Solving email

A journalist friend of mine, Stuart, posted a personal article today about dealing with email. His premise was simple – I get too much email to deal with effectively, what can I do?

Gmail_IconIt got me thinking. Like me Stuart uses Gmail and Google has done wonders at improving the way email works – adding labels, making filters easy to apply and of course adding in the search function so that you can retrieve emails easily. And of course there are other tools too – the Mailbox app being the most recent one that has gained a lot of traction – it allows you to easily swipe emails away on your iPhone so that you can deal with them later, or just delete them all together.

However, it’s not the tools, they’re not the problem. The problem is email itself – it just grows like weeds in the garden. It’s so easy to send an email to someone that no-one considers the consequences and just sends more and more. For journalists such as Stuart the problem is even worse as PR people add them to mailing lists no matter whether the news is about their sector or not.

There was a story today doing the rounds about a PR person who had sent journalists a news release but had used the CC field instead of the BCC field. Of course lots of journalists got pissy about it on Twitter – but the biggest issue for me is the sheer volume of people emailed in the first place.

So, how do we solve email for Stuart and us all. The easy answer is to stop sending as many – then hopefully everyone else will send fewer and so we’ll all receive fewer. But that’s not going to happen so what can we do? Well I thought of two features that we could lobby Gmail to include that might help:

– Bulk reply
While filing emails you have the option to reply to all you have selected with the same response (eg for a journalist it could be: “Interesting news, but not for me right now. Do send more though.”) In this way you don’t set up a mass auto-response, but you can reply to certain groups of people en masse.

– Priority Lists
Gmail already suggests emails that look important (because they are sent directly to you, or you have interacted with the sender a lot recently), but what about if we could pick the people who are important to us. As apps such as Path have done, the number would be limited – I would suggest to two tiers of 25 each – and Gmail would ask you to confirm the lists every 2 or 4 weeks. But it would mean that when you have a full inbox you could see at a glance which emails to deal with first (as a journalist Stuart may put friendly PRs into the priority list, you and I may put clients and colleagues in there). You can probably do something similar to this with filters already – but it’s not a simple tool… yet.

So those are my solutions for email – do you have any suggestions?


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