require your action or you have not gotten to yet.
#2: The Snooze
So, what if the task isn’t actually done, but is waiting for action from someone else or is something you want to get to on a later date? Behold, the Snooze!
Snooze the email by clicking the clock button to set a timer for it to return on a date and time you choose, and it will disappear from your inbox until then. You can even snooze an email that you send, so that it will reappear in your inbox if no one has replied by that date (similar to the new Boomerang feature in Gmail). It’s pretty much impossible to keep track of every email you need a response to, so responsibility ends up on the recipient to reply; and if they don’t, a lot of things fall through the cracks. But now, you can be the King/Queen of the magical land called Following Up.
Pro tip: You can designate your own most-used dates and times to show up here, just click Settings (bottom left of the screen) and into the Snooze section.
#3: The Reminder
You know how you send yourself emails to remind yourself to do something or remember a piece of information? There’s a thing for that now, and it’s the Reminder function found on the bottom right. You can set a reminder to do something if it’s a task that your existing emails or open loops don’t prompt you to do. You can even set a recurring reminder if you need it.
Hover over this plus sign:
And it will turn into this:
The blue button of the finger with a ribbon is what you’re after (the other buttons are your most emailed people). Type in your reminder and even set a snooze time for it to show up (if you don’t set snooze, it will show simply up in your inbox right away).
#4: The Pin
The Pin is similar to the Star action in Gmail, used for items that you constantly refer to or are priorities/important. You can pin any email by clicking the thumbtack button, and there is even a toggle view in your inbox to only see the pinned emails.
#5: The Template
These were the Canned Responses from Gmail, which you could activate if you were a Gmail power-user and played with the Labs. Now, it’s a standard function in Inbox and saves me so much time. You can create template emails for anything that you repeatedly send, which I have for GED testing requests and my daily ISP attendance. It saves so much time because I don’t have to type it each time or go to another document to copy and paste.
Click Settings, then Templates, and create any templates from here.
When you want to use your templates, click the Compose button (red plus sign), the little down arrow, and then the notepad. You can then choose from your list of templates and the template will populate into your email. Another way to add templates instead of through Settings is to compose it as a new message first and click “Make this draft a template” directly from here.
Are you sold?
Email has not evolved like this in a really long time, which is unfortunate given how quickly technology is changing - I think email should be improving too, given it’s our main tool of communication. The last time email made such a great leap was when Gmail started to thread emails together instead of each reply being a separate email in reverse chronological order (take that, Hotmail and Yahoo!) and you had to go searching for the corresponding responses - fun times. I think that sooner or later, the traditional email interface will be replaced by more user-friendly and intuitive designs and actions such as Inbox, so you might as well be the early adopter instead of the bandwagoner! Let me know how it works for you and if you find any useful tips!