I decided to try out Inbox for a week at work to see how I liked, but more importantly to see if it improved my productivity. Because, as with any tool, there’s no point in using it if it slows me down and does not help me accomplish my goals.
My goals with email are as follows:
- I am an Inbox Zero guy so at least every other day I completely empty my inbox
- I don’t want to check my email constantly throughout the day. It’s distracting, time-wasting and makes me less productive
- I want to save time and keep things organized
- Find a system I can trust
With these goals in mind I started my week with Inbox. I had the original Gmail open in the tab next to it the whole time. I wanted to see how various emails were handled in both systems and understand how closely linked the two interfaces are.
A big part of evaluating new tools is deciding if you can trust them – especially when it comes to email and even more especially when it comes to work email. We live in a society now where it is just assumed that you will get (and see) every email intended for you. I can’t risk having a system where I miss important emails.
Below are some the major differences between Gmail and Inbox as well as the benefits and limitations and how they help or hinder my productivity.
Probably the first noticeable difference of Inbox vs. Gmail is the simpler, material design that is more in line with Google’s latest design direction. You cannot change the background or the theme natively. There are some Chrome plugins like this one that allow added functionality like this, but out of the box, Inbox is a simple design with very little to no customization.
Probably the next most apparent difference between Gmail and Inbox is the new “bundling” capability in Inbox. This is a whole new way to think about messaging and definitely takes some getting used to. The Promo tabs in Gmail were most likely a precursor to this functionality.
I find bundling fairly useful in my personal email. It make it easy to focus on what’s more important when I only have a minute to check email. But it’s saved me tons of time in my work email. We use Google Groups to send team-wide emails and divide them up into different categories based on department or division. Instead of me having to check each label (as would be the case in Gmail), I get a bundled message in my inbox. The best part is you can set these bundles to appear as new messages arrive, once a day or once a week.
Limitation: You can’t edit what time the bundle appears if you choose the daily or weekly arrival.
Also, something to note about bundling that I noticed when looking at Gmail and Inbox side-by-side. Inbox automatically brings over all of your Labels from Gmail and will ask if you want to enable bundling for any of those Labels. If you do this, it will uncheck the option to “skip the inbox” in Gmail. Meaning all your filters and organization you spent so much time working on in Gmail will fall apart and if you revisit your Gmail, you may notice a lot of unwanted emails in your inbox. I tried checking “skip the inbox” again in Gmail and it disables Bundling in Inbox so it’s clear these two options are linked. Once I made the 100% switching to Inbox it didn’t matter, but good to know if you’re not sure about making the switch.
Undo and Snooze
If you get one thing out of this post, make sure it’s this. Go turn on ‘Undo Send’ in your Gmail settings. It never fails – I always see a typo or someone I forgot to CC right after I hit send. With this feature you have up to 30 seconds to click Undo and your message will return to a draft.
The Undo feature comes built-in to Inbox and it is welcomed with open arms.
The Snooze feature is another gem of Inbox. If you snooze a message, it is moved from your inbox to the “Snooze” folder which is at the top of your left navigation menu. You you can choose exactly what time and day for the message to arrive or you can preset times for Afternoon, Evening or the next day.
Goodbye Priority Inbox, Hello “Done”
When I was introduced to the Priority Inbox in Gmail, it changed my life. My favorite setting I had for my inbox was that if I read an email it was moved to a second tier inbox on the same page but out of my way so I could churn through email quickly.
While this served me well for about a year, I much prefer the “Done” functionality of Inbox. First of all, who doesn’t love clicking that checkmark and getting rid of an email. This is essentially the same as archiving an email in Gmail. It’s removed from your inbox and moved to the “Done” folder which you can check anytime.
There are special Sweep checkmarks on Bundles which will swipe away the entire bundle.
This new functionality is the piece that buttons up Inbox pretty nicely in my opinion. Clicking the Pin icon on an email in Inbox adds it to your pinned emails section which can be accessed by toggling the Pin icon in the top header bar.
This is great to use if you come across an important email that needs to be addressed but can wait. Also, if you pin an email that exists within a bundle, it will remain pinned even if you swipe away that bundle. Pinned emails from Bundles are also added to your main inbox.
Inbox actions existed in Gmail. They were buttons tailored to the contents of the email which is something the sender usually has to set up with code. In Inbox, these actions only got better.
If the email is setup for these actions, you’ll be able to do things like confirm a subscription, track a package or check into a flight with just a click. Other tools like Basecamp will provide direct links to the conversation within that platform, allowing you to spend much less time in your inbox, which is what Inbox by Gmail promises.
Search appears to be faster in Inbox. This may just be because it is a live search that doesn’t have to load a second screen like Gmail does. I find I can search for emails and try different modifiers much quicker than I could with Gmail.
Probably the best part of Inbox by Gmail is the mobile app. It’s clean and fast and nothing gives me more satisfaction than swiping away emails to.
Some Limitations of Inbox
If you’re a Gmail power-user there are some features (or lack thereof) in Inbox that you may find frustrating if you make the switch.
Cannot link to emails – I’ve used a few different todo apps over the years and a common practice was writing a todo item and then linking to the relevant email in Gmail. It worked pretty seamlessly with Todoist and Nozbe. I quickly realized in Inbox that you cannot do this. The new “pinning” feature makes up for it, but I’ve found I have to adapt my style to this.
Attaching files is a pain – Surprisingly, you cannot simply drag and drop an attachment into the Inbox interface and attach it to an email. You have to pop-out the email first either by clicking the pop-out icon or the attachment icon. Not a big deal, but certainly slows you down. When you click the attachment icon, Inbox opens a panel where you can select files you’ve received, previously sent or photos. It would be nice if they were able to look at recently viewed items on your computer as I’m willing to bet that’s where 90% of attachments come from.
Signature formatting – To turn on your email signature, scroll to the bottom of the left navigation and go to Settings > Signature. You’ll notice there are no formatting tools like in Gmail. I pasted mine from Gmail and it transferred pretty well, something Scott Greenstone confirmed in this short post. You can use the CTRL+k shortcut to hyperlink text, but the one field Inbox gives you does not accept HTML.
Slowwwww – When I’m diving into email at work or trying to send a quick message, I want my email program to be fast. Since making the switch from Gmail to Inbox, I’ve noticed the Inbox interface (on desktop) does lag occasionally. It’s hard to complain about this too much because I’m sure the team is working on improving it, but keep it in mind if you’re thinking of making the switch.
A Few More Tips
Swiping away super old emails – When you first switch to Inbox, all of your emails will be brought over. If you get into the Inbox Zero habit and are checking emails off like a fiend, the old emails from months passed at the bottom of your inbox might start to bother you. Keep clicking the group swipe icon until it changes to “Earlier” instead of a month and year. When you swipe away the “Earlier” emails, your inbox will look like it’s brand new.
Turn off the Gmail to Inbox redirect – When you switch to Inbox, your Gmail account may automatically redirect to Inbox. You can turn this off in your settings under “Other”. Settings is located at the bottom of the left panel navigation.
After using Inbox for two weeks now, I’ve decided I’m definitely sticking with it. The cleanliness, distraction-free environment is worth the small annoyance of the little limitations. I find it’s easier to keep my inbox clean and I spend less time digging into team-wide emails throughout the day.