Back when we were thinking of ways of doing deadlines with ActiveInbox, we were heavily influenced by the concept of 43 Folders (not least because Merlin Mann, of fame, was one of the first people to feature our hobby project, worth mentioning as we are pretty much at our 5th anniversary!).

It has two great advantages: there are never more than 43 labels (12 months + 31 days, combinable to represent any day in the year) and those labels are against each message – so the deadline information is available wherever you can access Gmail (it’s not stored in a separate system).

But it has one major weakness: when accessing Gmail through a desktop mail client, or your smartphone, or an ipad, you can’t do a search for a message in two folders (e.g. D/D/1, D/M/1 for 1st Jan). This is a serious failing for retrieving information. I’ve heard anecdotally that it stops quite a few people using deadlines in AIB.

(A note on email reminders: Just so we don’t get distracted, I should say that whether we alter our deadline label approach or not, one thing is for definite: we’ll do email reminders. This is a given! So, when you set a deadline, there will be a checkbox to “Return to inbox on day”.)

There are two alternatives we can consider to labeling:

  1. You could give ActiveInbox direct access to your Gmail account. Then, in the background ActiveInbox could turn two labels like D/M/8 D/D/10 (today) into D/Today, so you can do simple queries on any device. You could also add the D/Today label on your mobile device, and have it auto-change into the full length labels. The downside here, other than a lot more costs for us, is you’d have to be comfortable with granting ActiveInbox permission to your Gmail. I’m not sure how many new users would like this.
  2. We could change the label structure. Rather than D/M/8 D/D/10 we could have D/20110810. Just one label means that you can always access the day from your mobile device, without any major changes to the way ActiveInbox works. We could also auto-prune labels no longer in use. So, if a few days later there are no messages with the D/20110810 label, it could be removed from Gmail account (to reduce clutter).

And the obligatory “how do you use” deadlining question:

I have to ask! How would you tell a co-worker or friend about the benefit of deadlining your email with ActiveInbox?

(This is both really interesting to know and might also reveal a better approach to deadlining!).


This was written by Andy Mitchell