The Rise of Tools to Deal with Email Insanity

Email came into it’s own about thirty years ago when corporations started rolling email out to their employees powered mainly by mainframes or client/server based systems. Email as we know it today, is a very ubiquitous digital tool that everyone has it seems on everything from computer to Smartphone and on it goes. Powered by the internet, this form of ubiquitous email began to take shape and rise in 1995.

This is not long ago for either form of email. The corporate email eventually blended into the ubiquitous internet email only to be identified by the corporate domain name. From the get go there were immediately a couple of problems that occurred with email and now are out of control.

  1. It immediately became apparent that it was very easy to compose an email and send it off to one or more of your colleagues.
  2. It became even more apparent that you could cc a group of work colleagues all from the one email. That email could traverse from here to there with a reply, forward and multiple forward. Emails were on an exponential rise and employees were dealing with a whole new demand at work that previously didn’t exist.
  3. Email, once introduced to the broader community, followed the same path as that of the corporation and people were soon becoming swamped in the stuff.
  4. Email became an excellent marketing tool advertising all kinds of things and at the same time burying people in mounds of completely useless email.

The Rise of Tools to Deal with Email Insanity

It doesn’t take much looking to find mail tools to deal with email insanity. There’s a plethora of email editors that promise to make quick work of email like Dispatch for the iPhone or Mail Pilot for the Mac and Boxer for the iPad. However, these tools are local clients and deal with mail on your individual system.

Enter Sanebox, an algorithmic system, that operates on your mail that enters your environment. The end result is that regardless of client, the mail is dealt with the same.

Prime Goal is to Defer Unimportant Email or Put Another Way this is an Attempt to Regain some Sanity

The email clients are designed to both act on your mail quickly while deferring what can be deferred. However, with the clients it is you that defers the mail. Sanebox uses an algorithmic approach to determine what is important mail for you to see immediately and puts it in your inbox while putting unimportant mail in defer boxes. The main defer box is the @sanelater box. Sanebox also helps you process mail more quickly but it’s real goal is to get unimportant email into defer boxes of which you can choose depending on the plan you take.

The service offers different levels of plans to meet your varying needs. Lets say you primarily use one mail box and really don’t get much mail at all. There is probably little benefit to you having Sanebox. However, let’s say you have two email accounts that are both extremely busy. There could be a lot of benefit for you in Sanebox which will present you with very important mail only.

Then there is the individual who has say four active email accounts. In all the accounts, the person receives a lot of mail till the point they are about to go under. This person would take the most advanced plan which would defer a large bulk of mail for him till a different point in time in which it might be easier to look at the unimportant mail.

One advantage of the deferral technique is if you use or configure a number of boxes say including News and Bulk and these boxes were each full by the end of the day with a lot of mail, instead of going through every email item and deleting it, you could either, if you were having a very busy day, just highlight them all and then delete them all or eyeball them quickly doing the same as before. This is one method Sanebox greatly speeds up you mail processing time.

Preventing Mail from Burying you or Deferring to Deal with the Most Important First

In this brief outline we have quickly looked at the history of email and its effect when not dealt with logically. In this instance, we are looking at the effect of the initiators activity if there aren’t guidelines to control the manner in which they use email.

A Brief Example when email was Introduced at Bell Canada

To help in our understanding of how a Sanebox is beneficial and for some essential, I’m going to outline a brief example of what happened when email was introduced at Bell Canada. This will sound rather familiar given the time-frame we’ll be discussing.

It was 1984 and the tide had been turning to automate office practices. Automation had done wonders for industrial productivity as witnessed by the Industrial Revolution and technologies had arisen and were arising that would allow the automation of office activities. Enhanced productivity was the goal and insanity hadn’t been considered.

Bell Canada (from hereon in just Bell) had a fairly advanced IT infrastructure. The company was operating on IBM equipment primarily and the office system that was being deployed was Profs. Penetration was expected at 100% due to the large number of terminals connected to the mainframes.

In addition, started to be introduced at their inception and when the IBM PC was introduced a rollout of the PC escalated dramatically. Macs were also entering the company in large numbers once they were designed starting again in 1984.

There was an interesting delineation of PCs and Macs however. PCs were primarily geared for sales and the business units while Macs were destined for engineering, design and research.

Regardless of device though and project underway, it was decided that email would be rolled out to everyone in the company. The email was to be based on IBM’s PROFS system yet interconnection or delivery via a different system was totally fine.

The rollout began in earnest and 1984 proved a very busy year for IT. The rollout itself was considered a tremendous success and all deadlines were being met.

Generally, people were quite excited by email. There were many other IT initiatives that were not as warmly welcomed but universal email was.

The Locomotive became a bit Loco

As time passed and people trained on using the email system, they did just that; used the system but in an interesting fashion. Under the old manual method of sending communication, it was time-consuming and tedious. People found email fun, friendly and easy beyond belief. In fact, they found it so easy, they wrote emails for emails sake and they decided everyone should know about the information in the email.

The cc: line took on great significance. In the past, people only had so much internal communication to deal with and it was more than manageable. With the new system, people had more email than they could ever read in a day and you only had a day for tomorrow would bring on yet another onslaught.

Something else very interesting happened. Anyone who sent an email felt that they should have a very rapid response which was out of all reason. Finally though the cc: broke the camels back. People were looking at emails, sent to 100 people who they had no idea who they were and they had no idea what this email was about or why they had it.

IT Scramble

The scramble was on to design guidelines for effective email use. Training was scheduled and although this training helped, a monster had basically been let loose. People kept reverting to the creation of mounds of email.

As the systems began to interconnect with outside systems though something had to be done as the days of going home and relaxing before the tomorrow were gone. The interconnection to outside systems worsened the operation and effective use of email. It was considered generally extremely beneficial but it was also viewed as out of control; just simply too much.

The Internet, Electro Convulsive Therapy or Sanebox

With the introduction of the internet, coping with mail was fairly ad hoc. The garbage pale became man’s and woman’s best friend and so it remains to today.

There was though, as this was all transpiring, a loud cry for help. Email vendor’s have come up with some very interesting solutions. Most solutions are based on the GTD model, which is a good model for dealing with this kind of craziness. The need for productivity of course remains but the desire to have sanity is ever prevalent.

Sanebox is a solution for something that was deemed beneficial but turned out to be taking over people’s lives. It certainly is useful and it brings back a degree of control to the problem of email but it isn’t perfect. I don’t think anything could be.

I find Sanebox useful in that it’s technique of deferring less useful mail frees me up to deal with that which needs to dealt with and also it allows me to focus on the important things while getting to the unimportant eventually and without feeling too stressed. Since Sanebox has deemed the mail that it has deferred as less important one is able to be more relaxed when finally getting around to it. It might simply require the quick use of the delete key.

Productivity Can be Achieved

Although Sanebox can definitely help achieve a more organized and controlled email system, it can’t work miracles. There’s likely to be pitfalls and mistakes made. However, it certainly can help you take control over aspects of your email. By deferring the unimportant, you can focus on that which really requires your attention. Further, the items that are placed in deferred email boxes are potential candidates for very fast deletion thus speeding up the process of your handling a lot of email.

It would certainly be desirable if the tools at our disposal were used more effectively thus potentially saving everyone time and headaches. The use of one tool over a tool more appropriate for the job can lead to problems whilst the overuse of email can certainly lead to everyone being inundated. Techniques often appear to counterbalance those that have gotten out of hand. In this case, you could see Sanebox as one of those counterbalancing techniques designed to make our lives a little more bearable under the onslaught of email.