I got a call from Claire Suddath at Bloomberg Businessweek a few weeks ago. She told me about their upcoming second annual “How To” special issue. We talked quite a bit about the history of email and various approaches to manage it. By necessity, the story had to be edited down quite a bit to fit the available space. (The nice thing about the Web is that space is unlimited. See my original story that caught Claire’s eye below). My little story is called “How to Empty Your Inbox” and it appears here. The “How To” special issue includes 55 stories from “CEOs, tech visionaries, U.S. senators, an NFL referee, an artist, and, for good measure, an 11-year-old and a 106-year-old”. The guest contributors shared a lot of interesting perspectives, and Businessweek did a nice job pulling it all together. The stories can be found here.
Since I wrote the story last December, I have become more and more dependent on Boomerang. Whenever I send anyone an email to which I hope for a reply, I click the check box to have Boomerang send the email back to me if I don’t get a reply to it in X hours or days or weeks, depending on the timeliness needed. Whenever I receive board materials to read, I boomerang them back to me the night before the meeting or the morning of a train or plane ride to the meeting. When an email arrives that I really want to read but don’t have time to at the moment, I boomerang it back to me when I think I will have time. I have numerous periodic emails that I send to myself but where I click the “Send Later” button and have Boomerang send it to me on a specific date or once a month, quarterly, or annually. Boomerang is more than an email manager — it helps you manage your tasks and workflow.
Original story about Boomerang as published on patrickWeb on December 3, 2011:
I wish I had a dollar for every task management application I have used over the last few decades. There are many good ones, but the task manager that consistently works for me–and that I always end up relying on the most–is email. It is not true for everyone, but for me, an email in the inbox is a call to action. If there are more than a handfull of emails in my inbox, I do not feel I am in control of my life. When I have answered an email or taken some action based on that email and I then delete the email, I feel I have accomplished something. When the inbox is empty I feel very good — I have things under control. The problem is that on many days, getting to an empty state for the inbox is just not in the cards. Enter Boomerang!
Boomerang for Gmail is a browser plugin (for Firefox or Chrome) that I have found to be a great productivity tool. It is not a task manager, per se, but it greatly enhances my ability to get to the empty inbox state. If I receive an email invitation to attend an event and the RSVP date is two weeks from now and I don’t have time at the moment to consider it — Boomerang! I click the boomerang button and select “return to my inbox in 4 days”. You can click on choices such as in an hour, four hours, tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon, in a week, in a month, or at 3PM on March 14, 2013. A couple of clicks and the email is out of your inbox — but it will be back at a time when you are ready to deal with it. You can also send yourself an email and click the boomerang button to have it sent to you every Saturrning as a reminder to put out the trash. I have one email that comes to my inbox on the first of every month to remind me to update a Google Doc that I maintain as a log with my business use car mileage. Another one on the 15th of the month reminds me to update my steps database from my pedometer. If I am really busy when one of those mails arrives, no problem, just click the boomerang button and have it come back to you in a day or two or next week.
Boomerang also helps with workflow. For example, I may read the news on the iPad with Pulp and see a story that I think would be of interest to others. I hit the share button in Pulp and it sends me an email with the story link. I see the email later but I am not ready to write a story just yet — Boomerang! A couple of clicks and the email comes back to me Saturday morning. Another very powerful feature helps with follow-up. You can send someone an email requesting something and select a boomerang option to have the email return to you in four days if there has not been a reply to your email. A few clicks and you get a follow-up system. Boomerange also works with the iPad and iPhone. Maybe something better will come along, but for now, Boomerang for Gmail is helping me organize things the way I want and allowing me to stay on top of things and keep a feeling of being in control. If you overuse it and everything gets boomeranged and nothing ever gets done, well then you have other problems that technology can’t solve!