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WEB REVIEW: E-mail sorting service brings sanity to your cluttered inbox

June 2, 2012

This morning, I opened my e-mail account to find 10 e-mails. Until about a week ago, I would have seen about 100.

Credit goes to a workhorse service called SaneBox (www.sanebox.com). But before you can fully understand how it might change your life forever, you need to understand the problem it solves.

For many of us, e-mail is both a blessing and a curse. I truly couldn’t do my job well without it, but all the things that make it so useful (fast, easy, works on my schedule, etc.) also make it easy to get out of hand. For example, on any given day, I get about 500 e-mails. Yes, I have filters created to automatically move certain things into folders. Yes, I have keyboard shortcuts set up to move, mark, delete, etc. But even after all the automatic stuff happens, I still have to manually deal with a few hundred, when only about 100 of them really need some sort of action.

Even a conservative estimate of 10 seconds per e-mail means I’m spending at least a half hour daily processing e-mail that’s essentially unimportant. Five hours a week, almost 300 hours a year. Folks, that’s about 7 weeks’ worth of lost productivity.

So last week, I started using SaneBox, which takes a little getting used to—primarily because you have to do so little for it to be effective. It works with most mail applications, and all you have to provide is your e-mail address and password.

SaneBox then creates folders in your e-mail account—things like SaneLater, SaneNews and SaneRemindMe. It begins to process your InBox to determine which of the mail you have is important (which it leaves in your InBox). Most of it—daily deal messages, newsletters, social media notifications, etc.—gets put into SaneLater. If you get a lot of “news”-related messages, they’ll go into SaneNews.

At this point, you are probably thinking about mistakes. Like you, I’m nervous that I’ll miss a message I really need to see. Spam folders are great, but you have to check them periodically for false positives, so I had similar concerns about SaneBox.

Apparently, the engineers at SaneBox had the same thought. So they integrated a digest into the system that you can configure to arrive as often as once an hour. I started with having it delivered every four hours, but I can tell you it isn’t necessary. When you get the digest, it prompts you to review the messages that have been auto-shunted into the SaneLater mailbox. If you find any false positives, simply move them where they belong. So far, I’ve had to move only a few.

Now, all of this is nice, even though most people could do the same thing by setting up really effective filters. But a few other features put SaneBox on my must-use list. The first two are reminders.

If you see a message that needs your attention but you want to delay it, you can just forward it to 2hours@sanebox.com (or 5minutes@sanebox.com or 10days@…). The message is immediately removed from your InBox and magically reappears at the time you specified.

The RemindMe function takes this feature one step further. Let’s say you’re working on a project with Todd, who occasionally lets things slip between the cracks. Currently, if you forward him something to work on, you have to remember to follow up with him to be sure it was finished. Now, with SaneBox, you can forward the message to Todd and send a copy to 1week@sanebox.com. At the time specified, if you haven’t received a response to Todd’s message, SaneBox will remind you to follow up. You may soon realize you need to fire Todd, but stuff will be getting done.

SaneBox costs about $5 a month, but you can try it free for a week. If you don’t like it (or you cancel your account), SaneBox automatically puts everything back just the way it was. I haven’t found anything else that works as well or as easily as SaneBox to streamline and optimize my e-mail work flow. I can’t recommend it more strongly.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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