Too often, email feels overwhelming because we're not set up to process it at the time we receive it. Ted from accounting has a question that you can't really answer until Friday, because that's when Steve in design should have responded to you, but making sure that you email Ted after hearing from Steve taxes and muddies up your productivity flow. Your inbox becomes, in other words, a to-do list that everybody else controls, with properly timed follow-up becoming a tricky thing to manage.
What certain emails need is a snooze function that works like your alarm clock, just with a bigger time frame and wider eyes. "Don't bother me now, email from Ted," you would say. "Come back and bother me in three days, when I can deal with you." Luckily, there are free tools available for Gmail and your Google Apps mail to do just that.
Two of these tools are browser-specific extensions: one requires Chrome, the other Firefox or Chrome. One snooze helper is a script you can write once, and then use anywhere you can get at Gmail. We'll also highlight a service that accepts messages you forward and sends them back to you at a time you specify in the address field, which is easier than it reads.
Snooze extensions: Snooze Your Email and Boomerang
The easiest tool for seeing your email again at a later, more convenient time is Snooze Your Email for Chrome. Install the extension, decide on two or three options (like whether messages should appear as unread when they "awake" from their snooze), and let Snooze Your Email reload your email tabs.
Now you'll see a "Snooze" drop-down button above and to the right of your Gmail/Google Apps messages, pre-loaded with some default snooze periods, but also offering a "Set time" or "Set date/time" option for custom snoozing. When the snooze period is up, your email shows up again in your inbox and (hopefully) gets your proper, skillful attention.
If you're a Firefox user, or you like the idea of also being able to snooze the sending of an email, try Boomerang for Gmail (which, despite the name, also works fine with Google Apps mail). Like Snooze Your Email, Boomerang works through a new drop-down menu when you're viewing your inbox in Firefox or Chrome. The "Boomerang" menu itself gives options for returning a message to your inbox after a set number of hours or days, but adds a nifty option to send back a message only if nobody responds to it. You'll also see a "Send Later" button added next to the standard "Send," so you can look like a slightly less inbox-addicted insomniac and defer responses to a more reasonable time of your choosing.
Hit Me Later
But maybe you look at your inbox from different browsers, on mobile devices, or you just futz with your extensions quite a bit (ahem). Consider Hit Me Later, a clever, simple service that requires nothing more than the memory to use it when you need it.
If you'd like to see an email come back 12 hours from now, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and archive it in your inbox, if you'd like. Hit Me Later sends the message back from its servers, and you're ready to roll with it. Without paying a dime, Hit Me Later offers up to 24-hour send-back, but it's only $12 per year to unlock send-backs of up to one month - so you can send things to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and so on. Send back times up to one year in length runs $30 per year.
If you want universal access to a snooze function in Gmail, you can have it - you'll just have to get a bit tweaky first. Lifehacker's Adam Pash details how to add a snooze button to Gmail with a Google Apps Script, a lesser-known tool that anyone can access. There's nothing too difficult in the process, as the script itself is a copy-and-paste item you load through Google Docs.
Once the script is authorized and you've run its automatic setup, you'll have seven new labels in your Gmail/Apps inbox. Add a "Snooze 3 Days" label to an email from the Labels menu, by dragging its left edge "handle" across the inbox to the label list, or with the "L" shortcut key, and that email doesn't show up again in your inbox until three days later. This works from pretty much any Gmail/Apps interface that allows for labeling, which is basically all of them.
Delaying email to avoid it isn't exactly going to win you a green belt in the Getting Things Done practice, but occasionally one needs a backup plan to make sure a message gets attention when it should. That's how you should use "snooze" tools for Gmail - but perhaps less than you use the snooze on your alarm clock.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.