A Superhuman Tool for Email?

Is the priciest email service worth it?

This is the Wonder Tools newsletter—useful tools and creative resources for pandemic life. I’m Jeremy Caplan, a journalist & director of teaching & learning at the Newmark J-School.

Would you pay a dollar a day to speed-up your email workflow? That’s the deal offered by Superhuman, an exclusive, invite-only email service for Gmail accounts.  
I work for a non-profit, so it costs me $100/year. That’s more palatable than the full rate of $30/month. But it’s still pricey for something we're used to getting for free. 

So why do I pay for it? 💰

The toll that free email takes is time. Any service that makes email more efficient is worth quite a lot to me. With Superhuman, I gain back the time I would have spent waiting for email pages to load— or slogging through random messages. I can use that regained time for more creative work. Or to go for a walk.

How does it work? 📐

Superhuman is basically a light software layer on top of Gmail. You use its dedicated Mac app, iOS app or Web app to move faster through your messages. No need to change your email address or create a new one— it works with your Gmail accounts.

Hoops to jump through, but excellent customer service🎈

There are a few hoops to jump through to begin using Superhuman. Once you’re invited, you fill out a form about your email usage. Then you set up a one-on-one onboarding call to help you get set up. You get a helpful best practices PDF and a list of keyboard shortcuts. Then each day an email arrives from the CEO explaining—with a helpful gif—a Superhuman feature. The team is super-responsive to help questions.

I've been using it for the past month and I like it. 🧸

I get hundreds of email messages a day. And much of my work involves corresponding with people by email. Especially now. So I spend at least 10 hours a week— sometimes considerably more—reading and writing messages.

About 10% of my messages are what I call "thick" messages that require thought, research and carefully-edited responses. Those thick messages will require lots of time and concentration whatever email service or tool I use. No app can think for me.

Why bother with Superhuman? 🦸‍♀️

Because it works a bit better. Much of the email I get requires just a short response or can be read quickly and archived. For these "thin" messages, it makes a big difference whether I'm using a quick service or one that's a bit slower. I've found that with Superhuman, I move faster through messages than I can with Gmail’s Web app. I can get to the thicker messages quicker because the service is full of keyboard shortcuts that make processing thin messages fast and easy. Even just a couple of minutes saved on every half-hour email session adds up to nearly an hour saved a week. It also feels nicer to work with a tool that’s a bit more responsive. 

It's like getting a 🔦 flashlight that's a little brighter, a ✒️ pen that's a bit slicker or a 🔪 knife that's a bit sharper.

If you use a tool a lot, you might enjoy getting a version that's slightly better.
Gmail has built-in shortcuts that are helpful, but Superhuman has expanded the keyboard shortcut into an art form. It took me a few days to learn a bunch of the core commands. Once I did, I found that I could dispatch thin messages more rapidly than I had been able to in the standard Web-based GMail client.

Bonus features 💥

With quick keyboard commands in Superhuman, you can do all sorts of operations on any email you're sending. For example, you can:

Schedule delivery 📆
Set an email to be delivered later—at whatever time or day you want. This is useful if you don't want to make the time stamp on your email to indicate that you're working late at night or on a holiday. Or if you want to deliver a birthday greeting while you're away.

Snooze messages until you need them 💤
Dismiss an email until a time you a time you prefer later. I use this for Zoom or event info emails. I snooze them to reappear right before the event, so I have the log-in info when I need it.

Automate follow-up reminders
Set the email to be returned to your inbox after 10 days —or whatever length of time you prefer— if it hasn't been responded to. Or even if it has been responded to, as a reminder. This is useful so you don't lose track of something you're waiting on a response for. Now that we're sending and receiving hundreds of messages every month, it's easy for something to fall through the cracks if your inbox doesn't resurface it for you automatically. The alternative is to meticulously make notes about each email you may need to follow-up on, but that's laborious and a time-suck.

Track receipt of your email 🖇
This is a controversial feature that you can turn on or off, as you prefer. This allows you to confirm that someone has read your message. Some people consider this spying, others see it as akin to FedEx delivery confirmation with a signature— assuring you that your message was received.

Get context for your conversation 👩‍🎨
This feature scours the Web to grab quick public info about your email correspondent, so you can see who it is that's sending you a particular message. It generally will include their Twitter, LinkedIn and site links and a quick bio line if it's available online.

The best alternatives 👇

Gmail announced a major redesign this week, first available for GSuite. It looks like it’ll incorporate Slack-like discussion spaces, shared docs, tasks and Zoom-like video chat. If you like that all-in-one workspace approach, request access or wait to try it.

Mixmax is the best alternative to Superhuman if you just want a free tool to add to Gmail to schedule delivery of your messages, get reminders about emails that haven't received a response and get read receipts. You can even use it to streamline scheduling meetings within Gmail. Here's more on Mixmax's free features. I've used Mixmax for years and love it. Here's a 2-minute video I once made about it.

Hey.com is the newest, hottest email service—from the makers of popular productivity software Basecamp. It's $99 a year and offers a much more radical re-envisioning of email. Check out their manifesto for more on this.

I've been toying with setting up a Hey.com account but haven't taken the plunge yet. I hesitate to set up yet another email account to monitor. When I can use Hey.com with my own domain, I’ll likely give it a shot. It certainly looks like a much bolder take on email than Superhuman, which is more of a refinement around the edges. If you’ve been trying Hey, I’d love to hear your impressions thus far.

So bottom line, should you bother with Superhuman?

Some people love it. Others hate it. I like it, but not because it’s revolutionary. In the end, it’s a slight improvement on Gmail’s Web interface. Given that I spend so much time on email, even a small step forward is worth it to me.

If you’re a tool lover who lives in email and you can afford some email luxury, seek out a Superhuman invite. (Ping me and I can try to help). But if you’re looking for a more affordable — free — alternative, go with the Mixmax free plan, which has most of the cool features Superhuman does and works within the Gmail Web interface.

Got a favorite email tool, trick or service? Please hit reply and share it.
And thanks for reading all the way down here. 🔚