Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boomerang for Gmail Review

As a "follow-up" to Ramy's article about FollowUpThen, I wanted to share my favorite email follow-up service -- Boomerang for Gmail by Baydin.

I've been using it since early beta, and it has become a powerful tool in my email productivity arsenal.

It's basically a snooze button for your email, and integrates right into the familiar Gmail interface.

At $50/year for a personal account, and $150/year for a professional account, it's not cheap compared to Gmail itself.

However, it works very well, is extremely reliable, and could end up being worth the money for someone who sends and receives ridiculous amounts of email. (like yours truly :)

The feature is use most is the basic "Boomerang incoming" functionality. Just tell Boomerang when you want the email to come back (tomorrow 8am, next thursday, etc.) and it disappears and is redelivered at that time.

For power users, here's an example of a more complicated workflow:
  1. You receive an email from Bob asking whether you can meet up next Friday, but you have a tentative meeting scheduled with Mary.
  2. You send an email to Mary asking if the meeting is still on, but click the "Boomerang this message if I don't hear back in 2 days" checkbox.
  3. If Mary responds promptly, nothing happens.
  4. However, if Mary does not reply, Boomerang puts the message back in your Inbox so you can re-ask her, or perhaps give a call or text.

Another feature I use often is the Send Later feature, which is similar to Outlook's Delay Delivery.

I sometimes find myself working at odd hours -- 2am, 3am -- and need to send various emails, like invoices, updates, etc.

Sometimes it might be consider a bit rude to send emails in the middle of the night. What if the recipient forgot to turn off their Blackberry and it buzzes and wakes them up?

I simply draft up the email, press Save, and then use Boomerang's Send Later button. A dropdown lets me specify when (usually "tomorrow morning").

In summary, Boomerang for Gmail is a nicely implemented service that does a great job of filling a void in Gmail's functionality.

Kudos to the folks at Baydin!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Forget Flagging Emails - Follow Up Then

I've recently been introduced to a great tool that's helped me in managing projects and fits perfectly into my personal workflow of how I deal with emails and keep on top of things where I need to make sure some action gets taken.

In the past, I flagged emails. First in Outlook and then a few years later using "Stars" in Gmail. It works pretty well. After I sent an email, if I wanted to make sure that the person that I sent the email to actually did something with it, I would go into my sent items folder and Star the email. Once a week or so, I would cycle through my Starred items and see if there were any messages I needed to follow up on…

Enter Before I go on. I don't know the people who developed this product and I have no affiliation with them other than being a big fan of their service!

Basically, you can send an email to,, or any other description of time you can think of. After that set amount of time, you'll get a reply/forward from Followupthen (with the same subject line so that message threading works correctly) which basically brings that conversation right back into your inbox.

There's a few reasons I like this. But before that, I'll illustrate the two different ways that I use this service.

If I'm sending an email and I want to basically remind myself to follow up a week later (if I don't hear back from the recipient) it's as easy as BCCing No extra action is required. I don't need to look up the email after sending it and mark it. The recipient has no idea about it and I can feel confident that if I don't hear back in a week, that email conversation will magically pop back into my inbox for me to follow up on.

The other way I've used the service is when I receive an email that I don't necessarily want to write back to immediately. Whether it's a good practice or not, I'm a big fan of a clean inbox. So when I get those emails, if I want to remind myself to reply 2 days later, I simply forward it to and then archive it. Again, it fits right into my workflow, which is what makes the service so useful.

The one downside or questionable part of this is that I am sending some of my emails to this service. I'm careful that nothing with even the mildest amount of confidentiality goes out this way. That being said, considering that Google and Apple basically own most of my information anyway, it's probably not too big of a deal.

Finally, aside from actually using the service, it's also been a good learning for me in terms of creating meaningful business solutions. The service is simple. It does one thing. And it does that thing well. The most important part for me is that it fits into my workflow and as a result, it was really quick to adapt to.

We are taking this lesson into account as we continue to improve PMRobot and looking closely at the workflow of project managers and software developers to ensure that PMRobot slips right into the way most people are working already! Have feedback about how we can improve PMRobot from a workflow point of view? Drop me a line at

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hard deadlines motivate people

The vast majority of people seem utterly incapable of doing anything until the very last minute.

Procrastination appears to be human nature, and tends to defy the best project management practices.

Whether learned or inherited, it's a very real phenomenon that project managers need to deal with on a daily basis.

Some managers try to jumpstart things by setting a "fake" deadline, a week or two before the "real" deadline, so that people actually start working on things and discovering unknown dependencies and challenges before it's too late.

This tends to work -- about once.

Then everyone clues into the trickery and ignores the next "fake" deadline completely.

Nonetheless, I've found that if you want something done, you need to set a deadline, and make people very aware of it.

In PMRobot, we've added a bunch of cues to remind people about deadlines.

The "Due in X days" text turns red at the 3-day mark. Ticket subjects turn bold and red at the same time. Reminder emails are sent out.

In project management, there's no easy way to fight the tide of procrastination, but I've found that it works best to:
  1. Set a realistic due date. Make sure people know what it is.
  2. Enforce the due date. Ensure that people know the consequences of missing it.
  3. Communicate about the due date. Ask people regularly about their progress.
  4. Don't push back the due date. Deliver on time, create a new milestone, and reschedule the missed work items.
How about you? What tools do you use for motivating people to keep on track?