Revisiting Mailbox for Managing Emails

Just over two years ago, I wrote about my early experiences with the Mailbox email application. Since then a lot has happened with Mailbox: it was acquired by Dropbox, for one, and it has released openly-available apps for iPad, iPhone, and Android Phones, as well as a beta desktop application for OS X. I’ve been using Mailbox since then—save one brief flirtation with Inbox for Gmail, which borrows many of Mailbox’s ideas and about which I may write soon—and wanted to write a brief followup.

First, I should reiterate that Mailbox is now available for all and on more platforms. If you were intrigued by the “Getting Things Done” model of email I described in my previous post but were unable to get access then, you can download the app (and its GTD metaphor) now. In that first post I was unhappy about the need to switch email management metaphors when moving between my phone and my computer. My computer is a Mac, so this is no longer a problem for me. If you’re on Windows or Linux, however, you would still be without a desktop Mailbox application. I’m honestly shocked at the slow rollout of desktop apps for Mailbox, particularly since Dropbox took over the project.

Second, I can report that using Mailbox consistently has largely changed the way I relate to email. Gone are the intricate warrens of folders in which I used to file every email. Well, I suppose they’re still there, I just don’t use them often—though I will log into Gmail to file an email I feel particularly anxious about finding later. So the “email as to-do list” metaphor hasn’t completely taken over, but it mostly has. I have found it true that the vast majority of my emails can be either immediately dealt with, saved for a later time or date (using Mailbox’s “later” feature), or archived. And if I do need an archived email, simply searching for it is just about as fast as sorting through folders.

And (mostly) embracing Mailbox’s system has led to less time spent dealing with emails. Using the app’s keyboard shortcuts (or, on my phone, by swiping) I can process my correspondence very quickly. Can’t get to this until Wednesday? Tell Mailbox to put it back in the inbox then. Need the weekend to think about a request? Next week, then. Mailbox also supports auto-processing of certain kinds of emails, so you can tell the application, for instance, to automatically send emails from a particular address to the archive or to a list.

Which reminds me, Mailbox has another feature called “lists,” which allow you to sort emails that share an essential feature into a single location. Honestly, you could use lists just like folders, if you wanted to, though Mailbox does seem to intend them to be something different, if only because the app would get very crowded if one added too many lists. I’ve used lists sparingly, for emails related to particular class or project that don’t necessarily need to crowd my inbox, but which I will need to find easily. I have a “To Grade” list, for instance, where I file student’s emailed work. But once I’ve grade a particular assignment, I archive its email—I don’t keep it in an ever-expanding list in Mailbox, as I would in a Gmail folder.

Using Mailbox certainly requires rethinking email usage. For Mailbox to work, users have to give up the idea of email as a filing cabinet, and instead embrace the idea of email as a tasks list. For me, this has largely worked. In addition to some of my quibbles above, there are other things I wish Mailbox would do. Google’s Inbox, for instance, allows you to defer emails by both time (e.g. Delay until tomorrow) or location (e.g. delay until I’m in my office). I wish Mailbox had the latter feature. Nevertheless, I have found it largely a useful application for managing the deluge of daily correspondence. I highly recommend testing it if you’ve not already.

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