A better inbox.

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Whilst sat with a client recently I noticed the little red badge on her emails said she had over 2,350 unread messages. When asked, she remarked that most are spam and now there are just too many to deal with. Sound familiar?

The psychology involved with why we’re all so bad at emails has been looked at in a lovely article by Tom Stafford for the BBC. Our desire to reciprocate actions, the reward of receiving a communication and how it’s heightened even further by its immediacy and our feeling of responsibility all push us to be slaves to our inbox.

The email programs don’t really help either. They’re just digital postal workers whose purpose is to deliver your mail; it’s your duty to organise, respond or ignore them. Much like bank accounts we tend to stick with our default email program through thick and thin, often not knowing that we even have a choice to move to something else. And why should we, they’re all the same – aren’t they?

Over the past couple of years people have started thinking that there could be more to emails, and some companies have put new offerings on the marketplace to challenge how you use and organise your inbox. Here are three that are trying to help us be better with emails.

Han:dle

Han:dle’s mission is to let you manage emails and your to-do list in one place. As many emails require an action, you can easily turn the important ones into a to-do on a particular project and delete the rest. It also allows you to prioritise your emails into must do, should do, want to do lists.

Han:dle to-do list screenshot

Presently Han:dle is invite-only beta, but we popped an email in and got our invite back the next day. It’s an online system and also has an iOS app.

Boxer

Having just secured $3 Million in financing, Boxer is a new email client to keep an eye on. Boxer works across most of the major email accounts and allows you to organise your inbox in a similar fashion to Han:dle but working on your iOS device.

Using quick swipe gestures you can delete or archive emails; you can add profile images so you see who’s emailing you; and you can move emails into your to-do list very easily. A new feature also lets you ‘Like’ an email, which automatically sends a quick response back to the sender letting them know you like their email. This does sound a little odd to me, but maybe useful for people who send you photos of their cat/baby (delete as appropriate) and don’t really warrant a full response back.

Mailbox App

Probably the most talked about of the three, and also my personal favourite of the bunch. For use with a Gmail account, Mailbox is currently available only for iPhones and iPads but their blog talks of a desktop version coming soon and after recently being acquired by Dropbox you would expect Android versions are in planning too.

Mailbox takes a leaf from the book of the incredibly popular Clear app by introducing gesture-based controls for its iOS platforms. Swipe an email to the right quickly and it disappears from the main list; swipe and hold and it gets moved to the trash. It’s a nice and easy way to quickly get rid of the spam, the offers of suspect medical innovations and pleas from your mum to accept her friend request on Facebook.

However, it becomes really useful when you start swiping messages to the left. Again, a short swipe and long swipe gives you quick access to two different functions. A long swipe lets you file the email in a folder, maybe for a particular project or subject. Nothing new in that, but the genius of the app is that a simple short-swipe to the left lets you get rid of that email and send it back to yourself this evening, tomorrow, next week, in a month or you can pick your own specific date.

Mailbox snooze screen shown on iPhone

The problem with the much talked about 2-2-2 rule for replying to communications is that it’s one thing to understand that you should respond to an email within 2 hours but another to actually remember to respond once the initial prompt has faded. The reason I use to-do lists is that once I know I have it in my list, I can forget it in the short-term knowing that it’s stored to remind me in the future. Mailbox exemplifies this principle but removing my responsibility to remember in 2 hours, 2 days or 2 months – it simply gets rid of the email from your inbox and re-delivers it to future you.

Since starting to use Mailbox I have personally got into the nice habit of emptying my inbox everyday – and getting to see a nice Instagram photo from Mailbox as a small reward for my achievement. It’s a fairly new platform but having being acquired by Dropbox makes me optimistic that it will grow and diversify across operating systems and email providers.

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Just a last note to say did you notice that all three of the above are focusing on the Apple mobile devices – c’mon Android developers where are you?

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