First Click: Don't fear Gmail's Priority Inbox, it could change your life

July 14th, 2015


It happened in stealth. Hell, it happened so slowly that it took me three years to notice. But Gmail’s Priority Inbox quietly changed my professional life for the better.

Google announced Priority Inbox in beta way back in August of 2010. At the time, I was unwilling to relinquish so much control over something so vital to an “experimental” new email feature. I was an expert email user, after all, confident in my workflow and the robust set of filters I had defined. But sometime around 2012 I caved and decided to let Google automatically filter my business Gmail account into three sections: Important, Starred, and Everything Else. Looking back it was one of the best computing decisions I ever made.

At first Google’s machine learning algorithms did a reasonable job at figuring out what was important. It was far from perfect but I wasn’t expecting much. So I kept at it, diligently following Google’s advice to mark messages as either "important" or "not important" as they arrived, adding a star to those I wanted to deal with later. Email from an established industry contact I’ve known for years: important. Email pitch from yet another Indiegogo campaign: not important. Wielding my thumb of approval like Caesar as I slashed the chaff from my inbox. Today, three years later, I might have to promote / demote the importance of one in every 200 messages — but that pales in comparison to the labors I would endure without Google’s help.

Google published a research paper in 2011 that gave some insight into the smarts behind Priority Inbox. It’s full of math and graphs if you’re curious. But what stood out was the claim that Priority Inbox users spent 6 percent less time reading mail overall, and 13 percent less time reading unimportant mail. That was four years ago and we know that Google's neural networks keep getting smarter.

priority inbox

Anecdotally, I feel like I’m saving a lot more than 6 to 13 percent. Google's sorting makes it very easy to quickly scan messages, which is especially useful in the Gmail app on my phone. I've also limited disruptions significantly by setting notification alerts to "Important Only." And best of all, I can bulk archive my "not important" emails — about half of the 80 messages I receive each day — confidently with just a single click in my desktop browser.

Having finally realized how smart Priority Inbox is, and how much it's helped simplify the deluge of communications I receive, maybe it’s time to give Google Inbox another try?

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