Email overload? Check out SaneBox

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Today I wanted to give you a brief tour of a tool I’ve been relying on for a while to keep my email inbox under control.

A couple of months ago, I was moderating a panel where I interviewed some smart/savvy Mac users about their various workflows. In the course of that conversation, I found that every single one of them was using a service called SaneBox to keep their email in check. I hadn't heard of it before, so I decided to try it out.

Wheat, chaff

SaneBox is a Web service that keeps an eye on Gmail (or other IMAP) mailboxes and makes some intelligent choices about which messages do and don’t belong in your inbox. The ones it decides you don’t need to see it reroutes to a couple of special mailboxes, which you can review at your leisure. What that means is that your inbox stays uncluttered with unnecessary stuff, but you never lose a message.

As I say, SaneBox works with Gmail, but because I use Mail as a desktop client, it also shows up there. Here’s what those SaneBox mailboxes look like: There’s SaneLater, which is for general stuff that the service has determined I can look at later. There’s SaneBulk, for messages it’s determined were sent to mass-mailing lists. There’s SaneNews, where it puts email newsletters. And then there’s a mailbox called SaneBlackHole: Drag a message in there, and anything else from that sender in the future will be automatically be sent to the Trash.

The thing that’s kind of remarkable about SaneBox is how good it is at guessing which messages I do and don’t want to see. At first, you need to train it: You scan the SaneLater box once in a while and move any messages you wanted to see back into your Inbox. Doing so trains SaneBox to keep messages from that sender in your Inbox in the future. SaneBox also sends you an email digest of what it’s been doing (on a schedule that you configure), and you can decide which messages should be in your Inbox there.

Beyond the basics

SaneBox actually provides a lot of features that I don’t even use—at least not yet. For example, there are these two mailboxes: SaneNextWeek and SaneTomorrow. You can forward messages to those mailboxes, and they’ll be redelivered at a later date, when you can pay more attention to them. You can customize those dates as you see fit. You can have SaneBox remind you when a message you’ve sent hasn’t been replied to in a specific period of time. It can automatically save email attachments to your Dropbox account. And so on.

SaneBox does charge for its services, with monthly rates starting at about $2 and moving up to $20 and beyond, depending on what you need. The company does offer a 14-day free trial. I tried out the service that way and quickly found myself completely dependent on it.

As I say, I’m not using everything SaneBox can do, but what I do use has made my inbox way more manageable than it was before. I no longer have to spend a bunch of time wading through irrelevant emails in my inbox to find the ones I want. Rather, Sanebox weeds out the less essential stuff for me, so I can focus on the messages I need to see and deal with the rest later. If you find yourself drowning in email—and who isn’t?—I say give SaneBox a look.

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