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Sasi's picture
63 pencils

Gmail – A New Order

Creating Hierarchy by Importance

About Starring Your E-mails

First of all, let’s get cleared what starring is good for. As in several fields of life, in e-mailing as well, people categorize stuff. Eg. you categorize music by genre, album, artist and even by popularity (manual or play count). You categorize files at work, you categorize letters at home, that’s why we have several drawers in our desks. But categorizing sometimes just makes a mess when you have something that could be put to category ‘A’ or category ‘B’. Of course labeling in the digital world offers a solution to that problem. The other problem, which I’m more interested in, is that there is always a category, that is signed by importance.

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Is importance a category?

You could think importance is a category. Some way. But importance is rather what you call hierarchy. I explain it, eg.: let’s say you have 5 categories, and 10 elements in each category. And in each category you have 2 elements that are more important than the other eight in that category*. These important elements you want to highlight. You want to highlight them and create some kind of order. That’s now not only a way of putting elements into drawers, we now talk about creating a hierarchy, a hierarchy among the important elements from the most important to the least important. So you put the most important element into the drawer on the top. So a ranking you create from the 1st most important to the last least important element. Anyway you put elements into drawers (categories) by their incoming date. That creates a hierarchy as well, but that’s just the necessary way of creating a list of elements by their freshness. You put the latest on the top. But you could either organize them alphabetically or by any kind of principle.

Finding the relationship to e-mails

Let’s say these elements are now e-mails, categories (drawers) are labels and highlighting imortant elements is starring. When you star an e-mail, it gets to a drawer what you call starred e-mails. This is a really cool feature, but imagine you have then 10 or more important things now in a drawer. The problem is that now these e-mails are just organized by a principle that the other drawers use. They are organized by incoming date.

So as mentioned before, it just becomes a category, an ordered list, but not the hierarchy you really need. Not the most important is on the top, not the second most important on the 2nd place, etc.

Selection process

So let’s take a look at the process how you select the most important e-mail now.


So now you have several mails organized by date in your starred category, but the most important mail might not be on the first place by date. When you have a huge amount of jobs running simultaneously that means 10, 20 or like 30 important, starred e-mails. Like how do you make it sure, the most important information comes in the latest.

Selecting the most important mail

The problem here, what I see is that you may not only open once that important mail. Imagine you have tremendous work to do, you have to answer mails and write new ones as well. Maybe the actual most important to-do or project runs for more days and you then have to search for and open that mail several times. So you have to run the “search the most important mail” maybe 5 or 10 times a day or more. And the amount of starred mails may increase as time passes by. So when opening starred mails, the e-mail you’re looking for you will find in an other place, always “losing” importance.

So as now clear, the hierarchy of importance is not solved. What you want is to be able to put the most important mail on top and the second most important on the 2nd place.

The solution could be that Gmail offers an option when starring a letter on which place to put it or just put it after the ranked starred mails ordered by date.

I would welcome a similar option in Gmail, hope you would too.

* Of course it can be that there isn’t any important element in one, some or any category or different number of important elements in any of the categories and even different numbers of elements in a category.

ps.: Illustrations for this article were prepared in VectorDesigner, a cheap vector illustration software for the Mac. It’s object handling and text editing capabilities still need some improvement, but it’s simple and may be a nice option for the future. An alternative for the ones not really satisfied with the monopoly of the Adobe product family.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

srizvi1's picture
3 pencils

usually I star something that I still have to do something with, otherwise, it's archived and labeled. but some good thoughts here. I also like the vector program you used - maybe I'll check that out for similar write ups I may do.

Sasi's picture
63 pencils

I also talk about things I still have to deal with, that's why it's important not just to sign importance, but being able to give an order of importance to it. I don't like searching for letters :)

Flub-Dub's picture

go to gmail > settings > labs
Enable the Superstars plugin

go to gmail > settings > general > superstars
and select the icons you want the stars to cycle.
i use green, yellow and red stars for example.

green - requires attention, above regular priority
yellow - important email
red - extremely high priority

that should be enough

Sasi's picture
63 pencils

Well, if you have a lots of mails to browse through it's always confusing to indentify the most important. Only the diversity of icons you increase I think. I would like to put the mails in order by importance in starred mails, not by date.

I saw that plugin, I do not want to give colorcoding by importance and then hunt fur high priority mails still by date. And if it's long enough in the starred mails to become a lower level of importance, it may still stay high priority iconed. What I am saying is that you can always put a more important on the top, and still not get confused.

steveballmer's picture
653 pencils

You people have e-mail?
I am not Steve Ballmer pretending not to be me!

Sasi's picture
63 pencils

Sure, we do have :)

bocciaman's picture
78 pencils

What annoys me about Gmail is that even when you label and or star messages they still appear with the rest of the messages in the inbox. To me, it stands to reason that when you label a message it should only appear under that label’s name. Labels are Gmail’s answer to email’s traditional folder structure.

But this is my only complaint towards Google email service. Everything else that gmail offers I love.


Sasi's picture
63 pencils

When creating filters, you should tick the 'skip the inbox' option.

Anyway when just labeling you're right.

I find it annoying that there is no option for applying a label right when composing a message.

Alexa's picture
2 pencils

Hi Flub-Dub, could you (or sb else) please lend me an hand? I just can't see, where to enable superstars :(
gmail > settings > labs? only labels
I guess, superstars would be very helpful for me, as till a few days ago I only used Outlook and was extremely happy with the options there. Only that now our boss has decided that we all use Gmail, and even if/because I "sychronized" Outlook with Gmail, I find this pretty confusing (the Outlook scheme doesn't work anymore as before). I use labels, folders and stars in Gmail and still I'm missing the overview I had before. Also checking off emails isn't possible anymore. Now I move them into a "done" folder, but I don't like, that this way they are totally out of sight ;) Variously colored stars could be helpful.
Any idea, why I can't find a superstar option?

Edit: Found the solution ...and the treasure box :) Not in this account though. Found the lab option in Gmail beta, our corporate accounts, however, use the old version. I wonder why. Tomorrow I'll talk immediately about that to our boss ;)

taranakicowboy's picture
2 pencils

Mac users mat well be aware of the Entourage for Mac in the MS Office for Mac suite of software.
I have been a Mac user from day1 but I have to reluctantly conceed that Entourage is a great email programme....mind i believe that the MS4Mac designers are down in Silicon Valley and not at death star seattle!!
Entourage allows you to assign importance, to do flagging and in a section called projects; allows all these functions to be put & linked together (along with tasks & calender) to ensure optimum workflows and ease of tracking.
hope this is helpful.

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