October 7, 2019

How to Email Like a Superhuman

A guide to Superhuman's best email features—and how to get similar features in Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail

by @maguay

Founding editor @capiche. Writer. Amateur photographer. Information architect. Older work: @zapier, @AppStorm. Personal blog: @techinch.
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Email seems impossible to tame. It’s everything: your online address, the bit of identifiable data you use to sign up for apps, apply for jobs, work with clients and colleagues, message friends, follow newsletters, and on and on the list goes. And as such, your inbox isn’t just a list of unread messages—it’s a to-do list, reading list, bulletin board, and billboard all in one.

You can’t just ignore it, but you also can’t let it take up your whole day.

So Superhuman. The latest new twist on an email app, Superhuman promises “the fastest email experience ever made.” And it really is fast, made faster if you learn its keyboard shortcuts and tweak it just a bit to fit your workflow.

But it's not all exclusive. Many of Superhuman’s features are things you can do in other email apps. If you don’t have a Superhuman invite—or don’t rely email quite enough to switch—here’s how to get some of its superpowers in Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, and Apple Mail, many of which come from changing your approach to email.

1. Skim, then get rid of emails.

Mark emails as done in Superhuman

Traditional, three-paned email apps like Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail trained us to treat email like important letters. Select a message, read it in its entirety, then decide what to do next.

Gmail’s list inbox only shows email subjects and first lines. That should have taught us to skim email—but old habits die hard.

Part of what makes Superhuman feel like you can clear out your inbox faster is that messages have a prominent Done checkmark, which feels more actionable than the traditionally ambiguous Archive button even if they accomplish the same thing. Superhuman selects the first email by default; click the checkmark or press E to mark a message as done or # to delete it, or use your arrow keys to jump to other messages. In a minute you can get rid of everything that doesn’t matter without really thinking about it.

So. To speedrun through your inbox, don’t read your email. Instead, look through the list and see what looks interesting. See welcome emails, notifications, and newsletters you don’t want to read? Don’t read them—check them off without opening them. Treat email a bit more like a game, as Superhuman founder Rahul Vohra suggested in an AMA as being the core idea behind Superhuman.

Mark email as done in Gmail

Here’s how to do that in other apps with keyboard shortcuts:

  • Gmail: Superhuman shares many design ideas with Gmail—especially its inbox layout, which shows the subject and first line of a message and buttons to archive or delete without opening the email. Use those, or shortcuts: Press x to select a conversation and arrow keys to move up or down, then e to archive or # to delete. Change your mind? Press z to undo.
  • Microsoft Outlook: It may look cluttered by default, but Outlook is infinitely customizable to get a more productive inbox. First, if you want to hide messages so you only see the preview, click the Reading Pane button in the toolbar and turn it off. Then, press Ctrl+. or Ctrl+, to jump to the next or previous message, Ctrl+e to archive the message, or the Delete key to delete it.
  • Apple Mail: If you want a Gmail-style list of messages, open your Apple Mail preferences, click the divider between your inbox and the messages, and drag it to the right. Or, for a more minimal view, select Viewing, then check the Use classic layout option. There, or in the standard view, you can use arrow keys to navigate between messages, then press Cmd+Ctrl+a to archive messages or the delete key to delete them.

2. Rely on muscle memory with keyboard shortcuts.

Superhuman keyboard shortcut reminders

Superhuman gives you superpowers over time with keyboard shortcuts. Sure, you can click your way through your inbox, but keyboard shortcuts keep your hands on the keyboard, ready to reply or archive without changing your focus.

Whenever you click anything in Superhuman, it gives you a small reminder of the keyboard shortcut you could have used instead. Or, if you use the command pallet to jump to the command you need, and preview the shortcut at the same time. That helps you build your superpowers as you add new shortcuts to your muscle memory over time.

Apple Mail Keyboard Shortcuts

Macs has offered similar hints for years—albeit less obviously—in the app menu, where each option shows its matching shortcut. And in most other email apps, there are keyboard shortcuts for almost everything the app offers. You’ll just have to learn them on your own.

The trick is, don’t just learn a few keyboard shortcuts. I’ve used shortcuts to reply and send messages for years, but taking the time to learn shortcuts for every other email task sped me up considerably. Here’s where to find the keyboard shortcuts for your email app:

Tip: Make a list of the shortcuts you’d use the most, and print it out or save it to your desktop for easy reference.

3. Don’t repeat yourself. Reuse your best emails.

Add Superhuman email snippet template

There’s no reason to type the same response over and again. Instead, figure out the best way to phrase something, write it once, then reuse the same text every time. It’s a popular feature in customer support apps, but less often used for personal email.

Superhuman gets you to re-use text with Snippets. Save new snippets of standard responses, then when writing an email that could use a response you’ve saved, press Cmd+; and choose the correct snippet.

Save template emails in Gmail

You could do the same in any email app with a text expander app such as the eponymous TextExpander, Alfred, or PhraseExpander. Add your snippets to the text expander app of your choice then add keyboard shortcuts for each snippet. Then press that shortcut whenever you want to re-use that text (something that works for standard letters, forms, and anywhere else you type repetitive text).

Or, you could use similar if hidden features in your email app to save standard responses:

  • Gmail: Gmail includes an optional Canned Responses tool that you first need to enable. Open Gmail settings, choose Advanced, then click Enable beside the Canned Responses option and save the changes. Then, write a new email with the text you want to save, click the menu, choose Canned Response, and save the draft message as a new template. You can then select responses from that same menu whenever writing or replying to an email.
  • Microsoft Outlook: Click the View Templates button in the toolbar when composing an email; you may need to scroll to the right to see it. Then select a default template or click the + button to add a new one.
  • Apple Mail: There’s no built-in option to save email replies, though you can save snippets in your Mac keyboard settings—or use a text expander app.

4. Fix mistakes. Undo sent and deleted messages quickly.

Undo sending emails in Superhuman

We’ve all hit send too fast, before correcting an obvious spelling mistake or attaching the correct file. If only you could pull the message back from the internet!

Superhuman can. It shows an Undo button every time you send a message. Realize you forgot something? Press z and you’re back to writing the message, no harm done. The same trick works when deleting or archiving messages; z puts things back where they were before.

Undo send time setting in Gmail

Undo sending has been around for years if your company uses Microsoft Exchange—and more recently, it’s made its way to Gmail. Here’s how to fix your email mistakes before everyone notices them:

  • Gmail: By default, Gmail now also lets you undo sending within 5 seconds. Press z or click the Undo button after sending an email to pull it back—and the same shortcuts also works to un-delete messages as in Superhuman. If you’d like more time to undo sending, open Gmail’s settings and choose up to 30 seconds from the Undo Send option.
  • Microsoft Outlook: If your office uses Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 to manage emails, you can recall emails after you’ve sent them—as long as they haven’t been read yet. Open your Outbox folder, click the message you didn’t mean to send, then click the Recall this message option (which may be hidden in an Other actions menu). For other actions, Ctrl+z or Cmd+z will undo deleting messages and more.
  • Apple Mail: You can’t undo sending here, though Cmd+z will undo almost anything else you do in the app such as deleting or archiving emails.

5. Don’t do tasks only because they’re in your inbox.

Get reminded about emails later in Superhuman

Just because something’s in your inbox doesn’t mean it needs done right now. You already have a full agenda for the day, and those new tasks that showed up in your email should be scheduled for when you have time—not done right away simply to clear out your inbox.

Superhuman’s built-in Remind me tool hides emails until they need completed. Click the clock icon or press h, then choose a time when the email should show back up. That makes your inbox less of a demand on your time, and more of an organized to-do list.

Outlook email reminders

Here are tricks to help turn other inboxes into a to-do list:

  • Gmail: Gmail includes a Snooze button above every email, where you can select when you want that message to come back into your inbox. Or, you could turn it into an actual to-do; click the three-dot button, select Add to Tasks, and Gmail will put this email in your Google Tasks list to conquer along with the rest of your work.
  • Microsoft Outlook: You might need more help remembering to follow up on sent emails than to complete tasks in your inbox. Either way, Outlook has you covered. Click the flag button in your inbox or when writing a message to get a Follow Up reminder. With Exchange or Office 365 accounts, you can pick the follow up time you want, and get reminded when that email comes back; with other email accounts, your Follow Up message are added to a separate list where you can handle them later.
  • Apple Mail: There’s no way to get emails to leave your inbox and come back later, but you can turn them into tasks fairly easily. Open the Reminders app, and drag the email into your to-do list to turn it into a task. Or, you could add colored flags to emails to organize them in a list.

6. Divide and conquer. Group emails by priority.

Superhuman split inbox settings

Or, you could have your email app sort tasks for you. It’s not quite that easy, but Superhuman’s Splits do help you figure out where to focus, and ignore the rest until you have time. The idea is, Superhuman will figure out who your most important contacts are, and you can set up additional splits with other emails you want to check together (perhaps newsletters, bills, or app notifications). Everything else goes in Other where you can quickly check off emails after skimming through them.

It takes a bit of training. Whenever you receive an email that should be in a split, press Cmd+k, type split, then choose to add that contact to a split, or edit your splits and add new ones. Over time, you’ll know exactly where to jump when you need specific types of emails.

Apple Mail email rules

Splits are unique to Superhuman, but most email apps have ways to automatically move emails around so you don’t have to sort things manually:

  • Gmail: Google’s email relies more on AI to automatically sort your messages into primary, social, updates, promotions, and forum tabs. You can choose which of those views to enable by default. Or, you could add filtering rules to sort messages the way you want. Open a message, and in its menu select Filter messages like these to have Gmail add a tag automatically to use tags as your own take on splits.
  • Microsoft Outlook: By default, Outlook will show a Focused inbox that includes conversations it deems most important, grouped by date. You can tweak that from the menu at the top of your message list, or use its Filters to drill through your inbox. Or, add rules to have Outlook flag messages or move them into folders automatically.
  • Apple Mail: Apple relies on you to mark your most important contacts for its VIP list. Click a contact name on an email, select Add to VIPs, then emails from them will automatically show up in your VIP list for a curated inbox. Or, add Smart Mailboxes with rules that will only show specific messages to build your own smart splits.

7. Time matters. Check your calendar and recipient’s time zone first.

Superhuman calendar

Ever tried to schedule a meeting, only to remember after sending the email that you have another event at the same time? Superhuman’s built-in calendar keeps you from slipping up. When you start writing out a meeting time, it opens today’s calendar in the sidebar with all your events. You can shift to the next or previous date with a keyboard shortcut to preview another day in your schedule and change the invite while still typing.

Superhuman send email later

Or, the important time may be when they receive the email. If your contact is out of office when they receive your invite, odds are your email might get hidden under all the other emails that come in before tomorrow morning. Instead, Superhuman can send your email at the time you think it’ll be read from the Cmd+k toolbar, where you can schedule the time and timezone you want.

Apple Mail add events to calendar

You can’t get the exact same features in other email apps without add-ons, but keeping your calendar open alongside email is a habit worth starting. Here are some tricks to help:

  • Gmail: In Gmail’s new design, the right sidebar includes buttons to open Google Tasks, Google Calendar, and other apps via Gmail Add-ons. Click the Google Calendar icon to preview your calendar from your inbox. Then, if you want to send emails later, click the arrow beside the Send button then Schedule Send to pick the best time for Gmail to send this message.
  • Microsoft Outlook: Outlook is one of the original personal information manager apps, and as such includes email, contacts, calendar, and tasks all in one. Click the calendar icon or press Ctrl+2 or Cmd+2` to open the full calendar anytime. Then, if you’re using Outlook with Exchange Server or Office 365, there’s an option to send messages later as well. Click the down arrow under the Tags to open the message sending options, then choose the time to have it sent—or click the down arrow beside the Send button, and choose Send Later.
  • Apple Mail: There’s no built-in calendar—though you could open the Calendar app on your Mac alongside Mail if you want. It also can’t send emails later. But, it can help you add new events to your calendar. If someone emails and mentions a meeting time, Apple Mail will surface that at the top of your message where your can preview your calendar then add the meeting in a click.

8. Get rid of junk. Unsubscribe, don’t delete.

Unsubscribe from emails in Superhuman

One’s treasure is another’s junk. It’s not that newsletters are bad, but if you’re not reading them, they’re just another more thing cluttering your inbox.

Superhuman makes unsubscribing easy. It puts an Unsubscribe button under email newsletter subjects, like Gmail, then makes it easier with the handy Cmd+u` shortcut to unsubscribe from your keyboard. It then offers to mark all other emails from this sender as done to clear them all out of your inbox at once.

Website preview to unsubscribe in Apple Mail

Gmail puts an unsubscribe link at the top of newsletter emails, too. In other email apps, you may have to search for the unsubscribe link, typically in the footer of notification and newsletter emails. Apple Mail has one extra trick: Click the small arrow beside the unsubscribe link to open the unsubscribe page inside your mail app to quit getting emails you don’t even quicker.

It might take a bit of extra trouble to unsubscribe in other email apps, but it’s worth it. Instead of wasting a second or three deleting unwanted emails every time, take the extra few seconds to unsubscribe today to get it over with forever.

9. Chat. Write shorter emails.

Chat-style email in Superhuman

Yet another Superhuman feature that doesn’t require a new email app is its emphasis on brevity. Especially on mobile, Superhuman formats replies like chat conversations—your messages on the right, others’ messages on the left, with headers and footers hidden by default. The reply box is equally minimal, encouraging you to get to the point. Just say what needs said quickly.

That mindset change can apply to any app. No matter how large the reply window, you don’t have to write a full letter every time you send an email. Greetings, signatures, and more are niceties—not necessities.

Try writing shorter emails. Make your point clearly and concisely. Treat it like a message, not a letter. Don’t stress over making it perfect. It’ll be fine—and you’ll get through the email that need replies in not much more time than those that don’t.

10. Study your email app.

Perhaps the greatest revelation of using Superhuman is how much you can get out of taking time to explore an app. The Superhuman experience doesn't start with an app—it starts with a 30 minute call where a Superhuman team member walks you through the app’s features after learning how you typically use email. They teach you to use keyboard shortcuts, schedule emails, and use other unique Superhuman features during the call.

You walk away feeling like you know how to use the app, not like it’s a new thing you’ll have to figure out over time.

"Superhuman's magic comes from the fact that they actually train you to use email better," said @abouelatta_ali in a discussion about the best email apps. Features only help you be more productive if you use them—and Superhuman's lessons ensure you do.

It doesn’t take a new email app to get that feeling. Even if you’ve used Gmail or Outlook for years, odds are there are slightly hidden features you’ve never learned to use. Take 30 minutes to learn everything in your email app. Dig deep. Click all the buttons and see what they do, explore menus and settings panes to check for hidden options, and memorize how to use them. Check your email app’s add-ons or extensions for more options to add productivity features to your app.

You’ll gain new email superpowers without needing a new app.

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Question
What is the best email app?
Answer
abouelatta_ali's avatar
10 points

This is coming from someone who started with gmail, then migrated to outlook, then migrated to Inbox by Gmail then migrated to Astro (acquired by slack) and now Superhuman user and fan. Besides the ones I mentioned I think I tried all available products (paid and free) including airmail and others.

Superhuman's magic comes from the fact that they actually train you to use email better. Its weird but the app always has subtle suggestions on how to do things faster and more efficiently . It took me 2-4 weeks to get the hang of it but once you do, gmail feels like it was built in the 1990s. I got so good at their shortcuts that I find myself using them in other apps as airtable and notion.

It is the most expensive email client for sure but if you get more than 50 emails/day..it is TOTALLY WORTH IT

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