Categorized or Standard Inbox?

As a result of last month's "Getting Things Done with Lotus Notes" public and IBM Employee Only webinars with David Allen, thousands of Notes users around the world are now exploring and choosing eProductivity as an alternative to the standard Lotus Notes Mail/Calendar/tasks experience to increase their personal productivity. Today I want to discuss a little-known feature hidden inside of Lotus Notes that allows you to categorize the messages in your inbox.

This 'categorized' functionality has been provided by IBM in all Mail template releases since Notes 7. Apparently some organizations - like IBM - have modified their standard mail template to make categorization of messages in the inbox become the default.

How the 'categorized' inbox works in Lotus Notes:


In the standard Lotus Notes Mail inbox, emails are presented in chronological order with the oldest message at the top and the newest at the bottom. No preference is give to messages flagged 'High priority' or calendar invites and meeting notices:

This is my standard inbox as it appears in eProductivity 2.0.1.4

In the 'Categorized' Notes Mail Inbox, emails are presented in a categorized fashion so that:
  • Calendar Invites/Updates will appear at the top of the inbox
  • Next, all high priority emails will be displayed
  • Finally, all normal priority emails will be displayed
Here's how the above mail box looks with the 'categorized' inbox:
This is what my inbox looks like with the 'categorized' inbox enabled in eProductivity 2.0.1.5

I'm not sure whether I prefer the categorized inbox or not yet, but if you are a current eProductivity beta user and want to experience this, we've posted version 2.0.1.5 in the beta forum so you can try it out for yourself. Meanwhile, read on for my reactions...

My thoughts on the categorized inbox so far...


On the surface, this categorized view would appear to be a boon to anyone that gets lots of emails and wants to be sure that they won't miss an urgent email. At least that was my initial reaction. I like that all calendar items appear at the top of the inbox -- it makes it easier to process all of my calendar related invites, notices, and changes at once. At first glance, having the high priority emails at the top of the inbox means that I won't miss a high priority item -- as long as I remember to check that part of the view.

But is this really the most productive way to go, or does it encourage less productive email habits? That's what I wanted to know, so I made the change to my inbox and worked with it for a while.

What I like about the categorized inbox

As I stated earlier, I like having all of the calendar information in once place. That makes it easy for me to handle all calendar information at once. What I lose, however, is the context as I can longer see the email messages that came in before and after the calendar request or update. I haven't reached a conclusion about whether that is a big deal or not.

In the same way, I like that I can see and get to all urgent (flagged as High importance, but let's call it how people use it) email in one place. Here again, context is lost because these messages are now at the top instead of in the message flow.

What concerns me about the categorized inbox

For me, the biggest concern about a categorized inbox + lots of emails is that I'd FORGET to check the top of the stack. David Allen and I teach that the best practice around email is to process it once into a trusted system and then work from an empty inbox. We teach that your inbox should only be a temporary collection point for incoming stuff.

If you work this way and your process your inbox to zero at least once every 24 hours, then a categorized inbox might be helpful and may even be more productive. If you are buried in email and have a considerable backlog, then my concern is that a categorized inbox can become a hindrance to your overall productivity by encouraging you to deal with what's latest and loudest -- your urgent items -- and not the rest of the messages.

Also, if you have more than one screen full of email, you will have to scroll to the top to see these urgent emails. As a result, you risk losing focus on the rest of your inbox because you are either at the top or the bottom of the stack. For me, in the sort while that I have been evaluating the categorized inbox I found myself subject to the tyranny of the urgent. And, there was no incentive for be to process everything - I could simply wait until things were urgent enough to flag them as such. I try to process my email when it shows up instead of when it blows up.

What do YOU think?

Do you think the 'categorized' inbox would be a help or a hindrance? Do you currently use the categorized inbox? If so, what do you like or dislike about it ? If you don't, what are your thoughts? I'd like to know.

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