By default, Gmail gives you an inbox with top-level categories:

  • Primary
  • Promotions
  • Social
  • Updates
  • Forums

I don’t like them, myself, and turn them off, so I can’t vouch for how well they actually sort. I feel like it makes the job of checking email more laborious. Now I have to click through five tabs to make sure I’ve seen everything, or train my brain to ignore the other tabs until a better time to check them. That would take more trust that I have, I’m afraid.

Plus, I don’t find cleaning my inbox particularly challenging without categories, which is a nice place to be and would hope anyone could get there.

But if we just focus on the categories for now, do those make sense? They seem largely fine to me, except I might combine Promotions and Updates. Forums also seems like an old school word to me and would have no guess as to what Gmail considers a forum.

There is also no apparent hierarchy. A “travel” category might be useful for folks who travel a bunch, but doesn’t that sound scary? Why push those emails off to another area when there is a chance those emails are the most important things you need to see (e.g. flight has been delayed, gate moved, etc.)

Casey Newton thinks AI will help in short order:

Can’t wait for the day that some AI filter in Gmail automatically sorts email into the actually-quite-short list of categories that most messages fall into: “to read,” “event invitation,” “pitch,” “customer email,” and so on. Can’t be long now

If it could suggest categories based on your own email activity, I could see that being cool. I don’t know that we all get as many pitches as Casey gets, for example.

I’m curious how much categorizing (or even tagging) email actually helps people. Like does it, actually, tangibly, help? Or are they alternate graveyards? Or busywork?

I am, of course, completely fine with people doing anything that is good for them, but I worry it splits your inbox in a way that is just productivity theater. Superhuman literally calls it “splitting your inbox”. Their default tabs: Team, VIP, Calendar, Starred, News. Entirely different than Gmail, but they likely have a pretty different customer. VIP seems clever to me, but if it’s automated and not something you set up, that again involves a lot of trust.

2 responses to “Sorting”

  1. Important + Everything Else works perfectly for me. I *aim* for Inbox Zero every day, but won’t kill myself if I don’t reach it.

    No-nonsense, and just keep training Google whenever something fall into the wrong section.

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