BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Sanebox is an email add-on that triages your email for you so you can more easily focus on processing the email messages that matter. Most of the people I’ve recommended it to soon find
SaneBox is a paid service that works on top of your email account. The SaneBox robots monitor the header data of your email messages – not the content itself – to determine what’s important to you and then move messages to their appropriate locations. The service works with any client, service, or device.
It’s best to understand SaneBox as an automated email assistant. You can think of SaneBox as a combination of Gmail filters and smart inboxes on steroids, but if you don’t use Gmail, that’s not very helpful.
While I don’t get an obscene, superstar amount of email every day, I get enough that I’ve had to get smart about how I process it. That means I’ve tried a lot of things, from using third-party services to having a personal assistant screen my messages. SaneBox is by far the best method I’ve used. It’s about as effective as a personal assistant for screening and far more cost-effective.
To make their email processing easier, some people create different email addresses for different types of email. I’ve learned the hard way that I fall down with multiple email addresses, as they create Yet More Places to Process Mail In and people get confused about which email address to send what messages to. The combo of Gmail filters and SaneBox, along with eliminating social media and system notifications, does most of the work that a separate email address would do but without complicating things.
What’s Great About SaneBox
- The Sane folders – such as SaneLater and SaneTomorrow – do most of the triaging for me.
- It’s trainable – you can train SaneBox to know what’s important and what isn’t, and it will use designated folders to sort the two. This is faster and more effective than using Gmail filters.
- I can easily slide emails into Sane folders based on when I need to process those messages.
- SaneBox works with any email host, so if I ever want to break away from Gmail and use another protocol, I won’t have to worry about losing a critical tool.
- It makes it easier for me to delegate my email processing when I need to. (More on this in the next section)
But What If You Have Someone Else Processing Your Email?
As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to have people do things that computers and other machines can do. People are uniquely able to intuit, sense context, personalize, evaluate, and decide between options, which is why assistants are often asked to monitor and process what comes into an Inbox. SaneBox and assistants work well together because SaneBox does so much of the screening and pre-processing that it allows an assistant to focus on the heavier lifting or on other work that only people can do.
When I need some help processing my email – when I’m traveling, off the grid, or on a deadline, for instance – I can ask a teammate to process SaneLater and my Inbox because those are the only two folders that might have something actually needing attention. Depending on what we’ve discussed, she can either slide those email messages into a special folder that we use when I’m away or just leave them in my Inbox. Since I’ve already trained SaneBox, my teammate instantly has a pulse on what’s important and what’s not based upon which folders SaneBox slides messages into.
On at least four occasions throughout the years – before I started using SaneBox – I tried having an assistant process my email. In each case, the assistant noted that most of the messages that reached my actual Inbox required my attention anyway, so there wasn’t much for them to do. My being an advisor means that 80% of the messages that hit my Inbox require my advisory perspective, Slack has all but eliminated the 15% of emails that used to come from teammates asking for guidance, and the remaining 5% are outlier messages that require my perspective or decision. (Outlier messages are one-offs or can’t be systematized.)
In other words, I had systematized all I could but the root source of the email that required my attention was based on my business model. Your context may be different from mine, so the ways SaneBox and an assistant might work for you will likely be different, too.
If SaneBox would save YOU an hour or two a week, it stands to reason that it would save your assistant an hour or two a week as well. What I’ve seen is that it’ll save assistants more time because they tend to work through email faster than the people they’re assisting and they’ll be much more likely to use the features.
What I Don’t Love About SaneBox
The two quibbles below have to do mostly with how SaneBox changes my email use, so it falls less on SaneBox and more on my user error or behaviors. I wanted to make sure to bring them up, though, as they trip me up sometimes.
- The Sane folders add another step to my batch actions. I used to be able to just hit Archive, but now I have to click “Remove Label” instead. Not a deal breaker, but the difference between how I process my Inbox and how I process a Sane folder is enough that it trips me up sometimes.
- It’s easy to mis-train SaneBox. For instance, for the rare email message that gets through to my Inbox instead of going into the intended Sane folder, rather than sliding the message into that folder, I just archive it. That creates a situation in which I didn’t train SaneBox to catch that email, so I’ll be dealing with it again whenever I get the next one and I’ll be wondering why SaneBox didn’t catch it. It didn’t catch it because I didn’t train it to. The key point here is that you might need to spend 10–15 minutes a week training SaneBox during the first month of use and then 5 minutes or so after that, and it’s worth the time.
Is SaneBox Worth It?
SaneBox offers plans that range from $7 to $26 per month. Given that so many people spend a lot of time stuck in email and that it keeps them from finishing the stuff that matters more, I think it’s worth it. If it saves you two hours a month of email processing or saves your mental bandwidth such that you can actually focus on the other things that really matter to you for an additional two hours, then it costs less than a minimum-wage hour.
But because SaneBox offers a two-week trial, you don’t have to decide if it’s worth it before you experience it. Most of the people I’ve personally recommended it to soon find that they can’t live without it. Try SaneBox to see how an automated email assistant could work for you.