Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

The Ultimate Email Configuration

I’m kind of obsessive about experimenting with new ways to manage and process my email but I think my obsession can now finally come to the end. Let me present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the ultimate email configuration.

Before we start: If you have anything less than a 22-inch monitor then stop reading this article, get in your car, drive down to a computer dealer and buy one. They’re cheap as chips these days and once you have a decent sized monitor you’ll open up all sorts of possibilities in terms of how you configure your windows and screen real estate to enable you to process more information and become more productive.
Ok, so this is a GMail solution and it makes use of the recent Multiple Panes lab feature. Broadly speaking, we split our email into 3 panes. One to process mail, two for items that need to be actioned and the third for items that are just passing through. It looks likes this:
So first thing to do is firstly go into your lab settings and enable it. 
By default, Multiple Panes puts your additional panes to the right of the main menu. However, even with my 24-inch monitor, I still found that I wasn’t seeing enough of the subject heading to be able to reliably see what the mail was about. So instead, we’re going to put the pane underneath the Inbox.
The point of this configuration is to keep you Inbox nice and tidy at all times. We want to keep it down to less than 10 mails at all time. So every time we read an email we do one of two things – star it or archive it.
Underneath the Inbox panel, we have a panel for Starred Items. These are emails you need to come back to and either reply or action but can’t do immediately. Having them in a panel underneath the inbox means they are there as a constant reminder that you have items to attend to, and you’ll find yourself trying to knock them off anytime you have a free moment to keep that panel as tidy as your inbox. To only show starred items, put is:starred in pane 1.
The bottom panel is what I call my ‘Throughbox’. My throughbox is for mail that is just passing through. Newsletters, alerts, mailing lists and so forth. None of this stuff needs to be actioned so it doesn’t need to come through your inbox, but you still want to see what comes through just in case there’s something you really should be on top of. So you set up another pane just for these emails. I’ve found it to be far more effective than something like Otherinbox, which just didn’t work for me at all. To set up your Throughbox, create a label and then for every single post that you don’t need to show up in your inbox, immediately click Filter Messages Like These under the More Actions button. Then tell the filter to skip your inbox and add the Throughbox label. Then go back into your Multiple Inboxes settings and put in label:throughbox in panel 2.
I’ve been using this configuration for a week now and it’s Friday afternoon and I’m actually going to leave the office with an empty inbox! I reckon it will take a good month before I’ve trapped the majority of lists and so forth I’ve ended up on and have them sailing through the throughbox rather than clogging up my inbox, but this has already made a major difference to mail processing capabilities. GMail Labs is sheer genius. There’s so much innovation flowing out of Google and into the labs, but I can’t help but imagine what we’d see if they allowed developers outside of Google to add Gmail extensions to the labs.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge,

5 Responses

  1. girl2woman says:

    Thanks for letting us know all this stuff.. I had noticed things about starred mails, but never the multiple panes feature.Thanks for bringing things to notice :)..will start experimenting in the lab!!

  2. Joshua Baer says:

    Hi Phil,

    Can you tell us more about how OtherInbox didn’t work for you?


  3. Joshua Baer says:

    Sorry I should have made it clear that I am the founder of OtherInbox!

  4. Phil Sim says:

    Joshua, it’s just another destination I needed to find time to visit. And I just didn’t find that time.

    I think what would have been really useful to me is if I could have selected an option to receive a summary of what was in the email; ie first 100 characters or something because then I’d know whether it was worth me needing to click through or not.

  5. smartspin says:

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for this – this is a good start. I’ve been on Gmail since it began and have been just moving things from my InBox by attaching a label and archiving. It can get tedious.

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