Chasing the Squirrels Out of Your Email Box: Gmail Priority Inbox | Beth's Blog

Chasing the Squirrels Out of Your Email Box: Gmail Priority Inbox

Digital Wellness

I like to joke about how using social networks like Twitter can give you “ADOLAS” (ADD, Oh, look at Squirrel!).    The reference is from the Disney/Pixar movie UP – the scenes where the talking dogs can’t finish a sentence because they get distracted by a squirrel.

I’ve tried to come up with some manual ways to avoid this on Twitter.  For example,  colleagues using the #squirrel hashtag and we remind each other to focus or suggest other techniques.   But to tell you the truth,   I’ve had a major squirrel problem with my email.

I’ve been using Gmail for many years.  I use labels, filters, and the stars to filter and prioritize emails.   I’ve been using the color coded labels to indicate work flow and use RED for one called !!!_Priority so it appears on the top of my filter list.    I’ve trained myself to go to that label first when I feel overwhelmed.

But, today, Google has released Priority In Box – what I like about it is that it automates and extends the manual processing of priority email.   It  gives you a little symbol for “important”  and “not important” so you can flag those priority messages and they appear on the top of your list.

Explore the Priority In Box tab in the settings and you’ll see that you can group your in box into different priority levels.  Incoming email gets separated into sections: important and unread, starred, and everything else.   These too can be customized.

I’ve been using the star to indicate an email that has a task that I need to do or come back to.    But I also use labels to indicate work flow like “reply,”  “read,” “schedule,” and  “waiting for.”    (I also so subject matter labels/filters as well).

Over time, you train gmail to automatically put the important emails at the top.  I’ll be curious to see how this works.

There are more suggestions and features that you can use to help you fine-tune your filtering of priority emails/tasks.

This feature has the potential to help me fix my email squirrel problem.   That is – when I open up my email box – I get distracted versus seeing a prioritized list.

9 Responses

  1. Hugh Macken says:

    I think what I like most about priority inbox is that it has the ability to adjust what it considers to be priority based upon your ongoing feedback. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Heidi Massey says:

    Hi Beth,

    I have been seeing the squirrel tweets forever and never understood what they were about. NOW I get it and am thrilled to know…makes TOTAL sense! Glad to know I am not alone watching that squirrel. Maybe someone should grab some snack food as well 🙂

    I wish that I could sit with someone (probably for hours!) just to learn about to use gmail more efficiently. I use labels and the stars, but the filters right now are a bit beyond what I can do. And this feeling of being overwhelmed makes me hesitant to venture out to learn about the new priority inbox. Hoping to push aside my resistance and check it out. Always afraid my lack of thorough understanding will be the cause of some fatal mistake.

    Thanks for this post. It will push me a bit to explore some more…and makes me think I should create a gmail tools event for people to attend!

    Heidi Massey

  3. Luis Suarez says:

    Hi Beth! Thanks a lot for alerting me over in Twitter on this article. Almost missed it as I am most offline during weekends … I must say that I have been using that very same feature, at least, rather similar, on my Lotus Notes email for over 5 years, if not more, and while rather helpful it still misses the point of why I think email is broken: it’s all about openness and clarity; it’s about feeling comfortable narrating your work; it’s all about not having to CYA (Cover your a**e!), just because people don’t know what you do and don’t feel comfortable to trust you to do the right job.

    That’s why, to me, amongst several other reasons, email is broken, and has been for decades. For email to work as an effective collaboration and knowledge sharing business tool we would need to go back to basics: re-purpose email into a messaging and notification system.

    Have a look into this post I just shared a few minutes ago and follow the links to the Mashable article, as well as the mindmap and the recording included (Link here) to get a better picture of what I’m after with this thing of living “A World Without Email”; even without priority email 😉 hehe

    PS. And with regards to the squirrels in social networking tools, sometimes it pays off, tremendously, to know when to let things go and when to trust the river flows coming back to you … when you need them, not when they need you 🙂

  4. Hi Beth,

    Love this article – and totally get the squirrel factor. I worked on priorities for a while but then realised that if I left the email there in my inbox, I’d end up reading it again and again just to see what it was and think/rethink what I needed to do with it. I’ve now taken this a step further and sort incoming stuff by which project is has to do with and where I’ll need to be in order for that information or action to be useful. It’s a methodology called “getting things done” (and I didn’t invent it!).

    That said, on the days when I get more email then I have time to read (rather too often, just like you I’m sure) I’ll be checking out the priority queue!

    Now if only Google would invent something to automatically send an intelligent reply…

  5. Beth,

    I’m excited to see how Priority Inbox works out for me. I also label mail to do, to read, and wait to indicate the next action needed. I make big use of the Quick Links lab too which lets you save searches you commonly use. It’s a great way to make Google’s various tagging options (labels, stars, and now importance) work together.

    Thanks for the overview!


  6. Not a moment too soon! I recently gave in and joined Twitter (who knew that squirrels could tweet?) and I’m learning to deal with yet more information overload–but enjoying it.

    So far Priority Inbox has worked pretty well for me. I tweaked some of my filters to automatically promote some e-mails to Important and demote others. Still checking the regular Inbox occasionally to make sure nothing slips through. The empty section has (for now) been given to a label I use for my volunteer work.

    Your post inspires me to tweak some of my labels so they work better with Priority Inbox.

  7. Hi Beth,

    I like the squirrel reference here – I feel the same so many times. I just wonder how you feel about the priority gmail after using it for few days now. Personally I love the idea and I think it’s exactly what we need, but it takes me a lot of patience to uptick the e-mails my inbox ‘decides’ to mark as priority ones. I really home my gmail will learn fast, because for now it takes more time to manage the priority inbox than it is to label my mail in more traditional way.
    (I am probably a bit worried we have a product similar to Google Wave here). I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

  8. […] seeing the light and acknowledging that what once was the king of communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing is no longer the case in today’s world with the Social Web having a much more relevant and […]

  9. […] bit has been written here and there about Gmail’s Priority Inbox. In online terms, the feature is hardly new, having […]

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