This morning, I opened my email client to find 10 emails. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, until about a week ago, I would normally have about 100. Second, I didn’t really do anything to affect this change.

The real workhorse is a service called SaneBox. But before you can fully understand how it might change your life forever, you need to understand the problem that it solves.

For many of us, email is both a blessing and a curse. I truly couldn’t do my job very 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 emails. Because I’ve been using email since the dawn of time, I’ve streamlined this process as much as possible: I have filters created to automatically move certain things into folders; I have keyboard shortcuts set up to move, mark, delete, etc. 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 my some sort of action. In other words, some messages require my attention, the others just steal it.

Even a conservative estimate of 10 seconds per email means I’m spending at least a half an hour daily processing email 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. It takes a little getting used to, but primarily because you have to do so little for it to be affective. (I found this mildly disconcerting.) It works with most mail applications and all you have to provide is your email address and password. What happens next is, well, Steve Jobs might call it magic. Here’s a quick tour:

SaneBox creates a few folders in your email account. They’ll be things like SaneLater, SaneNews, and SaneRemindMe. It then begins to process your InBox to try to determine which of the mail you have is important (which it leaves in your InBox) and then processes the rest. Most of it– daily deal messages, newsletters, social media notifications, etc. – will be put into SaneLater. If you get a lot of ‘news’ related messages, they’ll go into SaneNews. Anything that is misfiled can be easily moved into the correct spot and SaneBox will learn and remember your preferences.

At this point, I’m thinking about mistakes. I’m nervous that I’ll miss a message that 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 only had to move a few.

Now, all of this is very nice, but most people could do it by setting up really effective filters. But there are a few other features that put SaneBox on my must-use list. The first two are reminders.

We all need to be more efficient, and email can really be a deterrent. Its interruptive nature can take you off task pretty easily. So 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. SaneBox accurately reads almost any function of time (including specific dates), so you can decide when you’d like to see this message again.

The RemindMe function takes this feature one step further. Let’s say you’re working on a project with Todd. Todd’s great, but he occasionally let’s things slip between the cracks. Currently, if you forward him something to work on you have to remember to follow up 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 (or 30minutes@sanebox or July1@… you get the idea.) At the time specified, if you haven’t already received a response to the 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 for 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 email workflow. I can’t recommend it more strongly.

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