- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For nearly $90 a year, SaneBox.com claims it will tame the flood of email that comes into the inboxes of two of your email accounts and make it all manageable. You can “train” the Web-based software to send messages from the most important senders in your life straight on through, while filing others in a “later” folder for you to deal with, well, later.

It’s a tempting idea: My Gmail account is under siege every day, with dozens, if not hundreds, of email messages vying for my attention. The email account I’m privileged to use at The Washington Times is not as full, but there’s plenty of stuff that comes in there. All told, there’s a lot of mail to wade through, and finding the gems among the mass of material can often be a challenge.

No system is perfect, but the SaneBox people insist their algorithms can ferret out most of the most important stuff by noting who you reply to as well as who’s writing to you. And each category, they say, is editable: You can add someone to the “must deliver” list, or you can consign someone to the “SaneBlackHole,” their term, from which emails only emerge if you want them to do so. There are “tickler” folders into which you can route messages for review one day or one week from now, another nice organizing tactic.

I signed up for a two-week SaneBox trial just before taking a week’s vacation, a good time, I thought, to have an electronic “assistant” handle my virtual correspondence while tuning out from the daily grind. Sign-up was quick, although it understandably took an hour or two for SaneBox to go through the nearly 250,000 emails in my Gmail account. (“Why delete when you have [so much] storage?” Gmail asks, and I agreed.) It took less time to sort through my Times emails.

The computer-aided research done, SaneBox did what it promised, and reduced the flood of messages to a trickle. The rest were not deleted, but put in a “SaneLater” folder to which I could turn when time allowed.

The service also sends a “have you seen these messages” listing once or twice a day, listing the messages it has relegated to the “later” folder. In the course of about nine days, the “SaneLater” folder on my Gmail account held the better part of 1,900 messages; the Washington Times email “SaneLater” folder was relatively barren at only 159 messages.

The great plus of something such as SaneBox, from what I can see, is that its algorithms are rather sophisticated. Almost nothing appeared to elude its filing system; only a couple of emails that could have, in my view, been filed for “later” landed in the regular inbox. The result was that I had much less “urgent” email to wade through.

I was also impressed with the way SaneBox handled email attachments in my Gmail account, creating a separate folder for these. This segregation was a plus in keeping my main inbox clutter free. Nicely played, SaneBox, nicely played.

What didn’t I like? Well, the SaneLater option is perhaps a bit too comfortable. I’m not seeing some of the regular items I’d see as quickly as I’d like. Yes, I can alter the rules by “training” the program, but in one sense it seems as if I’m merely shifting the “when” of going through my email instead of just the how. Yes, SaneBox offers an initial “pruning,” but I wish it could do more out of the box.

If I were constantly, or regularly, traveling, then having a lot of stuff, offline, in a “SaneLater” folder might be more useful, giving me something to do while in-flight. But as an adjunct to a busy day, I’m less sure. Do I really want to add another to-do item to my list?

Having said all that, I’m still tempted to fork over the money and keep working with SaneBox. Those who are less inclined might want to check out the work of Michael Linenberger (michaellinenberger.com), who’s written extensively about using Microsoft Outlook to manage one’s workday, or Randall Dean, whose “Taming the Email Beast” was covered here about three years ago.

• Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com

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