Gmail's touting a new feature called Priority Inbox. You can see their (kind of funny) video about the product here:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nt3gE9dGHQ?wmode=transparent]
I understand where they're coming from, but this is still the wrong solution to the problem.
Allow me to pull out a little GTD here …
The problem with sorting by importance, as Priority Inbox does, is that the reason people feel stressed is because so much is important. And, by deferring the less important stuff to later, there's a greater likelihood it will become important down the line.
If you only deal with emergencies, then … you'll only ever deal with emergencies.
Imagine if you sorted all of your snail mail by importance. You had 1 box for Most Important, 1 box for Moderate Importance, and 1 box for Not Important. How often would you get to the least important box? Let alone the Moderate Importance Box. And then you'll look at the huge pile of stuff that's accumulated in the lesser boxes, and you'll feel guilty and stressed for having not gone through there. Same's true for email.
Here's how I deal with email and keep from getting too overloaded:
- I have one inbox. Everything goes to the same place (accounts either forward to gmail or I've actually set gmail up to reply from those accounts).
- I only check email when I can reply to it easily. Unless I'm waiting for something specific, I try not to check email from my phone, because it's a recipe for getting an email that requires a length reply that I don't have the time to give on my phone. And that just stresses me out until I can reply appropriately.
- I don't use preview windows. It's too easy to only get half the information and miss important stuff. When I used Outlook for work, this happened way more often that I would have liked. I thought it was a feature, but it turns out it wasn't helpful at all. It made me browse email more than read email.
- When I do check email, I start at the bottom and move my way up, going through email one at a time in the order sent. It's the only way to know I haven't missed anything.
- I know my hot keys. By not using a mouse, I fly through emails much faster.
- If I can reply quickly, I'll do it right then. If I need to think on it, or know it will be a long reply with lots of edits, I'll star it (a Gmail feature), so I don't lose track of it. Alternatively, if you have folders, just move it to an action folder.
- Two or three times a year I'll unsubscribe to newsletters I'm not using anymore. It's amazing how easy it is to get onto newsletters without really trying.