tech boot camp

There’s One Thing About the New Gmail That’s Actually Good

Complain about the new Gmail all you want, this one feature is surprisingly handy. Photo: Gmail.

Gmail’s new redesign is a touchy subject. Either you love it or you hate it, and, frankly, I’ve yet to meet anybody who outright loves it, myself included. There’s something cartoonish about the new design. Something that brings water to my eyes, which had grown accustomed to the old Gmail after years and years of use. My account made the switch for me in late September, to my great sadness. The world’s on fire … why did my trusted, free email provider have to do this thing I did not ask for or want while continuing to let me use its services for free!

But several days after the switch was forced upon me, I noticed something. Something I liked. On the right-hand side of one of my emails was a note in orange reminding me that, though I had received that particular email three days ago, I had yet to reply, and would I like to click to do so? Why … yes. Yes, I would. The feature is called Google Nudge and uses AI to scan your emails looking for ones that you probably mean to respond to but didn’t. Emails you opened and started typing responses to but never finished. Emails from people who seem important, to Google’s AI, but never replied to you. I was immediately struck by how convenient it was to have my in-box telling me that I never actually sent that response email I thought I’d sent.

It’s worth taking a second here to detail my email habits. I am not a disciple of in-box zero. Not even close. The number of unread emails across my Gmail accounts is, at this moment, just over 41,000. I like my technological mess, but it does mean that things are more likely to fall through the cracks because they are out of sight. For me, Nudge helps with this. Particularly with email conversations that are lower priority — a.k.a. I am likely to forget to deal with them — but still have to been seen to completion.

An old roommate whose in-box did not resemble a war zone once taught me an email trick called OHIO. (He did not make this up, but it’s one of those internet things with no real origin, so congrats, Andrew, for the purposes of this piece, you invented the OHIO method.) OHIO is an acronym for “Only Handle It Once.” Which means, if you open an email and you need to reply … you have to reply to it right then and there. If you open an email and you want to delete it … same deal. Only handle it once. It’s a useful enough trick, but for me it mostly translated to scanning subject lines and trying to gauge if I needed to open the email at all, so as not to have to handle it once I did. (It’s unclear if reading subject lines also qualifies as handling an email and would have warranted me to then open it and deal with it, but I’m in charge here, and I say it does not.)

For me, Gmail’s nudges turn OHIO into OHIT — Only Handle It Twice — and I’m okay with that. It’s a genuinely helpful productivity feature that has made me, at least a little, a better emailer. This is not to say a perfect emailer. (I’m speaking to you here, Gil, the college journalism student whom I know I owe an email to right now.) But a better one.

On the off chance that you remain unconvinced that you need to be reminded by robots to reply to your emails, or you truly do have an in-box so immaculate that this feature is of no use to you, you can turn it off. To do this, head to Settings by tapping the gear-shaped icon in the upper-right-hand corner of your Gmail in-box and selecting Settings from the drop-down menu. This will bring you to your General Settings. Scroll down until you find Nudges. You’ll see two options: “Suggest emails to reply to” and “Suggest emails to follow up on.” You can choose to turn off one or both by unchecking the blue box next to each option, though I have no idea why you’d want to ruin your in-box like that.

There’s One Thing About the New Gmail That’s Actually Good