It seems like every 10 minutes a new email app arrives in the iTunes or Google Play app stores. They all try to accomplish the same goal -- make it easier to manage email.
Google's new Inbox Android, iOS and Chrome browser apps, for Gmail users, represent perhaps the highest-profile effort in quite some time. They also beg a number of important questions. Is Inbox too little too late? Are we beyond the point of controlling email? Is email controlling us?
The quantity of email alone these days is soul-sucking. We receive and send an average of 121 business messages daily, or roughly one every four minutes, according to research firm The Radicati Group. Radicati predicts the daily average will increase to 140 emails sent or received by 2018. Yikes.
Inbox strives to help you navigate the avalanche by sorting all incoming messages automatically into "bundles." The "Travel" bundle, for instance, groups all incoming travel-related messages in one place, and it includes hotel-reservation confirmations and airline boarding passes. Other bundles include "Purchases," "Finance," "Social," "Updates," "Forums" and "Promos." You can create your own bundles. There's also a handy "Snooze" feature that resends email to your inbox at a scheduled time.
These are just some of Inbox's features, and they're useful. I could say the same, though, about features in every other app that tries to make email more manageable, including Mailbox (Android and iOS), which is similar to Inbox; MailWise (Android-only); Boxer (Android and iOS); and Acompli (Android and iOS), to name a few.
However, none of these apps, no matter how slick or attractive, solve the underlying problem -- too much email. As my grandmother from rural North Carolina might have said, "No matter what color you paint the barn, it's still a barn."
So is there a solution to email overload? Maybe. The more email apps I try, however, the more I'm convinced it isn't a problem that can be solved by an app. Changing the way we think about, use, and react to email seems like a much better way to approach the problem.
My methods aren't perfect, but I have developed a few survival strategies over the years.
1) I shamelessly ignore certain types of messages. I apologize up front, but because of the volume of email I receive, I don't answer them all. In fact, I delete many without answering.
I know not answering someone's message is rude. I hate it when my own email goes unanswered, but this is about survival, people. If I don't know you, and you send me an email that A), takes too long to get to the point; B), has no clear benefit or action-item for me; or C), is unlikely to ever have a benefit or action-item for me, I quickly pull the delete trigger.
2) I don't constantly check email. I go for an hour or two at a time while working without dipping into Gmail. It helps me stay focused. I've honestly never received an email that demanded an instant reply. When on vacation, I check email over my morning mop-bucket latte. That's it.
3) The best way to organize email, in my opinion, is to prioritize it by sender, as opposed to subject. I want my incoming email prioritized by the people I love, like, enjoy and, of course, the ones who pay me or want to hire me. Countless email programs provide various capabilities to help you prioritize by people, and I've used Gmail filters to this end. I've yet to find an email app or client that truly does a stellar job of it. (In fact, if you know of such an app or desktop software client, please let me know in the comments.)
In the meantime, give Gmail's Inbox a whirl. (It currently requires an invite, but you can request one on the Inbox website.) Just remember: You may be the solution to your email woes, not some app.
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