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Inbox by Google Changed My Life


Update September 2018: Google announced that it will be discontinuing Inbox in March 2019. I am incredibly bummed by this. While Gmail has adopted some of the features, the apps aren’t as good. I would like an alternative but right now, I am waiting out the end of Inbox.

Inbox by Google has been one of the most important pieces of software I’ve ever used. Yes, I’m serious.

Like many of you, I had an email problem. But maybe more importantly, I had a task management issue. My email box was a wasteland of good intentions gone to die. Commitments to get back to people. Tasks that I should complete. Documents and ideas awaiting my review.

Every time I opened my email, it was there. And every time, I was great at ignoring it.

One day, I responded to an email a month old and wrote something like, “I meant to get to this earlier.” What a dick move.

Anyway, I tried many solutions. I tried task management software and email solutions like CloudMagic. I was even thinking of using some sort of light CRM system to just keep crap in order. Which, yeah, all of these would probably be okay but eventually fairly simple things like search and tagging went haywire. I went back to my old familiar ways.

Fortunately, I’ve been lucky to work for organizations that use Google Apps instead of Outlook. While Gmail is what most people use to manage email (or maybe the stock Apple apps if they have a Mac), I switched to Inbox by Google six months ago. It worked.

The chorus sang.

Here’s why it works:

  • It works the same everywhere. On the web, iPhone, iPad, Android or even a Windows phone, it’s the same. Functionality in the app versus the web is only better because rich notifications and quicker load time.
  • I focus on what I can complete now. When an email comes in, I make a decision: Can I answer it immediately or does it need to wait? If I can answer it immediately, I do and if it needs to wait, I schedule it for later (in the evening, tomorrow, next week, etc…).
  • It’s more than an inbox. This is also where Inbox excels. It keeps my to-do list handy and I only have what I’m working on that day up in my inbox. If I need to push a task, it’s as easy to schedule as an email.
  • Smart functions. When I went to Europe, it bundled all of my trip information into one thread, keeping track of what was coming up that day, including live flight information. Also, when I’m responding to emails, it has smart replies that help me answer email better. If someone emails me to schedule a call, it will give me smart replies like, “What’s your schedule like?” or “How about Thursday or Friday?”
  • No integration headaches. It’s built by Google, hosted by Google, and it’s using Gmail. Reminders show on my Google calendar. Searching is native. Tags and everything transfer over.

Now are there downsides? Sure. Power users might find the stripped down interface too limiting. Things like filters and vacation notifiers are best handled in Gmail (which you can go to from within the Inbox interface).

Let me say that after my initial setup, I’m in Gmail maybe a couple times a month tops. It’s not a huge issue.

That image on top? That’s what it shows when your Inbox has no emails. That doesn’t mean I don’t have emails to answer, though. In my work inbox, I have about 40 emails and reminders snoozed for a variety of times for when I need to follow up. I never think about it because Google will pop it up automatically whenever I told it to.

I sit at a virtual inbox zero many days.

Maybe most importantly, I’m not spending all day in my email inbox, feeling like an idiot because I can never catch up. If you’re waiting for a response from me, it’s intentional and I will get back to you.

If you want to learn about some of the cool stuff you can do with Inbox, you can check out the Google team’s blog. They seem to be releasing features on a regular basis.

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Are You Hiring Clowns?

It is a disturbing trend: Companies are asking stupider questions of candidates than ever before. You know why? Because they can.

Look, I get it. You heard about some tech company doing it. You read How Would You Move Mt. Fuji? and thought it was brilliant. You want to be innovative. Or hip. Or whatever. Hell if I know, I’ve never been any of these things.

Whenever someone wants to ask a stupid question in an interview, this is what I ask:

Are We Hiring Clowns?

If so, I have no problem having a clown jump through hoops and put on a circus act. I do have a problem with making people who aren’t clowns put on a circus act and jump through hoops though.

That whole thing about resumes and interviews being poor predictors of success in the workplace has to do with the fact that doing well in those situations rarely has anything to do with the job at hand. Let’s stop pretending that we are savants when it comes to interviewing and realize that successfully finding the right fit based on a standard resume and interview protocol is more of a happy stroke of luck than anything else.

So why are these tech companies spending thousands of dollars developing complex puzzle questions if they don’t get results? I would suggest three things:

  1. They think it works because they continue to see success. I would say that they are successful in spite of their erroneous selection methods. Many companies can be successful in this situation.
  2. They think they are more innovative than they actually are. Using the two commonly cited examples, Microsoft isn’t really an innovator of new products (just reinventing their current products like Madonna every couple of years). Google’s most successful innovations outside of search have come through acquisition (YouTube is arguably the most successful product by Google outside of search and they bought it).
  3. They’ve become part of a hazing culture. If everyone in an organization has had to go through the pain of that sort of selection process, they believe that everyone in the future should as well in order to become part of the culture there.

What are your thoughts on these interviewing tactics?