Handle: Focused Task Management

It would be fair to say that, in the last year or so, email has entered something of a renaissance period. At one stage, not so very long ago, developers were concentrating their minds on how they could replace the decade-old electronic mail system. Now, though, most have realized that email isn’t going away any time soon, and their response has been to innovate with email clients.

The most prominent example of this has been Mailbox. Now owned by Dropbox, this iOS email app has shown one new way in which we can organize our huge flow of incoming messages. For those yet to encounter Mailbox’s basic concept, the sorting process in Mailbox is based upon priority, providing one-finger sorting into categories like Later and Important. Given that Mailbox had a one-million user waiting list during its private beta phase, this idea clearly appeals to many people – including those who don’t have an iPhone.

It is no doubt with some of these people in mind that Handle was created. Handle is more than just another way to access your inbox, though. Billed as a “Priority Engine,” this private beta provides task management, itinerary tracking and an email client all rolled into one.

But is this integrated approach helpful, or a recipe for confusion? Time for a test…

How It Looks

Nice, in a word. The orange and blue colour palette is classy, and Handle’s icons are clear. Oh, and it’s flat – those who get an allergic reaction to skeuomorphism can enter Handle’s dashboard without fear.

Handle is pleasing on the eye and information is presented clearly

Handle is pleasing on the eye and information is presented clearly

Down the left-hand side of the dashboard is your daily agenda, and to the right of it is the email area. A list of your emails is displayed on the left, and the email you’re reading is on the right. Should you wish to access your tasks, or add a new one, the Tasks tab can easily be revealed, with one click, from its hiding place behind the Inbox tab.

Email Sorting

Handle currently only supports Gmail email accounts, and it shows. From the layout to the controls, Handle’s email interface is very Gmail-like in all respects other than colour.

Whilst every email- and task-related command can be made with a click, Handle is at its best when you’re skimming through emails using your keyboard. For those who aren’t used to keyboard-based email sorting, the controls are pretty easy to pick up, in part aided by their logical nature – a for archive, d for delete, and so on. Once you know the shortcuts, it is amazing how fast you can sort email and make to-dos on the fly.

Handle helpfully displays keyboard shortcuts in context

Handle helpfully displays keyboard shortcuts in context

To help you get moving at this pace sooner rather than later, Handle helpfully displays every single shortcut next to its on-screen counterpart.

It would seem to me that the keyboard-based system (which includes the creation of to-dos) is an attempt to emulate the ease of use and rapidity of Mailbox’s workflow, and whilst it isn’t quite as intuitive as swiping emails hither and thither on a touchscreen, it is certainly as fast as any other method of email sorting I’ve seen on a desktop.

“Priority Engine”

In addition to the standard email sorting options, Handle allows you to create tasks out of your emails (or standalone tasks, manually), and attach a level of importance to them. The default options are Must do, Should do and Want to, although you can create custom labels. As usual with Handle, all of this can be done without going near your mouse.

Emails which have been turned into tasks in this way show up in your Tasks list, with items ordered by importance.

Tasks are ordered by priority, and can be dragged across to today's schedule

Tasks are ordered by priority, and can be dragged across to today’s schedule

Handle offers another level of organization, however. Rather than just creating a task and noting how important it is, you can tap the tab key to open up a whole new range of options.

The tab key reveals a whole new list of sorting options

The tab key reveals a whole new list of sorting options

With the new menu accessed, you can give your task a due date and put it on snooze for a custom amount of time. Equally, you can add the task to a project – these are essentially folders of related tasks, which are particularly useful when you’re working on something. The Task list allows you to sort tasks by project for swift later access. You can also add a comment to your task, or instantly add the task to today’s itinerary with one press of the t key.

You can schedule tasks in advance using this calendar

You can schedule tasks in advance using this calendar

No calendar

The one slightly annoying and beta-ish issue with Handle is the lack of on-going calendar. I appreciate that Handle is a service designed with the here and now in mind, but only being able to see what you need to do today can be a bit frustrating at times.

Conclusion

I get the sense that Handle has been designed to be the first page you visit on each weekday morning. As a dashboard, it contains your itinerary for today only, your outstanding tasks and your emails, so it is an environment that doesn’t allow your mind to wander from your daily to-do list.

The keyboard controls are easy to use – very quick to react, too – and the simple, clean layout of Handle‘s dashboard somehow allows a lot of information to remain visually clear. Some users might find Handle‘s lack of on-going calendar extremely debilitating, especially those whose work requires them to think ahead, but if you like to knock down your tasks one by one, this isn’t likely to be an issue.

Overall then, whilst Handle isn’t overflowing with features, it provides an extremely simple, fast and focused home for your daily task management – and I very much recommend it.


Summary

Task management at its finest. Only the addition of an ongoing calendar away from perfection.

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