Gmail Fail: The Problem with Priority Inbox

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leave it in your inbox, where it adds to your stressful load of unaccomplished tasks. Priority Inbox makes this kind of discipline much more difficult. If you let a message move from “Important and Unread” to “Important,” after all, then by definition you’re going to touch it at least twice.

I’m getting help battling my habit from a new Gmail plugin called Taskforce, which, as I explained last week, quickly converts e-mails into tasks on a list and helps teams track shared to-do items. Once I’ve created a to-do item, I can archive the original e-mail and be that much closer to emptying out my inbox. Taskforce does share one of the same pitfalls as Priority Inbox: it only works in Gmail, so I can’t create to-do items directly from the Mail app on my mobile devices. But that’s okay—now that I’ve turned off Priority Inbox, I know that messages that I’ve screened in Mail will still be where I left them when I get back to Gmail, and I can make them into tasks from there.

There’s a third reason Priority Inbox failed for me, and it’s the simplest of all: it’s not 100 percent accurate in its guesses about what’s important. Specifically, messages from people you’ve never corresponded with before often go straight into the “Everything Else” bin. I missed a handful of important e-mails this way—they were typically story pitches from sources who were contacting me for the first time. Eventually I got fed up with the embarrassment of having to write to people to say, “Hey, I just found your message from four months ago in my inbox…”

So, my hopes that Priority Inbox would be the cure for my e-mail ills proved unfounded. In Google’s defense, I think it’s a problem that can’t be solved by software alone. Help is available from tools like Taskforce, but getting your inbox under control is mainly a matter of persistence, discipline, and creativity. (And don’t forget that salve for the truly desperate—the e-mail bankruptcy option.)

It would also help if we all just scaled back on e-mail a bit. The next time you’re tempted to send someone a link to the latest babbling-baby YouTube video or cc: them on a minor office memo, think twice. Their inbox will thank you for it.

Here’s Google’s original video introducing Priority Inbox.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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