Email has been with us for a long time now – it's approaching 20 years since it became widely used – yet it is still the bane of many people's working lives.
Yes, email is a handy tool. But it's also an enormous time waster. It's bad enough for those of us working in small businesses; it can be a complete nightmare for anyone working in a large corporate-style environment.
There are, of course, a million things you can do to get more efficient at dealing with email. I've tried many of them. Unfortunately most of them are hampered by the need for strict – and, for most of us, unsustainable – discipline either on your own behalf or that of the people you communicate with. Or they only work with certain email clients.
Recently, however, that has all changed for me. Thanks to the discovery of two tools – one for my desktop computer and one for my portable devices – I have now reached the fabled state of 'inbox zero' (aka #inboxzero) consistently for 14 days in a row.
The first tool is Sanebox, a web-based piece of magic that sorts your emails out for you before they arrive in your inbox. Emails deemed important (based mainly on who they are from) are delivered to your inbox folder. Everything else is delivered to a special folder called @Sanelater. That includes all marketing emails, all newsletters, all bulk emails and basically anything that is unlikely to require short-term action from you.
The idea is that you check your @Sanelater folder once or twice a day only. There is no need to check it constantly because there is little or nothing in there that needs your immediate attention.
Sounds weird? Yes. But for me it has worked like a charm.
Sanebox has a number of other features you can choose to use, including more refined sorting, automatic reminders and a 'black hole' that sucks away unwanted emails before you even see them.
It works with any IMAP email service (if you're still using POP it's time to change anyway – see this explanation of what all these letters mean).
Sanebox assures us that their computers only look at the headers of our emails (basically the to/from information) and not the content. And they don't store anything – they just sort emails on the way through, pretty much as your email provider already does.
Sanebox isn't free, but it isn't expensive either. As is increasingly the case on the internet, if you want quality, you need to pay for it. (There is a 14-day free trial available via their website.)
An excellent complement to Sanebox is an app called Boxer. Boxer is an email client for iOS that I use on both my iPhone and iPad. (It will soon be available for Android too.)
I once swore that I would never check email on my mobile ... but then I also once swore that I would never need a mobile phone at all. The reality is that using spare time at the train station to 'triage' emails contributes to maintaining a clean inbox.
Boxer makes this triaging quick and easy with the ability to swipe emails right or left to delete or archive them or to take various other actions. I particularly like the intelligent 'move' feature which guesses (quite accurately) which folder you might want to file an email into.
Boxer currently costs $1.29 in the Australian iTunes store. It also works with most IMAP email services.