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Actionsteps: A Simple Idea That Could Revolutionize Email And Save You Time

Sorting our email is an ongoing grind. But it could get a lot easier.

I’m a Gmail lab rat. I deploy every new feature at least once. I live and breathe Priority Inbox. I color-code emails from various accounts. And I aggressively star every conversation I need to follow up on. But it doesn’t really work. Ultimately, any email I don’t respond to immediately becomes another inbox, another queue to filter through again.

.Mail is a concept by Tobias van Schneider that revolutionizes email, not through AI deciding which emails matter but through simple design tricks that make sorting easier.

"Most people are always sending me HIGH PRIORITY emails. Everything is important, always. ASAP is the new ‘How are you?’" van Schneider writes Co.Design. "It’s a kind of ‘reactive working,’ because modern work is often based on incoming emails that demand action on our part. I struggled with this long enough and built ridiculous Rube Goldberg–like workarounds with the available tools like flags and labels. It’s not good for us, but it’s how we work now."

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Van Schneider’s response, and .Mail’s pièce de résistance, is Actionsteps. Unlike flags or stars, Actionsteps is a three-tiered (three-square) rating system. You decide if something is high, medium, or low priority, and it fits into your queue appropriately—by importance first, then date.

Immediately, this solves the flagging problem, where every email you know that you need to respond to is of equal importance. It also makes flags and stars important again, allowing them to be reserved for friends and loved ones that so often get buried under our daily to-do lists (not to mention how cold is it that we currently sort our mothers alongside our corporate contacts).

Van Schneider admits that Actionsteps isn’t entirely different than current methodologies, but at least it’s "forcing you to DO something, to ACT on something," he writes. And I would add, at least the actions you’re taking will make the eventual follow-up one step easier.

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The other piece of brilliance behind .Mail is a new attachment management system. Rather than finding that email thread in which your friend sent you those pictures, Schneider presents a revolutionary (though in retrospect, entirely obvious) grid system that simply displays all your recent attachments as files. While the implementation would require some backend mojo for sure, it’s the sort of idea very much within the grasp of companies like Google, which are moving all of our files to the cloud anyway.

Sadly, .Mail doesn’t exist, nor is it coming to market soon. "I wish I could call this an app. It’s still mostly a concept and far from finished," van Schneider says. "My main goal is to keep the conversation about email alive and give something back to the community."

It also sounds like Schneider is hoping to team up with an existing mail client to power his groundbreaking frontend designs. In other words, Google, please just hire this guy already.

[Image: dani3315/Shutterstock]