The Daily App: Tame Your Inbox With Dispatch

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The Daily App: Tame Your Inbox With Dispatch

I started using e-mail in the fall of 1994. In college, I’d login at the computer labs to keep up with friends at other schools. It was a novelty, a faster postal service, and I spent time crafting each message like a letter.

Receiving e-mail was just as rare, but no less eventful. And each message expressed the unique personality of its sender: quiet friends became funny, loud ones turned philosophical. And if you didn’t reply within 24 hours, nobody was upset. Exiled Nigerian princes never begged me for money. E-mail was just a small, but cherished, part of my life, connecting and entertaining without overwhelming me.

Fast forward. Almost two decades later, e-mail is entirely different. I don’t e-mail to keep in touch with friends anymore. Instead it’s a patchwork of Facebook and Twitter, text and other services. My replies are brief and terse, too. And every time I open my inbox, I brace myself with a feeling of dread and burden. E-mail is toxic, but it’s a necessity toxic that I can’t imagine going without it entirely. And I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

E-mail as we know it was invented in 1972 by Ray Tomlinson, a contractor working for ARPANET, a network first funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Since then, the technology has slowly wormed its way into all crevices of civilian life: in 2012, over two billion people had e-mail, according to Radicati.

If you work, you use it more than most: employees spend over a quarter of their workday on e-mail, according to a report by McKinsey. For a standard 40 hour week, that’s a full 12 hours.

Of course, enterprising souls have sought to reinvent our relationships with the inbox and put you back into the driver’s seat. There’s basic advice to lessen the burden: unsubscribe from mailing lists, check e-mail in batches instead of a steady trickle, and keep replies brief. There’s even a long-running “Inbox Zero” movement that aims to create clean, uncluttered inboxes to maintain order and simplicity.

It’s good advice, but it focuses on the user end. It’s like dieting advice: easy to agree with, but hard to follow.

Others, though, approach the conundrum at the other end, looking to create software to make e-mail smarter, leaner and more effective. Google, of course, created a “priority inbox,” which sorts messages and helps flag important ones. But others, like Dispatch, are making your e-mail action-packed to lessen the digital pile of paper in your inbox.

What’s the App?

Dispatch, available for $5 for iOS, works on a core principle efficiency experts use to deal with both digital and paper documents: handle it once and then immediately discard it. That means open a message once and decide what to do with it: take action, file it away for later or, more often than not, delete it. The aim is to avoid the enemy of organization: an inbox so jam-packed that it’s hard to find information, figure out priorities or simply saps away your peace of mind.

Setting it up is easy: Dispatch works with popular e-mail services like Gmail, but it doesn’t yet support a POP- or Exchange-based systems. Once it’s running, e-mail isn’t just a passive act of open, read and file. You act quickly to archive and store messages in their proper place, so you can delete or respond to it more quickly.

Dispatch does this by integrating beautifully with outside productivity apps like Evernote, Asana and even the iOS reminders or calendar app. Say, for example, you open an e-mail with an upcoming meeting. No need to open a separate program to copy-and-paste the message. With a few easy swipes and taps, Dispatch extracts that meeting and sends it to the right app — it does all the heavy lifting for you, so you can delete the e-mail immediately.

The interface is clean and elegant, so you can intuitively pick up its gestures and navigation. Simple, functional and easy — exactly how I want my e-mail.

You can also add “snippets,” common responses when you write e-mails. Just pre-generate them and earmark them for certain accounts. Then, when you need one, just tap the special “snippets” button on the bottom to add it to an e-mail. If you deal with a lot of e-mail, snippets is a godsend, especially on a touch screen.

You’ll Want It If…

If e-mail drives you crazy, Dispatch saves you precious time sorting, filing, deleting and archiving messages. On average, we get 147 e-mails a day and delete half of them, according to inbox management company Baydin. That means you actually spend around four minutes each day deleting e-mails. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to over 16 hours a year. Imagine what you could be doing with that extra time?

It’s Not My Thing — What Else Ya Got?

If you go through a lot of e-mails, or simply want a better way to manage your inbox, Dispatch is a great app. It’s strong because it works with other apps, but it’s not perfect: there’s no unified inbox to pull all of your e-mail into one place, and the app doesn’t support push notifications.

You can’t search for information from the app, either, or attach photos and files to messages. In fact, you can’t access folders from outside e-mail accounts, other than your inbox. And the lack of POP- and Exchange-based systems will put it out of reach for workplaces and companies.

But there are iOS apps that can still slim down your inbox. Mailbox, the developers behind to-do list app Orchestra, is a popular free option, garnering great reviews for its beautiful design and ease of use. Sparrow is another one that offers a clean and elegant inbox. It works with more e-mail options than Dispatch, but Dispatch can pull in third-party apps — and that’s hard to beat.

I’ll never get back to the days when e-mail was an expressive medium — we’ve have social media to keep in touch now. E-mail is ancient, more about the exchange of documents than feelings and ideas. And while its role in our lives mutates, it’ll last because it’s so simple, for better or worse.

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