The big question is why are we still letting emails build up after we’ve actioned them, and how can we improve ActiveInbox/Gmail to make sure they get done?

This is a continuation of the discussion started at http://www.activeinboxhq.com/blog/2011/05/01/discuss-never-forget-with-instant-helpful-reminders/, but this time the focus is just on improving the sidebar.

The first question – what problems stop you checking your actionables?

‘Today’ is my top priority (not ‘Top Priority’)

I’ve started to rely upon deadlines for my really high priority items, but ‘Today’ is buried under ‘Top Priority’, and that is not precise enough to click (I know there’s too much to look at in there and avoid it).

I skip the sidebar too easily

The ActiveInbox sidebar box doesn’t quite match the visual style of Gmail’s sidebar. I can therefore compartmentalize it and ignore it (it’s also below some low priority items – diminishing the chance I’ll look that low).

I avoid large lists

Once a list grows beyond 20 or so items (e.g. Waiting On of 34), it becomes intimidating; and I put off dealing with it until I have “time”.

The ‘Active Results’ tab doesn’t pull me towards it

The ‘Active Results’ take a split second too long to load, and the results are visually overwhelming. I’m almost repulsed from checking my actionables.

I do not have a routine

I load Gmail and my inbox is right there… but I don’t regularly drop into other areas. I think this is one of the major problems for ‘inbox dependence’.

The second question – what ideas are there for dealing with this?

Today becomes its own focal point

When you depend on deadlines, Today & Overdue are the two most important items. To stop them from being forgotten or overlooked, give them a single, one-click no-nonsense distinctive button to press.

Bonus question: should ‘Today’ have a fly-out (like ‘To Do’ and ‘Top Priority’ have at the moment?), or would this distracting interruption put you off mousing over it?

Clean Up gives bite-sized entry points

For when you have 15 minutes and you want to tackle something – but 50 odd Waiting On items are overwhelming – have a manageable chunk you can comfortably complete.

The clean-up list will point to a handful of the oldest items, and should be editable (so you can have your own criteria).

It will also tell you when you last approached a list item, to give you a jolt if it’s been a while.

Visual improvements to fit into Gmail better

As users we have learnt how Gmail works – and it sets certain expectations. A link in the ActiveInbox sidebar should match links for the Inbox, or Sent Items, or a label.

And ‘Active Results’ needs to address a few issues, some of which Nathan highlighted:
* The tabs for ‘Gmail Results’ and ‘Active Results’ should blend in better
* The categories (‘Top Priority’, ‘Action’, ‘Overdue’, ’24 May’, etc.) are more dominant than the emails themselves. This is the wrong way around.
* The font is hard to read, and the email rows don’t quite match Gmail’s own – it’s visually stressful.
* It’s overwhelming – all the categories are too close together; there can be many many emails (adopt the Twitter/Facebook technique of ‘Show 20 more’ at the bottom of the list?).

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This post was written by andymitchell9496