A simple strategy to keep your inbox clean

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lars Plougmann

Do you suffer from an unmanageable email inbox filled with dozens or even hundreds of messages, each representing some sort of task or action item? Improve your productivity by clearing out your inbox and dealing with your messages as they come in.

The idea behind various email strategies like Inbox Zero is that you deal with each message as it arrives. When completed, delete it or file it away -- but get it out of the inbox so tasks awaiting completion don't get lost in the digital weeds.

That's great in principle, but it's not always possible to touch a message only once and deal with it on the spot. If it sets in motion a series of other tasks, or you can't reply until you collect additional information, then the message runs the risk of getting lost in your inbox among a slew of other emails. That's where Boomerang comes in.

Recently, Lifehacks highlighted an inbox management system that solves the problem of mail that you can't deal with right away. Anytime you encounter an email that needs time to gestate, send it back to yourself at a future time using the Boomerang add-in for Gmail.

Boomerang is a cool app that lets you email messages for arrival at some future time that you can specify. So if you get an email with an action item that you know you can't deal with for a week, forward the message back to yourself with Boomerang for arrival on that future date. When it comes back, you can take action on it then and file or delete the message.

Lifehacks emphasizes using Boomerang with Gmail, but I should point out that you can do the same thing in Microsoft Outlook, for free. (Boomerang costs $5 a month). It's easy: click the Option tab Outlook's email ribbon, then click "Delay Delivery" and specify when you want the message to arrive in your inbox.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lars Plougmann.