Managing Email Better (or Not)
I recently tried a new approach to managing email better. It did not work for me. I share my experience, however, to make the point the everyone should periodically try to improve their personal productivity. And accept that not all tries work. (I periodically blog about my experiences doing this.)
At the recommendation of my friend Patrick DiDomenico, I decided to try email client Superhuman, whose tagline is “The Fastest Email Experience Ever Made.” It lists intriguing features on its home page: “Superhuman is gorgeous. Blazingly fast. And comes with advanced features that make you feel superhuman. A.I. Triage…. Follow-up Reminders.”
Both my work email and personal email are Gmail (Google mail). I use the native Gmail interface in Chrome on my Mac and the Gmail app on my iPhone. I tend to keep relatively few messages in my inbox, typically under 20, and use a fair number of keystroke shortcuts.
My inbox count is low because I don’t use it as a task manager. For task management, I use Todoist, which integrates with email in two ways. First, there is a Todoist for Gmail browser extension that allows me to create a reminder / task from a message from within Gmail. And second, I can bcc any message to any of the many my Todoist projects.
I used Superhuman with both my Gmail accounts. After several days of trying Superhuman, I realized it was not saving time for me. Granted, there is some transitional learning cost, mainly internalizing its approach to keystroke shortcuts. But I feel I adapted to those quickly.
Before I share why, I want to say that the company’s tech support is fabulous: Superhuman rapidly replied to my multiple email questions. I’ve not seen such high support elsewhere but it comes at a price: $1 per day, which is $365/year. I presume that support is particularly robust in the first, free 30 days to encourage those piloting to stick with the paid plan.
For the way I work, I found several Superhuman downsides. For many of these, I exchanged email with the company and learned that future enhancements likely would address these issues.
- No Todoist integration to convert an email message to a task.
- No Smart Compose, the Gmail feature that auto fills ends of sentences with AI-generated suggestions.
- Message headers show first names. Gmail shows both first and last name. There are always trade offs between elegance and white space and seeing more information by default. For how I work, I need to see last names.
- I often do searches “from:email address”. In Superhuman, unlike gmail, the messages from that address are not expanded in the search results. Instead, each thread shows only the last message in thread. When I do email archaeology, that is a big limitation for me.
- I did not see much evidence of AI at work. I believe one of its features for managing bigger inboxes might benefit from AI but I did not use it.
- Typing a day name or other date related text causes Superhuman to display your calendar in a right pane. While I can imagine that being useful occasionally, I found it a big distraction. I have my calendar open on a separate screen and am accustomed to looking at there. Moreover, many strings I typed that caused the calendar to display were not related to scheduling.
- The Superhuman mobile app seems nice but I did not travel during the time I tried the product so I can’t comment on it other than to say it struck me that paradigm of its swipes felt a bit daunting to internalize quickly.
For me, Superhuman just did not save time in managing email. In fact, it felt like it was taking more time. Plus, $1 per day – that’s $365 / year – seems very expensive to me for software. Todoist, which I love costs only $29/year. And Microsoft Office at $99/year includes licenses for up to 5 users.
So I stopped using it and let the company know. They issued a refund on my credit card very quickly. For managing email, I am back to native Gmail.
What I gather is that Superhuman probably saves more for people who receive much higher volumes of email than I do or who have let their inboxes go out of control. And I can see the promise in its approach and expect it will improve. But the cost would still give me pause.
I am glad I tried it. I realize that since I transitioned from a PC to Mac five years ago, I have not tried that much new software. So it felt time to take the plunge again. Not everything we try will improve our productivity. But it’s worth the try.
The silver lining for me is that the experience reminds me of how much I rely on keystrokes. As part of this process, I reviewed Gmail shortcuts and realized there are more I need to learn and use. Those will save time.
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