I have always been on top of my email accounts: most of them are at Inbox Zero pretty much every day (often more than once a day). Frequent interruptions throughout the day are the main problem for me. I have tried to set up automatic rules, to classify my contacts, to remove notifications; still, I ended up checking my email several times per day, to avoid missing something urgent or important. What should have been a quick check and a short interruption, ended up in a much longer waste of time: once the Pandora's box open, I inevitably ended up trying to clean up the mess. Deleting ads, thinking of how to deal with non-urgent stuff, etc.
SaneBox in a nutshell
While testing out alternative iOS email clients, I stumbled upon a service called SaneBox (disclaimer: this is an affiliate link). This service is integrated (quite poorly, truth be told) with Boxer, an otherwise good email client. In short, here what SaneBox does:
- It pre-processes all your email, filing non-urgent / unimportant stuff for later;
- It reminds you if some emails you sent did not get a reply;
- It allows you to be reminded of any message at a later date;
- It allows you to unsubscribe from whatever unsolicited messages you might get, quickly and effectively.
The service does more than this, but the other features are not that important to me.
When I first saw the service I dismissed it, mainly because of security concerns: how can I trust a third party to access all my email? Two things pushed me to try the service:
- The service is not free, and not exactly cheap either: this is reassuring, it tells me that the SaneBox's team has a business model, and that they don’t need to make money by snooping into my messages (if that were at all possible I would do it myself…) or selling my personal information;
- I already trust my email providers with my messages, and they are not necessarily more trustworthy…
So I registered my main email account and started a free trial. To be honest the first impact was not good: SaneBox immediately tried to lure me into inviting all my contacts to try the service. First, my contacts are not for sale. Second, give me at least a chance to try your product before asking me to promote it… Last, if I decide to recommend a service (like I am doing now), I definitely won’t do it using a generic marketing message! This almost drove me away, before even trying the product… Hopefully SaneBox’s marketing people realize how bad this is.
Anyway, I decided to continue the trial, and I was quickly seduced by SaneBox’s functionality. The service is effective, intuitive, and robust; without any training, it does a very good job removing the noise from your Inbox. After a couple of days, I have activated email notifications on my iPhone, and I am interrupted pretty much only when there is something important. In the evening, I go through the rest of the stuff, which has been neatly moved to a folder called @SaneLater. If I find something interesting but not urgent, I move it to a folder called @SaneNextWeekend, and SaneBox will remind me about that next weekend. SaneBox is pretty flexible in terms of rescheduling: next weekend works for me, but you can create a folder for tomorrow, next month, or whatever timing works for you.
SaneBox allows you to set reminders, by sending emails to addresses like this: firstname.lastname@example.org (or 1.day, or tomorrow–2pm, or whatever you need). SaneBox will put that message back into your Inbox, at the desired time. You can just send or forward messages to these addresses, but there are simpler ways to set reminders: to understand the real power of this feature, you have to BCC a SaneBox reminder address, while writing to somebody else. You will be reminded only if your message does not get an answer by the specified time. Even better, when the message reappears in your Inbox, it has convenient Snooze buttons added to it.
The Black Hole
There is an additional feature that I like a lot. Whenever I find myself on some sort of mass mailing that I do not like, I simply move the message to a folder called @SaneBlackHole, and I won’t receive anything more from them. This is the simplest and most effective way to unsubscribe that I have found. In reality, SaneBox is simply blacklisting the sender: I could achieve the same thing by creating a rule in my email client (or on the server), but there is a huge friction in that. Before SaneBox I ended up being frustrated and deleting unwanted messages every single time. Moving a message to a folder has little friction, it is comparable to deleting the message in terms of effort. After a couple of months of this, I get much less spam. I won’t enter in details, but you can remove any of the blacklisted senders at any time, from SaneBox’s website.
Some considerations on security
Although SaneBox claims to use solid security principles, email is a very sensitive channel in our life online: most of the services you may use (think Twitter, Facebook, Google, Paypal, etc.) send emails to help you reset your password when required. If somebody gets access to the email account you use for password resets, they can control all your other accounts. Have a look at this article that appeared on Ars Technica a couple of days ago: even if you use secure passwords, two-factor authentication, and you are careful, an attacker can still use basic social engineering techniques to get your data.
Should SaneBox get hacked, the attacker could potentially get access to your email accounts' credentials. I think the problem here is not with SaneBox, but with the fact that most of us use a single email address for most things. What I am implementing is similar to what Naoki Hiroshima suggests on Ars: I am creating a separate email account, with a trusted provider, that I will use to request password resets for the services I consider critical. I won't disclose this address to anybody, and won't use it for any type of communication.
SaneBox provides a service that is valuable to me, and I have decided to subscribe. Small piece of advice: if you decide to subscribe, wait till the last day of the trial, or you will lose the remainder of your trial period… This is a point that SaneBox should address.
If you liked this post and decide to give SaneBox a try, I would be grateful if you used my affiliate link (we will both get $5 credit).