do not step out
looking around
30/Aug/2006 | 11:30

The Glance: Smart Mailboxes Rock Your Shit

In Mail.app right now, I have three Smart Mailboxes:

Additionally, all Smart Folders—er, Mailboxes—pull from all account inboxes.

"What does that tell you?" asks Rands.

It tells me what's been important very recently. It solves THE GLANCE for me.

I have a ton of mail spread across two inboxes, and my screen real estate is finite. Also, scrolling sucks. Yes, it may be easy with today's newfangled whatsits and whosits, but in the end, scrolling means I have more information than I can see. In this case, I can't just glance and see what's going on.


If the amount of information I can absorb over a period X is greater than the amount of information I can see during period X, there's a bottleneck somewhere. In the case of my inbox, it means I'm spending time:

Look around your office for a second. Look and listen for a moment, then look back at the screen. Now answer a question:


The Glance, if done right, can tell me the answer.

A Clever Tom Jones Reference

A quick look around the room will give you an indication of what's going on, right? There's no big science there, no massive revelation in thinking, because, uh, it's common freaking sense. If you have a BIG room, or a room that you can't see all at once, you might have to get up and walk around. Ask someone else, maybe. I don't know, it's your office.

Your inbox is the same way. If it's too big, you spend time dealing with said bigness. I HAVE TEN THOUSAND MESSAGES IN THIS BOX HOW CAN ANYONE SORT THROUGH THIS SHIT?

So maybe you're not sorting through ten thousand messages all at once. But the finite nature of your screen means you're scrolling. Scrolling FEELS like a natural action, but every time you CLICK, you're STOPPING TO THINK, if even for a split-second. It's visual sorting, sifting, scrolling . . . it gets in my way, at the least. It's not fluid.

How many messages will you get today? Ten? Fifty? One hundred? Surely it's easier to sift through that than ten thousand,right? Over the next week, according to my completely made-up math, you might see one, two, or five hundred messages. That's still easier to whip a scroll wheel through.

But that's not the whole story. (Literally.) By making my Smart Mailboxes pull from all folders and inboxes, suddenly I can see what's important TODAY and VERY RECENTLY across a wide scope. It's like being able to glance around your office and the office next to you at the same time.

And, of course, if there's something you don't want to see because it's going to get in the way, exclusion is trivial. I exclude mailing lists, because I don't really want to wade through all fifty messages that get posted to cocoa-dev today. I've got more important shit to read right now.

Oh, check it out, I can have a longer-lasting orgasm. I'll save that e-mail for later.

Waving Your Arms Like an Idiot

A shortened scope is great for browsing and getting a quick handle on what's prescient, but it doesn't tell me priority—it only suggests nascence. To signal HOT SHIT, I use flagging. But how do we view flagged items? Well, I guess you can resort the list, but I HATE RESORTING because that means I have to RE-RESORT. It also suggests that what I was doing somehow doesn't work well. Right?

My "Semaphore" Smart Folder—argh, dammit, Mailbox—is a quick way to see all flagged messages from everywhere with one quick glance. If it NEEDS TO STAY ON MY PLATE, it can be found here. It works. Well. And while it seems really, painfully, ridiculously obvious, I find that nine out of ten people to whom I describe it, well, they'd never thought about doing it before. We're just used to folders and sorting rules, I suppose, after decades of using e-mail. Dynamic is good.

Have You Seen This Child?

CLEARLY I AM A FAN OF SMART MAILBOXES (DON'T CALL THEM FOLDERS). Which means I want the system to be even better than it is. After all, the more you like something, the more you use it, and thus the more things you see that you'd like to have. To close, here's a short list of criteria that don't exist in Smart Mailboxes, but should:

In the end, you can't avoid scrolling unless no one likes you. But you can decrease its impact on your inbox.

Time to inquire about those longer orgasms. Hope I can find that message in all of this junk.