Figure 0: Shortwave email inbox

Shortwave: Save time with a smart email inbox

Hiranya Jayathilaka
10 min readMar 1, 2023


Email plays a major role in our online collaboration and communication efforts. For most denizens of the Internet, email is the one true universal medium of communication. It connects us with our friends, coworkers, businesses, government and institutions. Simply put, for many of us email is a way of life.

For all the efficiency and freedom that email promises, it is not without flaws. The sheer volume and variety of emails we receive on a daily basis take up a lot of time to analyze, remember, and respond in a meaningful manner. Then there’s also the swarm of promotional and spam emails that nobody can seem to escape, which requires a significant amount of time and cognitive overhead to screen out.

These problems are exacerbated by the fact that typical email clients are not making it easy to triage emails. Consequently, many people are left with no choice but to treat their inbox as an ever-growing, unstructured pile of correspondences. For a lot of us it’s been the only way to ensure that relevant emails are easily reachable. Some email clients provide labels as a means for organizing this mess. However, without good automation, labels require extra effort to keep labeling new incoming emails, or juggle an unruly number of email filters.

Figure 1: Shortwave login screen on web

Since early 2022 I’ve been working at Shortwave, a startup that is looking to build a better and smarter inbox experience on top of Gmail. Shortwave is available for web and iOS, with Android support available in beta. Our primary objective is to help people save time, and enable them to manage their online conversations better. In this post I detail some of the ways we achieve that.

Email triaging made easy

Shortwave treats the email inbox as a ToDo list. And like with any ToDo list, we want people to complete all tasks in the list as efficiently as possible. Note that this is polar opposite to the “inbox as an ever-growing stack” school of thought. Instead we believe that your inbox should be empty or close to empty whenever possible. This is sometimes known as the inbox zero method for managing emails. The idea is that you triage new incoming emails quickly, get to inbox zero state, and get on with your other important work.

So how does Shortwave enable that? For each email thread, Shortwave offers four possible triage actions:

Figure 2: A thread in Shortwave with the traige actions highlighted
  1. Done : If a thread is not important or otherwise doesn’t require any action on your part, just mark it as Done. This moves the thread out of the inbox, and archives it. Most emails we receive are one-way notifications (e.g. GitHub updates, newsletters, billing alerts), and do not require an explicit response. Done is the perfect triage response for those threads. You can always recall the thread from the Done-page or via search.
  2. Pin 📌: If it’s an important and immediately actionable thread, pin it. This will keep the thread at the top of your inbox page. So no more rummaging around for important conversations you wish to frequently lookup. Once a pinned thread has run its course, and starts to become obsolete/un-actionable, you can mark it as Done to get it out of the inbox too.
  3. Snooze : Some email threads don’t warrant an immediate action, but may require some work in the future. Perhaps you have an important meeting coming up next week that you need to prep for, or your car registration is up for renewal in a couple of months. You can snooze threads like these until a specific time. Snoozed threads stay out of your inbox, and pops back in when the specified time is up. At that point you can decide whether to Pin it, mark it as Done, or Snooze for a bit longer.
  4. Delete 🗑: We can think of this as a more heavy-handed Done operation. I’m personally not in the habit of deleting emails regularly. But for those who do, Delete is indeed another available option.

You can read more about the triage actions, and the overall Shortwave method on our website. The goal is to apply the above triage actions to each email thread in the inbox, and burn down the ToDo list towards inbox zero.

Figure 3: Shortwave inbox zero state

We want people to reach this state quickly and frequently. To that end, Shortwave enables triage actions on bundles of threads.

Get things done faster with bundles

Shortwave groups related threads into bundles 📦. Threads from automated senders are always bundled. You can further enable bundling for individual senders, mailing lists, and labels.

Figure 4: A bundle of Asana threads on Shortwave

Bundling is akin to pre-sorting your emails into groups. Imagine going through a large collection of traditional (snail mail) letters. Your goal is to find the handful of letters in the collection that you are required to respond to. This is quite difficult if you’re given just an unsorted pile of letters. You will have to go through each letter, one at a time, until you find the ones that are important. Unfortunately, this is the experience that most email clients offer today, and it is a huge time drain.

But suppose somebody already made a pass through the letters, and organized them by sender and category. Your job immediately becomes a lot easier. You can just discard the bundles that are obviously spam and/or irrelevant, and jump into the important bundles that are likely to have useful letters. This is the experience Shortwave attempts to provide. With bundling you don’t have to go through your inbox one thread at a time. You can quickly scan through an entire bundle of threads, and take a triage action on the whole bundle in one click or keyboard shortcut. This is great for getting through large piles of automated notifications, promotions and other noisy emails.

Figure 5: A custom bundle in Shortwave

In addition to automated bundling, you can create your own custom bundles as well. Just drag-and-drop a few threads together to create a bundle. Then add a note for clarity. I use this feature a lot whenever I’m traveling. I create a custom bundle with all my travel reservations and other related threads. These threads are usually from a variety of senders (hotels, airlines, car rentals etc). Then I give the custom bundle a clear name like “Trip to San Diego”, and pin the whole bundle at the top of my inbox. This way I know that my trip details are always at the top of my inbox. No more frantically searching on my phone for a key piece of information while on the road. I can also arrange the threads within the bundle in the exact order I need them.

Get organized with smart labels

Figure 6: Shortwave labels page

Shortwave also supports labels 🏷. Your existing Gmail labels will continue to work in Shortwave, and any new labels you create in Shortwave will sync back to Gmail. But additionally, Shortwave provides a collection of built-in labels. These serve as high-level email categories that you can easily configure bundling and push notifications for. Labels can also be added to favorites for easy access, and can be used as a search vector.

What’s interesting about the labels support in Shortwave is that it drastically reduces the overhead of manually applying labels or having to create filters for every single sender. Instead, whenever you apply a label to a thread, Shortwave will remember that action, and automatically apply the label to future threads from the same sender. This is what makes them smart labels — they apply themselves without you having to take any manual action repeatedly, or having to create an explicit filter in Gmail.

Figure 7: Smart label notification in Shortwave

There are of course situations where you don’t want this. For those cases you can configure Shortwave to opt-out of the auto-apply behavior based on a specific sender or a label. There are also probably a handful of other cases where you might have to manually create a Gmail filter for a label. But I’ve personally only ever needed the default smart label behavior of Shortwave.

Figure 8: Shortwave batched delivery configuration for a label

Labels also support batched delivery 📬. You can configure threads with a given label to be delivered to the inbox on a schedule that you determined. I use this for built-in labels like Promotions and Forums, which normally contain a lot of noisy, low-priority threads. Instead of receiving a steady stream of those emails into my inbox throughout the day, I’ve configured them for once-a-day batched delivery. Consequently, I receive my Promotions bundle every day sharp at 6PM, which I most of the time just mark as Done in a single click after a quick scan.

Figure 9: Batch delivered bundles in Shortwave

This saves me time by enabling me to make a single triaging decision for a whole day’s worth of promotional emails.

Get the gist with smart summaries

So far we discussed how Shortwave helps to organize your inbox, and triage incoming emails efficiently. But what if the threads you care about happen to be long and text-heavy? This is where smart summaries 🗣 come in. Shortwave uses AI (LLMs) to summarize lengthy threads into a few short sentences, so you can quickly get the gist of a given thread.

Figure 10: Smart summary for a thread in Shortwave

This is an excellent way to catch up on a long thread that you haven’t participated in a while, or as a triage-time tool to determine the importance of an email. Instead of spending 10 minutes reading a long thread only to realize that it’s not that important after all, you can read the smart summary produced by Shortwave, and then decide whether it’s worth your time. You can also attach smart summaries to outgoing emails whenever you forward an email to another party, and help save their time too.

Figure 11: Sending a smart summary with a forwarded thread in Shortwave

If the original email thread is in a different language, Shortwave AI produces a translated summary in English. For English speakers this is a good way to analyze and understand emails that are written in other languages. We are planning to add more language support around this feature in the future.

Figure 12: Translated smart summary in English


Email plays an important role in our personal and professional lives. But without specialized tools email can become a huge burden and a waste of time. We designed Shortwave out of this necessity to make emails both productive and enjoyable.

Shortwave is packed full of features that are designed to save time and effort. I wanted to keep this post at least somewhat short, so I really had to cut down on the number of features I wanted to highlight. I will follow up with more Shortwave features and tips in a future post. In the meantime, if you have a Gmail account, please give Shortwave a try, and let us know what you think.

New user FAQs

If this is the first time you’re hearing about Shortwave, you most likely have many questions before wanting to give Shortwave a try. Take a look at Shortwave docs that should answer a lot of them. I’ve also included some personal notes below for easy reference — these are questions that I personally would ask, if I were just discovering Shortwave. Please let us know ( if something is not explained clearly in our docs.

Q1: Why does Shortwave only support Gmail?

With around 1.5 billion users, Gmail enables us to showcase our product to a broad spectrum of potential users, gather feedback and iterate. We do want to support other email service providers in the future. But it may be a while before we get there.

Q2: Is Shortwave free?

Shortwave offers a free tier that contains all the features of the paid tier (see pricing). The only limitation is that your search history is capped at 90 days. I use the free tier on my personal email account. So far the 90 day restriction has not been an issue for me, but YMMV. You can always go to Gmail when you have to search for something older than 90 days.

Q3: Is Shortwave secure?

We take security extremely seriously. We wouldn’t feel comfortable using it for our own work and personal use otherwise. Check this page for more information on the steps we take to ensure your account and data is secured.

Q4: What information in my Google account does Shortwave access?

Shortwave requires access to your emails in order to provide the typical functionalities of an email client (view, triage, send, apply labels etc). Additionally it requires access to your Google contacts in order to support contact auto-completion, and display contact names and photos.

Q5: What if I don’t end up liking it?

You can delete your Shortwave account, and leave anytime. This has no impact on your Gmail account. All your emails, labels and contacts will continue to exist in Gmail as usual. Although, if possible, we would love to hear why Shortwave didn’t work out for you.



Hiranya Jayathilaka

Software engineer at Shortwave. Ex-Googler. PhD in CS. Enjoys working on cloud, mobile and programming languages. Fan of all things tech and open source.