The Gamification of Your Inbox

As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Traditionally most people take this saying to mean that you should work part of the time and play another part of the time. Sometimes, however, the best way to increase productivity at work is by turning work into play. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to make managing an email inbox fun.

I was once tasked with the job of taking an email inbox of 40,000 emails down to just a couple hundred. Luckily, I came across a few great articles with tips on how to that just that, and I discovered Boomerang. Boomerang is a handy little app for Gmail that allows you to schedule exactly when messages land in your inbox. This app and some of the tips and tools I read about helped me get the job done, but it still felt tedious.

Luckily, I recently discovered This handy little website helps me sift through my inbox 40% faster, and it (magically) makes one of the most boring tasks of my day into a fun game. It seems too good to be true, right?

If you’ve read recent articles in the New York Times, GigaOm and the Harvard Business Review, however, it appears that “gamification of work” is on the rise, and they even cite businesses who use gaming mechanics to increase engagement in employee feedback and improve productivity. The Email Game brags that it can help users focus, improve workflow and help them develop better email habits, so I took it for a spin.

The game gives you four main options: boomerang (schedule email to arrive in your inbox at a later time/date), skip, archive, delete. In just one minute and 54 seconds, I replied to one message, deleted 24 messages, and averaged about four seconds per email. (For the record, I also scored 1862 points and ranked #527 overall among users this week.) While I don’t normally time my inbox habits, I am pretty sure I have never sifted through 24 emails in less than two minutes, and I got excited every time I gained a few points by deleting or promptly responding to messages.

You could also use something like Right Inbox, which gives you a few similarly powerful features. Like most similar softwares, it is easy to use and free to try, and allows you to schedule emails to be sent later, email reminders for follow ups and send recurring emails in Gmail.

The free version of the Email Game works only with Gmail and Google Apps accounts, but the professional edition starts at just $10 a month. If you are sick of spending hours dealing with your inbox and you don’t mind giving up Angry Birds for a couple minutes, the Email Game might be your best bet for getting to inbox zero.

Originally published 2011-08-18. Last updated 2018-08-27.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Nathan Lands says:

    Kate, great article. I think your readers would find our Gamification Wiki of value in understanding the gamification trend:

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