I got my Gmail account back in 2004. I could have sold it for $100 on Ebay back then. Yet even though I was a very early adopter of Gmail, I’ve never really like it. Webmail has never really done it for me. I prefer the responsiveness of a client app like Thunderbird for email. So I’ve mostly used Gmail via Thunderbird, or in recent years via forwarding to a non-Google email provider where my domain is hosted.
However, my last few employers have been Google apps companies, and I haven’t found Thunderbird or Apple Mail really good for the volume of email I deal with at work. I haven’t found the Gmail interface efficient either, until last month.
Last month I stumbled across the idea of using multiple inboxes to manage Gmail, and after about a month I have to say it’s really working for me.
First, get rid of the promotions, updates, and any other mail tabs you may have in Gmail. Get it back to one inbox with all your mail. Then use the multiple inbox feature to create 3 more inboxes. I named mine today, soon, and later. If you want to send yourself todos via email and have them filter into the right inbox you can also set up filters to do that. I didn’t bother. Then configure Gmail to show all 4 inboxes, with the generic inbox on top.
Now, when I’m processing email any email I’m not resolving immediately gets tagged as today, soon, or later, and archived. So when I’m done going through new mail, I have inbox zero in the generic inbox, with all mail in one of the 3 new inboxes. Then I can start working on the important stuff in today, etc. I’ve found the stuff in later usually resolves itself without any action from me. Once an email is resolved I simply delete the tag.
You could probably make this system work in Outlook or Thunderbird or whatever. You could probably even make it work in Mutt, if Mutt supports tagging or multiple inboxes.