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for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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The pros and cons of automatic sorting

This week I sent out an email about a Gmail development that could affect you.  I got a surprising number of replies, so it seemed like email sorting would be a good subject for discussion.

Gmail has been rolling out a new platform that will automatically sort your incoming emails and assign them to particular categories.

These categories include:

  • PRIMARY – your main inbox where your uncategorized mail will enter, unless Gmail “decides” it belongs somewhere else
  • SOCIAL – where notifications from your social media will go
  • PROMOTIONS – anything sent out in a mass mailing, such as newsletters, announcements and blog posts

OK, I admit I’m biased.  I have nothing against programs that filter and sort your email, when YOU have decided how to sort them.   But in this case, Gmail is making that decision for you.

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of automatic email sorting, especially for us with ADD / ADHD.

CONS – Why Automatic Email Sorting could be a Problem for ADD / ADHD

Here’s why automatic segregation could pose a particular problem for many of us.

If we can't see it, we forget about it.  As ADD / ADHD Adults, we tend to operate in the mode of “out of sight, out of mind.”   So, unless we develop a strong ritual routine or habit of checking a particular email folder on a regular basis, anything sent into that folder may not be seen for a long time!

We tend to wait until the last minute to take action.  I’m sure that there’s nothing really urgent about seeing an ADD / ADHD strategy blog post today versus several days from now.  However, you may be upset at missing certain kinds of time-driven announcements.

  • Free training videos that are posted for a limited time
  • Live webinars that are coming up within 24 hours
  • Early Bird sales savings on classes and programs
  • Sale of the Week that I’ll run in August (haven’t announced that one yet, but it’s coming!)

People often need to see these types of announcements several times before they act on them.  Imagine if you don’t even see it the first time, and by the time you check the Promotions Folder, the event or sale is already over!

We are impatient about taking extra steps.  I’ve found that I personally need everything coming into ONE mailbox, because unless it comes into my main mailbox, I don't remember to look for it.   I usually don’t feel like going to another box to check for things.

Cyber-robots make mistakes!  Sometimes, by the time I go to my JUNK MAIL folder, I find that Outlook has inexplicably classified an email from a client or prospect as “junk,” even though I’ve corresponded with that person in the past. Cyberspace wisdom is not infallible!  I can’t trust Google to accurately identify what is or is not “Promotion.”

PROS – Why Automatic Sorting can be a Useful Tool for ADD / ADHD

Too much email is overwhelming!   Many of us are susceptible to getting overwhelmed when faced with visual clutter.   It’s already hard enough to sort through an inbox with hundreds of messages, to find the few that require immediate action.  When non-critical emails are sorted out automatically, you have less to look at and decide about.

Here are a couple of ways you can flag emails to stand out in your Gmail Inbox:

  • Label particular emails so they’ll visually pop out.   Whether in your Primary Inbox or Promotions Folder, you could create a filter that gives particular emails a certain label.  If you wanted to label all of my emails as “ADHD,” you could filter those.  There is a good video explaining how to do it in Gmail.

Sorting cuts down on distraction.   Let’s face it, it is very distracting to see a notification of every Facebook post and tweet when you’re trying to get work done.  Yet most of us are loathe to banish these little stimulating hits.   Gmail has made the decision for you, so you can wait until it’s the right time (or you need a break) to go into your Social or Promotions folders and read the extra-curricular messages.

You CAN control how you categorize emails.   Although Gmail is moving all Gmail users by default to their new tab system, you have the power to over-ride the sorting… or use it to your advantage.

How to override the new Gmail categories:

  1. In Gmail, click on the PROMOTIONS tab.   (If you don’t see it across from the Compose button, refresh the page.)
  2. Click and drag an email from Thrive with ADD or to the PRIMARY tab. 
 (You just need to drag ONE.)
  3. You will be asked if you want to “Do this for all future messages.” Click “YES.”

If you read Gmail on your phone, you’ll want to perform this configuration on your Gmail for Android and Gmail for iPhone apps.   Otherwise, you will have to remember to click the Promotions Tab to see any of my emails.

What do YOU think about the new automatic Gmail sorting?  What email solutions have worked best for you?  Whether or not you're a Gmail user, please COMMENT and SHARE below.

Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.



    I’m glad I don’t use gmail. I use outlook and so far they haven’t done anything like gmail is doing and I hope they won’t. I decide where what goes – and I prefer it that way. Absolutely true about “out-of-sight, out-of-mind”.

    Bonnie Mincu

    I use Outlook as well, even after I switched to a Mac.


    I have a gmail account that switched, but you can switch it back to the old configuration (and I did). You can switch off the Social and Promotions tabs, and then everything goes to Primary, just like it did before.

    Bonnie Mincu

    Yes, good you figured that out. It’s not hard to configure, but people sometimes don’t realize it.


    I use Gmail for your mailing list, but perhaps because I already had a filter created for your messages they have continued to show up in my primary inbox tab even after the switch. I don’t remember having done anything special to make them show up there (other than creating the filter many many months ago).

    Bonnie Mincu

    Yes, filters make all the difference, and you can control what you want your email to do.

    Some Gmail users have told me this week that their tab categories exist, but my emails aren’t necessarily being sorted into Promotions. Since Gmail is doing a slow roll-out of this, probably different users are having different experiences right now.

    Eric Turner

    Hi Bonnie (again),

    Actually in the Gmail app for iOS you don’t have to remember to check the social and promotions tabs because it actually tells you that you have email in those folders. It even tells you how many. Your primary folder will have what looks like an email that says you have unopened mail in those folders. In my opinion it does it “better” than desktop Gmail because it actually tells you there are unopened emails in those folders.

    Their new approach certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is another options as we try to figure out what works best for each of us.


    Bonnie Mincu

    Good to know! Though for someone like me, who subscribes to LOTS of informational newsletters, that would actually be more of an annoyance because I will always have unopened mail, probably 20 a day. So I would still have to go to the folders to see what the message actually is.

    If I’m going to get something in my Inbox, I’d rather get the actual email than a message telling me to go somewhere else to see the email!

    “ADD-friendly” directions for tips are as important, if not more important, than the tip itself. For those with “brain-based” differences, having the necessary sequenced steps to perform the tip increases its value 100% for those who want to use it but can’t because they don’t understand the software author’s dirctions: if they read the instructions. Thanks for a great “complete” tip, Bonnie, and to Tara McGillicuddy’s tweeted link to it. As someone always notes at ACO, ADDA or CHADD conventions, we truly are a great tribe or family that thrives best through our connections to others.

    Bonnie Mincu

    Absolutely, the method is conveying information is so important. Of course, what is ADD-friendly to some may not be so to others. A lot of people love video instruction, but I prefer to see things written down in sequence. Luckily, there’s enough information being put out about this Gmail change that you can find different ways to learn about it.

    Justin Howard

    HI Bonnie, It looks like gmail which has been notoriously anti spam is going to hop on the spam wagon with “promotions”! Is this what all this sorting is really about; a glorified “spam folder”? justin


    Bonnie Mincu

    There should already be a filter that eliminates much of the spam before it gets to you. (I shudder to remember the days when I had to weed through all the graphic porn in my Inbox first thing in the morning!) But it seems that whenever I buy anything, I start getting email from that company. I imagine those kinds of emails will now go into the Gmail PROMOTIONS folder. Unfortunately, it’s likely that anything from a company or mailing list that you’ve subscribed to will also go there.

    I’ve learned quite a bit from subscribing to a lot of internet marketing experts’ emails, and they often will put out something about a live webinar starting in an hour, or a product on sale that has a very limited time offer. If something like that didn’t come directly into my Inbox, I’d miss it!


    While i hate how Google tracks every word I write…I think this development might be good for me.
    I know filters are beneficial for ADD folks, but it seems complicated, so I have been resistant to setting them up. Also, I am a notorious time waster with email “promotions” (your emails, Bonnie, are not showing up as Promotions on my gmail account) these labels should help me be more mindful.

    Bonnie Mincu

    I guess Gmail users will see how this plays out over time. Perhaps my emails don’t show up as promotions if they have “BLOG POST” in the subject. You could see if the emails that do land up in your PROMOTIONS tab have something in common — are they all promoting products or sales? Are any informational emails from services you subscribe to showing up there as well?

    The key point is that you DO have the power to change how Gmail is designating your email with the simple steps in this blog post. Google has also posted easy instructions in the links that I gave. You can also find more “how to’s” on the subject of sorting and flagging email in YouTube videos.


    see my comment below about — you might find it helpful, as it’s a lot easier than setting up filters, and has definitely helped me not waste as much time with promotions (while still being able to read about and access them when I need them).


    I turned off the new sorting folders as soon as I got them – they confused me.

    However, I have been using a service called [] – and I can’t say enough good things about it. It automatically categorizes and organizes my subscriptions, and then sends me a packaged email with all of them once a day. If I need to see them before then, they’re all in a gmail folder called ‘unroll’.

    It has really helped me to stop wasting time clicking on flash sale site emails, etc. as they came in. Yes, once in a while I hear about a 24-hour thing the day after – but that could happen with a backlog in my inbox anyway – and with this new method, I have gotten MUCH better at answering personal emails, because they are all near the top of my inbox and easier to deal with.

    I used to have a complicated system of filters and folders, but takes care of it all for me – I love it.

    Bonnie Mincu

    Sarah, thanks for sharing your tip. The service looks like a good solution, and it’s not just for Gmail!


    I use Outlook and have a folder called unread mail that is sorted by sender…I can quickly scan through and see what is important. When I see an email I want to do something with later I have a great Outlook add-in called ToDoist ( free version is wonderful and you can create todo list items from emails or just anything you want to remember…love it!! When my Inbox gets too big I sort it by sender so I can quickly find the outdated stuff that I can just get rid of. I also use the conversation feature to keep message together…

    Bonnie Mincu

    Thanks Shelley. Lots of good stuff in Outlook!

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

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