Email Management with Airmail and Sanebox

I switched to Airmail as my primary email client in April. While I’ve kept tabs on other email apps, I always go back to Airmail because of its power-user features and integrations. I explained my reasons for switching in my previous coverage of versions 1.0 and 1.1, but there are some recent developments that have improved how I manage email on my iPad even further.

As I shared in the October 2016 Monthly Log newsletter for Club MacStories members, I started using Sanebox a couple of months ago. Sanebox is a web service that connects to your email provider (in my case, Gmail) and separates messages in categories based on importance and type. It’s the same concept as apps like Inbox and Spark, but it happens in the cloud and it uses mailboxes/labels, which means you can change email clients and Sanebox will continue to operate because it’s not a proprietary feature of an app. As long as it’s connected to your email account, Sanebox will remove unimportant messages from your inbox and file them into a folder. Even if you switch email clients, you’ll be able to take advantage of Sanebox because it’s just a brain in the cloud, independent of the app you use to read emails.

Sanebox seemed to be tailored precisely for my problems. I like modern email clients that try to guess which emails are more important than others, but I don’t want to start this training process from scratch every time I switch apps. And because of my job, I have to try different email clients quite often. After forwarding every Gmail account I previously had to a single address, I turned on Sanebox and let it organize email for me.

Two months in, I can say I’ve never had a better relationship with email than with Sanebox. The service’s marquee functionality is the ability to discern messages you don’t need to see right away. Those messages are automatically moved to a SaneLater folder as soon as they hit my account. Similarly, newsletters and other “announcement” emails go into a SaneNews folder. Messages that Sanebox deems important stay in the inbox. If you don’t agree with Sanebox’s intelligence, you can train it by filing messages into a different folder or by creating more advanced rules on the Sanebox website.

Thanks to Sanebox, I’ve gotten used to a new kind of email triaging workflow: the few messages in the inbox are acted upon as soon as possible, while SaneLater and SaneNews emails wait until the evening or the weekend, when I have more time to read. Sanebox has learned from my training and it knows where to file messages from important people. Thanks to the SaneBlackHole (another folder), I also have an easy way to make sure I’ll never see a message from a specific sender again. All of this works in any email client.

My Airmail setup.

My Airmail setup.

With its deep customization, Airmail can handle this type of email workflow beautifully. Sanebox folders I use daily are saved as favorites in Airmail, where I can put them at the top of the sidebar for quick access. Favorites let me move between different groups of emails with a couple of taps; they can also have custom colors, which helps spotting them at a glance.

Filing messages into mailboxes is key to Sanebox, and Airmail has the most powerful Move interface of any email app on iOS.

Airmail's move UI.

Airmail’s move UI.

With favorite folders at the top, I can file a message into any Sane-folder without having to scroll a long list of mailboxes from my Gmail account. Fast message filing also means I’m training Sanebox more often because it’s not a chore, which results in smarter email organization every day. It’s a win-win.

I’ve described both in detail before, but Airmail’s Smart Folders and app integrations are outstanding. To my knowledge, Airmail is the only iOS email app that lets you create complex smart folders that work for any type of email account. I have smart folders that act as saved searches (built using the Gmail search syntax) and they help me find messages that are addressed to a specific person or that contain words I’m often looking for. App integrations are equally impressive: Airmail can work with task managers, cloud storage services, document providers, and even the package tracking app Deliveries to turn messages into actions. The list of services and apps supported by Airmail is the new standard for power-user email clients on iOS.

I try not to spend too much time managing email, but there is still a lot of value in it for me because of the connections I make and new products I discover with email. The combination of Sanebox in the cloud and Airmail on iOS helps me be more efficient with the important messages I need to take care of, but more relaxed with everything else. Sanebox and Airmail have saved me dozens of hours.

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