The Promise of Power Email With PostBox

postbox-logoIt was the Postbox tagline that caught my eye. “Focus. Find. Free your email,” it read. To which my brain responded: I want that. So I went and got it. Postbox is an email client, based on Thunderbird. The beta version is a free download from the Postbox site and is available in both Windows and Mac versions.

PostBox has some genuinely interesting features for searching, cataloging and managing your email, including:

Powerful search – Not only can you do the usual keyword searches, but you can also zero in on what you’re looking for by specifying a time frame, such as “before May 2007.” And if searching for content within emails doesn’t impress you, how about searching for attachments or for links? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to find a specific attachment and can’t remember the text in the email that would lead me to that attachment. Just the other day I was looking for the third edit of a document from my business partner and had to search for her name, then open up every email with an attachment until I found the right one.

With PostBox, I can toggle the view from email messages to Attachments with the click of a button and then drill down with searches. I can also change my view to Links, Images or even Contacts, all handy ways to look for just the right bit of information in a vast sea of emails. Each view opens up as a separate tab so you can easily close them and return to your regular view. Truly nifty.

Postbox's Search tab in action
Postbox's Search tab in action

A helpful Compose Sidebar – I love this feature. You can be composing your email and need to add an attachment, image or link. All you need to do is conduct a search in the sidebar to find the asset you need, then drag it over and drop into your email. This feature reduces all the extra steps you have to take to find, download or edit something and then upload or attach. Don’t have the asset you need? PostBox will also let you search the web and add assets to your emails from other sources, like Picasa or Google Docs (s goog), for example.

Postbox's helpful Compose Sidebar
Postbox's helpful Compose Sidebar

Really handy topics – The “topics” feature works like tags, and is a way to organize your content and have emails group based on topics. At any time while reading an email, you can click the Topics button and either select a topic or enter a new one  to add to an email. You can open topic-specific emails into separate tabs.

The Topics panel in Postbox
The Topics panel in Postbox

A searchable archive – Out of sight, out of mind, but not out of reach.  With PostBox, you need never worry about losing emails in your vast archive.

Smart To-Do feature – Click on “To-Do” when an email involves a task, and PostBox brings it to the top of your email messages so it doesn’t get buried below other less action-oriented emails. In Gmail, my oh-so-important emails sometimes end up on the second and third page of my inbox, and I’ve quickly forgotten what I was supposed to do if I also failed to enter the task into my task management system.

So What’s the Problem?

I could go on and on breaking down the great features of PostBox. But the truth of the matter is, I’m having a heck of a time adopting it. Not that it doesn’t have useful features. Not that it doesn’t seem more powerful and more thoughtfully designed than Gmail. My brain, faced with learning a new email system, is simply rebelling.

When I told my biologist husband about my struggle, he had two words for me: neural pathways.

It seems that after using Gmail for several years now, my brain has actually developed new neural pathways based on my repeated use of the Gmail system — my fingers know just which keys to press, and my eyes know just where to look for something on a screen. As inefficient as parts of Gmail can be, I have created my own internal efficiencies with the least amount of clicks and scrolls for every single action I take in Gmail. And I am obsessive, almost compulsive, about these efficiencies.

So right now, I have both Gmail and PostBox open and toggle from one to the other, which is making my brain scream “Inefficient! Inefficient!” But while I’m used to seeing my emails displayed one way, I like the search power of PostBox, so keep turning to it in my moments of need. I keep trying to get used to the way PostBox feels as I move through it, then yearn for the familiarity of Gmail. I’m sure if I used Thunderbird I wouldn’t have such a tough time adapting.

Which one will win? Gmail, which feels familiar and comfortable but doesn’t do everything I need it to do, or PostBox, which practically re-invents the way we can manage our emails but is like foreign territory where I don’t yet speak the language or recognize the terrain?

I love being an explorer, but email is my most essential work tool. Can I afford to leave Gmail cold turkey and navigate the new world of PostBox? I think I should try. I want to try.

OK, maybe next week.

How are you managing your email these days and is it as efficient as you want it to be? Do you sometimes have trouble adapting to a new app?