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The Email Trap

Brian Crain
Brian Crain
1 min read

I recently started using the email client Superhuman. It's a desktop application that optimizes for speed, minimalism and having many keyboard shortcuts. I previously used Google mail in the browser and I much prefer Superhuman.

But I also noticed a failure mode that crept in over time. And it's a failure mode that has appeared in many different productivity applications/systems I have used.

First, let me explain how I use Superhuman.
Everything comes into a single inbox. I go through one-by-one and do one of the following:
- Respond
- Delete / Archive
- Star

The email client is then divided between the inbox and starred emails and I can switch between them easily. Which messages do I star? It's those that take longer to respond, or I'm lacking some information, or it requires me to make a significant decision first, or maybe it's just something that makes me uncomfortable.

When I go to Superhuman I may have 80 emails in the inbox and 20 starred messages sitting there. Where I gravitate to (and I suspect most people would) is the inbox. Many of these I can just delete or quickly respond to. It might take me 20 minutes and I get through all of them. It feels like I get things done quickly.

On the other hand, starred messages I already saw before. There is no novelty there. They are starred, because they weren't amenable to being processed quickly and easily. I might easily spend 60 minutes to get through just half of them.

But, of course, the starred messages are where the important things happen. A key thing for me is to start by doing starred messages first and by going from the oldest to newest. It's very liberating to get through some of the things that have been there longest. And once I've done that, everything else feels easy.