Is Gmail’s Priority Inbox anti-GTD?

Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 by GTD Times Staff

Google announced Priority Inbox today and the emails started flooding in asking, “Isn’t this anti-GTD?”


says that Priority Inbox “automatically identifies your important email and separates it out from everything else, so you can focus on what really matters.”

So, what does David Allen say about this kind of tool and the questions about something that sorts your inbox being “anti-GTD?”

Having email sorting/filtering would be anti-GTD if you use it to avoid decision-making, but not if it’s just for evaluating what kind of attention to put on something. Using colors for certain people’s emails in Lotus Notes (as I do) would also be “anti-GTD” if you never dealt with the non-colored ones. We’re not officially endorsing or recommending this. Just saying it’s something that you can make work. – David Allen

12 Responses to “Is Gmail’s Priority Inbox anti-GTD?”

  1. Oliver says:

    Allen also recommends using a ‘to read’ pile (for stuff that is noit actinonable). in my mail I installed this by sorting newsletters etc. in a separate pile. I also have stuff that I automatically sort into a ‘noise’ category, meaining: not spam but stuff I only need to look at if I have the time and (low 😉 ) enegery.
    OK, sometimes actions might come from there (just as they may come from my brain). But then if I had never read or subscribed to that newsletter I’d still have a days’ work left 😉
    In this respect some automatism that does the above is welcome. I’ll see what it will do with my mail.

  2. Michael says:

    When I read about “Priority Inbox” I shrugged, simply because my GTD processes render the idea useless to me. It’s not “anti-GTD”, rather it exists for me in a different world.

    I read and process every single email that comes in. My email inbox is empty after every single time I look at it.

    I suppose if I had a life that involved an extremely high volume of email and limited time for processing, this might be useful, but my email inbox is a highway for tasks and information, not a rest-stop.

  3. Tony Pinto says:

    I’ll definitely give it a try, although I do a lot of “filtering” already using Gmail’s powerful filters. I guess not enough people know that functionality is available. Hopefully you can turn it off if it gets in the way of our GTD systems. :-)

  4. Francis / 2Time Management blog says:

    The issue I have with this new feature is that it doesn’t do what it promises (even though it is a cool convenience.)

    It won’t save time, or allow for faster Inbox processing, simply because all emails will still have to be read. An analogy:

    Your postman might do you the favor of handing you your most important pieces of mail first, but that doesn’t mean that you have the liberty to throw away the rest of your mail.

    What’s actually dangerous about the tool is that it might very well promote the habit of working on the high priority items and leaving the others to languish… “for later.” That habit could very well lead to the kind of skimming that allows an Inbox to explode with too many emails that have not been processed.

    Google needs to dial back the hype, and stop selling this feature as a solution to information overload.

  5. Phil Bowman says:

    I use the ActiveInbox Addon (formerly GTDInbox) with Gmail.

    I got Priority Inbox this morning, and when I had a play with the settings, found you can customise the sublists to your taste.

    I have therefore set the top list to display items tagged “S/Next Action”, and only display the Inbox items further down. This feels very GTD to me, because I am usually guilty of going to my Inbox before my Next Actions, and this forces the NAs to my attention.


  6. That was my first thought too, but I decided to give it a chance. Nothing conclusive yet until I get my first weekly review done, but I do like that the riff-raff emails get pushed down. It doesn’t eliminate the need to process it, but it does help you prioritize “when” you process it. For me at least, the “unimportant” email tends to be newsletters, updates and other low impact material that aren’t necessarily actionable right away. I now pay attention to the “important” emails and quickly eyeball the subjects/senders of the “unimportant.” When I dedicate my time to doing a weekly review, I will process all the email as an inbox anyway, so the only real change is when, not so much what. From that standpoint, it’s not really anti-GTD, especially if gives you the room to clear your head and be more productive, not having to process the unimportant at that moment. The beauty of Google’s approach is also that you don’t have to use it. If you prefer the traditional approach, just look at your inbox normally. I have been using it for 2 days now and although my first instinct was to resist it, it’s growing on me.

  7. Gordon says:

    When I first saw the prompt to try Priority Mail, my instinct also was to hit “No thanks.” I don’t have a problem with mountains of email, so I figured I might try it some day but not now. Then I realized that if I didn’t try it now, I probably never would. So I turned it on to give it a whirl.

    I think I like the idea of it, but after using it for several days, I find that I spend more time telling Gmail what’s important and what’s not. I would expect Gmail to be smart enough to say “Hey, he said an email from this address isn’t important, I’ll stop saying it is.” But no, I have demoted several emails from the same sender to unimportance, yet Gmail keeps saying they’re important. It’s not very impressive.

  8. Brandy says:

    I love it! I still process all the ‘other stuff’, just not right away. I am one of those people with a lot of email and not a lot of processing time. As @John Virgolino said, I dont have to process the unimportant at that moment. I have made pretty good use of Gmail’s filters in the past, but I like this a lot better. Also, I’m sure that the Googlers will work out the kinks pretty quickly. I love that David wrote on this on Gmail’s blog.

  9. LarryMcJ says:

    I love it! If you don’t like it, that’s fine…but don’t bash it just because it doesn’t work for you.

  10. Angello says:

    I use gmail at work, Our email accounts are set up with google. I would like to get the mail notifier to work i have tried it in several ways but not able to set up the notifier.

    Please help.

    +919 962 456 174

    Thank you

  11. Hi Angelo — If you don’t find someone here at GTD Times who has an answer, you might try posting your question on the GTD forum, or on a forum that’s specific to Gmail.

    — John

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