I remember when so few e-mails came into my inbox – back in the mid-90s – that opening each one was exciting. Little could I have imagined then how one day, I’d find myself drowning in them. Because isn’t that what it feels like? Or if not drowning, then wading through treacle (which occasionally turns to toffee)?
To give you an idea of how bad it’s got: twice in the past, pre-G-Mail, over-zealous techies managed to delete every single e-mail (permanently) from my computer. No back-up, no copies, nada. But did I cry? No. After a few deep breaths, I was positively elated. Did a little jig around the office. Felt as if a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. (And then, of course, the box started to fill up again.)
I have to concede that my e-mail traffic is heavy-to-ridiculous. I’m not aiming for one-up-manship, here, but stating a fact. It comes of running three different businesses (Beauty Bible, The Perfume Society and The Wellington Centre, the nine-room wellbeing centre that my beloved and I opened a decade ago), and having a fairly healthy side hustle as an inspirational speaker. Also: for convenience, I buy a LOT online – from sneakers to supplements, bed linen to paint, stationery to shrubs. Which means: a lot of work-related e-mails (and being c.c.-ed in on what feels like a gazillion others). Even Ocado send me a notification when I’ve added an extra jar of organic capers to my order. All of which adds up to somewhere around 400 e-mails a day – and made me feel like I needed a parallel life just to deal with my inbox.
Until recently, I’d even contemplated an automatic Out of Office message that simply said: ‘Thanks for your e-mail. I may or may not get back to you in this lifetime.’ And that was the honest truth. I missed loads. Offers of actual paid work. E-mails from friends coming to town who’d been and gone before I stumbled on their e-mail while searching for something else. ‘Don’t forget’ messages from the aforementioned husband (so I didn’t ‘forget’, darling, I just never saw the reminder).
And then one night, in bed, I was leafing through a copy of Fast Company – a US magazine dedicated mostly to digital business, which I always find a darned good read. For about the tenth time, I saw a mention (from some high-flying, on-it CEO) of something called Sanebox, explaining how it’s transformed how he handles his e-mail. But this time, it finally registered in my consciousness – and at that point, I felt I had nothing to lose by signing up.
So let me preface what I’m about to tell you by saying: Sanebox haven’t paid me for this. (Ha! I WISH!) Rather, I’ve paid them! But probably the best money I’ve invested all year – currently $59 annually.) And here’s how it works. Basically, you give Sanebox the right to see all your e-mails (and delete them). OK, that’s a bit scary, but the first 24 hours I’d signed up, Sanebox spent analysing my inbox and sent messages. It had already started to figure out – and I literally know not how, because it seems flipping psychic, to me – which were important e-mails (in which case they go into an ‘Important’ box), which slightly less urgent (filed now in an @SaneLater box), and which were newsletters (@SaneNews).
But it doesn’t end there. Because each day, especially at the beginning when Sanebox is getting to know you, a Sanebox Digest lands in your inbox. It gives you the power to ‘train’ Sanebox. So: although some things were categorised (accurately) as @SaneNews, you can train the programme to send them straight to your inbox instead, to be seen straight away. Do I want to wait for my 60 Seconds with Gill, or the latest update from Anthropologie, or from interior designer Ben Pentreath, whose exquisitely designed e-mails brighten my day? No, I want to have a little e-break with my tea break and enjoy looking at them sooner rather than later – so I’ve trained those to my Inbox. (But FNAC Spectacles (who I bought some Paris theatre tickets from and have never successfully unsubscribed from? They’ve now been consigned to @SaneBlackHole, and will never darken my inbox again.)
So Sanebox creates little ‘silos’ of e-mail, by type. And the brilliant thing about that is that when you’re on the bus or in the back of a cab (or wherever), you can deal with whichever box you fancy. Maybe delete all those other newsletters which aren’t currently relevant (holidays/sale notifications/updates from your gym), but which you don’t want to unsubscribe from permanently. Or – with a bit more time on your hands them – to look at all the e-mails you’ve been c.c.-ed in on, and file (or add your sixpence-worth to the e-mail thread).
But what I’ve found is that it’s much, much, much (and I’d like to add about six more ‘much-es’ here) easier to deal with the same type of e-mail at the same time. Before they were ‘quarantined’ in different boxes, I’d start deleting or filing the entire, scary contents of my general inbox, and then I’d get to some e-mail or other e-mail that needed a quick response, and answer that, and then I’d be down that rabbit hole, completely distracted, and never get to the rest of them. And those unread e-mails would cascade down my inbox out of sight and very often never get dealt with, taking crucial invitations and messages with them. (It’s a wonder I still have a social life or a marriage, frankly.)
I am now shouting about Sanebox from the rooftops. (Here I am, with my megaphone, on VH!) And having evangelised to friends about this amazing app, some have also now signed up – and sure enough are finding it as life-changing as I do. I truly reckon it’s cut the amount of time I spend on e-mail by two-thirds. Which means I’ve got hours in my week, for the important stuff. Walks, prepared-from-scratch meals, books, chats with friends – all of which, at least sometimes, got sidelined because of the dreaded inbox.
For which I can only say: thank you, Sanebox – the best-named app on the planet – for truly restoring my sanity. I almost – almost – get excited about looking at my inbox again…