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Deconstructing Email Overload - Part 2

September 23, 2010

As mentioned in our last post, we believe there are a number of factors that cause people to feel overloaded by email. Here’s a breakdown of the major ones we’ve identified, and how we’re addressing these challenges in the upcoming Postbox 2 release.

Excessive Multi-tasking

Our inboxes mirror the many projects, events, and clients we juggle each day: “SXSW Conference,” “website redesign,” or “payroll.” As we step through our inboxes, we evaluate messages relative to these larger contexts. A mixed inbox forces us to reconstruct these contexts more often than necessary, which consumes time and energy.

Postbox Account GroupsIf work productivity is the goal, our first step is to remove personal messages from view. While most Unified Inbox implementations combine messages from every account, Postbox 2 will let you organize work accounts into a single unified view, while keeping personal accounts separate.

Now that we’ve isolated work emails, the new Focus Pane will enable you to group and view emails by Topic, such as “website redesign.” This lets you focus on one priority at a time, and to complete all that’s needed within that priority, before moving on to the next one. And since work priorities are dynamic, you will be able to easily add, remove, or reorder your Topics as needed.

Missing Context

Messages can be scattered across the inbox, sent folder, and storage folders, making it difficult to come up to speed on long email threads. So people often leave messages within the inbox, in addition to :cc’ing themselves, to keep relevant information accessible. This adds clutter to the inbox and contributes to overload.

Postbox Conversation ViewPostbox gathers conversation fragments from multiple folders and combines them into a chronological, unified view. Only one message is needed to reconstruct an entire conversation. These views will enable you jump into the discussion with more information, context and insight while keeping your inbox tidy.

Frequent Interruptions/Distractions

Another productivity killer comes from interruptions from new messages, instant messages, text messages, tweets, etc. Some designers believe that a Universal Inbox which combines all of these communication channels will enhance productivity. We couldn’t disagree more, because with this approach you’re simply increasing the surface area for distraction.

Postbox Focus PaneThe Postbox 2 Focus Pane ensures you will only see new messages that relate to the priority you’re currently working on. All other new messages reside elsewhere in the Inbox. A new message counter displays next to your Favorite Topics, so that you can be aware of incoming mail but not distracted by it.

We’ve even implemented a way post to Facebook and Twitter directly from within the Postbox interface, so you can update your status without getting distracted by the content on those websites.

Inbox as Universal Dumping Ground

Let’s face it, filing messages is painful and tedious, and folder hierarchies take a lot of time and effort to maintain. That’s why many people leave everything in the inbox, which further clutters up their view. Postbox 2 will help to clear out your inbox in several ways.

Postbox Search EngineFirst is a fast and powerful search engine. If you know that you can find something easily, you’re more likely to move it out of the inbox.

Second is a one-click Archive function, similar to Gmail’s archive feature. This helps move inactive messages from the inbox, without the decision making hassle of choosing a specific folder. Combine the use of Archive with Postbox search and you have a winning combination - easy to file, easy to find.

Postbox Quick MoveFor those who have invested heavily in their folder hierarchies, Postbox 2 introduces Quick Move, which lets you move messages by simply typing the name of the target folder. You can then use the new Quick Switch feature to jump immediately to that location.

Mixed Use Cases

The inbox is where we communicate, but it is also where we store files and information, keep track of things to do, and everything in-between. So we built Postbox to provide for the different ways you use email, and making those behaviors work really, really well.

Postbox To-Do ViewIf a message is kept within the inbox because it represents something you need to do, then you can tag it as a To-Do. This changes its background color in the list view to make it easier to find. You can also pin your To-Dos to the top of the message list, so important emails do not get pushed out of sight (and out of mind) by new messages. Finally, you can use the new To-Do View to only focus on those messages that require action.

We also keep messages around to act as reminders, usually when you’re waiting on a response from someone else. When you mark a message as pending, the message row will turn light gray to indicate that no further action is required, which helps you more efficiently scan your inbox and ignore items that do not require immediate attention. When a new reply arrives, the Pending flag is automatically removed and the message status is switched to “Unread.”

High Message Volumes

Too often we equate overload with volume. But our take is that volume simply amplifies the issues outlined above. By addressing many of the other root causes of overload, volume begins to become less of an issue.


Of course there’s much more to this subject than can be covered in one post, but we hope this provides a little more insight into how we view the problem, in addition to what’s new and cool about the upcoming Postbox 2 release. 

If you would like to try the Postbox 2 BETA, please see our Beta 2 Announcement post.


Posted by Postbox