The inbox pictured at left is not mine. I feel compelled to tell you this right at the outset, because the idea of an inbox with that many messages in it, much less that many unread messages, is enough to make me break out in hives.
But there are times when my inbox does get a bit more full than I’d like, which usually happens when I find myself using it as a substitute for my to-do list. I’ll read a message from a student asking for a letter of recommendation, or a request for information from my dean’s office, or a reminder of an impending due date for a conference paper proposal, and I’ll let that message linger in my inbox, effectively saying that I don’t have time to do that thing right now, but leaving the message to serve as a reminder that I need to do it, and soon.
The problem, of course, is that such requests and reminders stack up, and so does the inbox, such that the things I need to do can wind up getting buried in a pile of other things that I may or may not need to do, but that wind up stealing focus by virtue of being more recent.
Several new email plugins promise to help with this problem. Julie recently discussed the new Google Priority Inbox, which helps you sort mail and keep your focus on the important items. However, Priority Inbox doesn’t help you take the crucial step of getting things out of your inbox.
Enter Taskforce, a browser plugin that interacts with your Google Mail or Google Apps account to help you get those pending items out of your inbox and onto a to-do list where they belong.
Here’s how it works: after signing up for a Taskforce account, the site walks you through the process of installing the plugin and creating a mail filter that will allow the widget to handle much of the bacn that you receive. After installation, a small floating widget appears in your Gmail account:
As new messages are caught by Taskforce’s mail filter, they appear under “Activity,” which contains all of the bacn that has been filtered out of your inbox. The messages themselves are automatically archived and labeled “mailfeed,” so that you can sort through them at your leisure.
The key attraction of Taskforce, however, is what it allows you to do with your non-bacn email, those messages you need to do something more with than simply reply. Each email message you open has a button labeled “Convert to Task”:
Clicking this button increments the floating number over the “Current” button in the Taskforce widget and replaces the “Convert to Task” button with three new ones:
“View Task” opens the task that you’ve created in the Taskforce widget:
The “Edit” button here highlighted allows you to rename the task to something that may be more meaningful than whatever the subject line of the email message happened to be:
Afterward, the task takes on its new name, and the task window allows you to add new participants to the task if need be:
The original email message can now be archived, getting it out of your inbox, while the task remains in your “Current” list. As with most to-do lists, you mark a task as complete by checking its box, and you can reorder the tasks on your list by dragging the handle to the left of the checkbox:
You can also use Taskforce as a general-purpose to-do list, creating new, non-email-related tasks by clicking “New Task” in the “Current” view.
Taskforce is still in beta, and thus you may run into some surprises as you use it. The service has also had the misfortune being announced a matter of days before Google’s Priority Inbox, which has stolen something of its inbox-sorting thunder, but Taskforce’s ability to get things out of your inbox entirely make it worth exploring.
[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Chad Swaney.]