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Turn Gmail into a powerful to-do list

(MoneyWatch) Though probably not especially well-suited for it, many of us end up using our inbox as a sort of ad hoc to-do list. We keep messages around in our inbox to remind us about work that needs to happen, and only delete or file messages when the project is complete.

Because of the way most email clients work, that's a pretty inefficient approach. But now there's a mail application that embraces task management and turns your inbox into a to-do list. And it works great.

The humbly named Mailbox is an iPhone app that uses four simple gestures to transform the way you think about mail. You can perform a short swipe or a long swipe to the left or right on any message. The effect: You can delete it; mark an email as "done" (which archives it); defer it to later -- it'll disappear from your inbox for a period of time that you specify; or file it into a folder.

That might not sound impressive, but it's really transformative. There have been apps and plug-ins around for a long time that let you "snooze" an email, but baking it into your mail client with a flick of your finger is powerful and makes deferring mail a part of your normal workflow. You can clean up your inbox and reduce clutter with the confidence that comes from knowing important messages will bounce back on cue so you can stay on track and get your work done.

The programs is elegant and simple -- the learning curve is short, and if you're anything like me you'll come to prefer it to the iPhone's built-in mail app in short order.

A few caveats, though. First and foremost, it only works with Gmail. That's a serious limitation, since most of us rely on both Gmail and some other mail service, such as Exchange or a POP mail account. Other platforms are coming, but it's not clear which ones, or when.

Second, you can't dive into the app today. You'll need to get your name on the waiting list -- the developer is bringing users on slowly to ensure their servers can handle the load, so you might end up waiting a couple of weeks before you get to try it out.

I have high hopes for Mailbox, and I long for the day when I can manage all my mail with this superb program. Until then, at least I have Gmail.

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