Managing your inbox can feel like a full-time job, which is problematic given that you need all your time for your actual job. Like some crazed productivity Terminator, the email just keeps coming, all day, every day. If you're not diligent about replying, filing, and deleting your messages, it won't be long before you're, well, terminated. Or at least terminally depressed.
But guess what? You don't have to let your inbox win. New tools and services can help you tame that ever-expanding beast, making it easier to weed out the junk, highlight the important, and organize the rest—all without the hassle of manually creating a complex system of filters and folders.
Is such an attack plan really necessary? In these days of thoroughly indexed inboxes and fast, easy searches, the concept (and especially execution) of "inbox zero" may seem like more trouble than it's worth. After all, when Gmail can locate any message you've ever received with just a few keystrokes, who cares about organization?
You'll have to decide that one for yourself. But once you see how easily and effectively some of these solutions can whip your inbox into shape, you may decide it's better to be proactive about mail management.
Ever wish you could hire an intern just to sort your email, to separate the e-wheat from the e-chaff? That's the idea behind Alto, a free browser-based service that organizes mail into virtual stacks, not unlike the way you might sort physical junk mail into piles on your desk.
Developed by AOL, Alto works with the most popular email services, including Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo, and, of course, AOL. And you can use it with multiple accounts, making this a great way to manage several inboxes under one roof.
Once you sign in, Alto sifts through your inbox and sorts your messages into a handful of existing stacks: Daily Deals, Social Notifications, Photos, Attachments, and so on. You can create additional stacks as well, and once you direct an email to it, all future messages from that source will automatically land there. Thus, you could have a "client" stack, "boss" stack, "widget project" stack, and the like.
Alto's pretty interface features a scrolling inbox on the left side that lets you preview each message without actually clicking it. If you mouse over an individual email, you'll see one-click icons for Delete, Snooze, and Star. The Snooze option is particularly great for business users: It lets you temporarily archive an email until a later time, thus getting it out of your inbox but returning it to the top when it's more convenient for you to deal with it.
Alto rocks. But it's currently a private beta, meaning you need to request an invitation to try it out. The good news is that your invitation should arrive within about 24 hours, at least based on my recent experience.
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