Email Challenge May Defy Management

mailbox-app-deleteAs dissatisfaction with email continues to mount, and the Zero Inbox movement gains momentum, more and more organizations will be looking at email management solutions to solve their email woes.

Are those hopes misplaced?

Certainly there have been management solutions that have been grabbing a lot of attention lately. For example, SaneBox.

SaneBox uses a massive email filter that learns what’s important to you and tosses what’s not into a separate folder.

To learn what’s important to you, SaneBox analyzes what you keep in your inbox, as well as your social networking accounts, to determine what should be allowed into your inbox and what shouldn’t.

You can check the messages in the separate folder to see how effectively SaneBox is working and to further tweak the filter.

According to SaneBox, it can save an average employee 100 hours a year in email time.

Another email wonder app is Mailbox. Mailbox is an iPhone app that’s impressing the Zero Inbox crowd with its simplicity.

With the program, which, for now, only works with Gmail, you’re given three options. An email can be deleted, archived or saved for later action.

How much later is up to you. It can be later in the day, week or month. Accessing those items later can be easily done through the app’s main menu.

Essentially, the app treats your inbox as a to-do list. That’s a good idea, according to venture capitalist Paul Graham.

“Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now,” he wrote in an essay titled “Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas.”

“Email is not a messaging protocol,” he continued. “It’s a todo list. Or rather, my inbox is a todo list, and email is the way things get onto it. But it is a disastrously bad todo list.”

Graham’s view contrasts with Mr. Zero Inbox himself Merlin Mann, who attributes email’s inadequacies to a lack of a cohesive system of managing it.

“Clearly,” he wrote in a blog, “the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.”

There are those, though, who believe no amount of management will address the email problem. Management only treats a symptom of a larger problem, according to Trey Griffith, CTO and co-founder of

What that larger problem is isn’t entirely clear to Griffith but he does know what the problem isn’t. “Every new email management app, and every new email management system seems to be treating a symptom of the disease rather than the disease itself,” he wrote in an online essay.

“I’m not sure if the disease is the increasing amount of email,” he continued, “but I can be fairly certain that the disease is not the lack of a management system, nor a to-do list communicated through messages.”

There’s also another school of thought that posits the proposition that what makes email stressful is its nagging demand for attention.

The Slow Web manifesto, formulated by a group advocating that people “should have a life” outside the Web, call for the disruption of unhealthy feedback loops, of which email could be one.

“Habits form by virtue of feedback loops,” the manifesto explained. “Upon forming habits that hooks one to an intravenous drip of constant feedback from the Internet, one would eventually be incapacitated by the sheer amount of information flowing through.”

“As such,” it continued, “we feel that the fast web is creating unhealthy feedback loops which will lower one’s efficiency and productivity in the long run.”

Written by John P Mello Jr

John Mello is a freelance writer who has written about business and technical subjects for more than 25 years. He is frequent contributor to the ECT News Network and his work has appeared in a number of periodicals, including Byte magazine, PC World, Computerworld, CIO magazine and the Boston Globe


  1. Adelaide · March 20, 2013

    I’ve tried SaneBox before since it’s available on free trial. Anyway, I don’t know if this is ideal for normal people like me. Those who are not running businesses. Paying the monthly fees can be pretty daunting. The concept, moreover, has already been adopted by other e-mail platforms. For example, Gmail allows you to sort through mails according to importance. It’s called Priority Inbox. So the most significant are on the topmost while the lesser ones are found below. I’ve been using this method for a week now, and I can say I’m satisfied.

  2. Gem · March 25, 2013

    The truth is you don’t need all these fancy tools to help you manage your inbox. One of the very first things you can do is to unsubscribe to services that you don’t really mean much to you. As what I’ve noticed, most of the e-mails received are from subscriptions. Second, tell your friends to avoid using the Auto Reply especially if the messages aren’t meant for you in the first place. Third, if the discussion is going to take longer than expected, do it in instant messages. These days they already have a Chat History option so you can now save all the important points at any time.

  3. William Santiago · April 2, 2013

    I’m one of the many who receive tons of emails everyday. My inbox is always full, no matter how long a time I spend deleting unwanted and insignificant messages. However, I agree with Gem. I don’t think I need to use tools for managing my inbox. I’ve already started what Gem suggested: unsubscribed from groups or services that I don’t really follow or use. Also, since I use Gmail, I’ve started using the Priority Inbox, just as Adelaide suggested. I’ve yet to see big changes, but things are moving. I’m sure I won’t be needing Sanebox or any other tool.

  4. Tom · April 2, 2013

    The supposed deconstruction of the e-mail is only making things more complicated. Its definition is clear as day: electronic mail. It’s more than just a to-do list. Anyway, I do agree that it’s important to manage mails, especially since a huge bulk of them are noise or completely irrelevant to your daily life. I suggest people should read Zen Habits so we can all simplify how we live our lives.

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