Editor's note: As part of a new series, Gaining Altitude, we’ve invited well-known productivity experts and thought leaders to provide their perspectives on managing information overload and tips for success in a world where real-time communication and overflowing inboxes have become the norm.

Our first guest post is about Gmail’s new Priority Inbox by David Allen, widely recognized as a leading authority on personal and organizational productivity. He has been named one of the "Top 100 thought leaders" by Leadership magazine and Fast Company hailed him as "one of the world's most influential thinkers" in the arena of personal productivity. He is the author of three books: international bestseller, Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity ("GTD" as the method is popularly known), Ready for Anything, and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life.

The volume of email we’re experiencing is a great boon for mankind. In addition to providing chronic complainers with content to justify their lamentations, it’s forcing us to confront our need for a behavior that’s fundamental and necessary to sanity in the modern world. We actually need to decide what stuff means to us when it shows up rather than when it blows up.

That doesn’t mean that people are automatically and naturally stepping up to the plate. There’s still an almost universal resistance to doing what’s required to keep a minimal backlog of unprocessed inputs. I’ve seen more than 40,000 emails in one inbox. But the pain is mounting, and the cry for solutions grows louder.

Google has taken an interesting and potentially important step in coming to the rescue with the new Priority Inbox functionality they’ve added to Gmail. At first it seems like a practical little enhancement for traditional email management. And when I first got wind of what they had done, my first reaction was, “Oh no, not another way to just keep rearranging and avoiding making decisions or actually doing something!”

But after examining what they’ve done, I have to admit that it’s actually part of a really big idea. (Are these Googlers aware of just how big an idea they’re playing with...dunno!) It’s not a complete solution, but I think it’s an important step. They’ve begun to address two key things in how we manage our focus: (1) what kind of attention should I be paying to something, and (2) once I’ve put that attention on it, what do I do with it?

These are decisions – important ones, to maintain a manageable quota of relevant things in your life. And decision-support is one of the bright open vistas for technology. What attention should I give something to begin with? And once I’ve decided what something means, where do those kinds of things go?

Priority Inbox provides a simple way to determine and filter what email inputs I should pay attention to first, a way to group inputs that need dedicated time and focus, and a way to park the “if I have time and feel like it & might want to do something with…” stuff. It’s also not dictator-ware. You have the ability to customize these simple but important front-end sortings, based upon how you think and work.

For those of you who already are familiar with my Getting Things Done best practices, the new Priority Inbox provides an additional tool for dealing with email efficiently. For someone who is simply lost when it comes to navigating the sea of email overload, it provides a simple but elegant starting point toward the only viable solution: rapid clarification and categorization of potentially meaningful input.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the sexy, fuzzy logic Gmail has embedded to determine the importance of emails coming to you, but they’ve made a very cool step in the direction of a big, important idea.