One aspect of ActiveInbox that still clunks a little is choosing Projects. I’m finding it isn’t as fluid as I’d like, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Bits That Have Friction

  • I hesitate to apply a label.

    I think this is because of uncertainty: does the email really fit into the category? Will I have to create a new category that’s similar to other categories?

  • Creating new sub labels is hard.

    There is a sense of adding to the clutter with another label, there is the question of will it be the right label name for the future?, will I type the parent label correctly?

  • There is a steady increase of Project labels that make choice hard.

  • The dropdown is a bit fiddly

Ideas for Improvements

Suggest ‘Recent’ Labels

Generally, in any given time period you have a handful of “things you are working on” that remain at the top of your attention for a few days at a time. There is pinning available for this, but it can be even simpler just by suggesting the most recent 4 labels you’ve applied.

Suggest ‘Predicted’ Labels

Suppose Bob emails you, and you’ve recently discussed ‘P/Project X’ with Bob (i.e. it was a label on earlier conversations). Predicted labels would suggest that label above all others.

Show Labels Inline on Own Row

To make it super easy to select a label we can put labels on their own row in the HAB.

Because there are so many labels, it would need to be a short list: recent labels, suggested labels and pinned labels.

It would only take one click to apply them, and because they’re right in front of you, you’re reminded to do it.

Make Creating New Labels and Renaming Them Easier

The goal is to avoid the inhibiting fear of a wrong category, make it very easy to create a (child) label and then correct a bad choice by renaming it if necessary.

And to avoid clogging up the list with too many labels, make it trivial to mark a label as “old” and get it out of the list.

Fade Labels With Age

In the dropdown list, have the labels fade out to represent when they were last used. So, a label used recently would be black, but a label not applied for a year would be nearly transparent.

This makes it very scannable to find things that are still relevant.

(I’m not sure how technically possible this is!)

Show Notes/History On Projects

To make it easier to pick the correct label, have a popout that appears as you mouseover the label to show you any notes you’ve stored on it, detailing what it’s about.

The popout could also (or alternatively) show you the last 5 email subjects assigned to that label; so you can get a sense of what it’s about.

Are Keyboard Shortcuts Enough?

Why is it that the standard ‘Labels’ dropdown is insufficient for applying Project labels? Or do you do it?

I think that the hesitation to use it comes from not seeing the choice. With Project labels, because there are many and I don’t use them often, I need a visual scan (e.g. a label for ‘Sales’ is easy to remember and used daily… a label like P/Issues/X needs looking up).


The big question is simply, can it be done? Can we actually make organization easier? What examples of organization do you have? How could it be quicker?

And secondly, it would be great to know the ‘top 3’ rank you would put on the ideas above (and your own) if only 3 could be made.


This was written by Andy Mitchell