Email is a part of life—and in some ways, a great part. If nothing else it saves a ton of paper. Can you imagine if we printed everything out? Email certainly saves a few trees…
The problem, though, is now there is simply too much of it to handle the way we used to. I personally receive at least 100 messages every day and that’s not even considered a heavy load. But even with great filters to sort and file, important messages and conversations often get buried in the onslaught. Unless you have the memory of an elephant or the email savvy of Merlin Mann himself, maybe you share my problem: the pure volume of email makes it hard to remember to deal with everything that hits the inbox.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way—we just need a tool to help us. A reminder service that works within email can help you remember everything and make sure that no messages fall through the cracks. That’s right, you’ll never forget to read or reply to an email again, or follow up with someone that doesn’t respond. A robust reminder service can even help you remember things that you don’t normally receive an email for—like your mom’s birthday, for example.
There are quite a few options to choose from that accomplish these goals in one way or another, but it can be difficult to decide which one’s the best fit for your setup. To clear up the confusion, I’d like to first distinguish between the basic options and then provide a more detailed list of the services. After that, I’ll give you my two cents on what’s the best bang for your particular inbox.
The Basic Options
There are two basic options. The first is to use what I like to call a command-line based service, which might appeal to the Linux and Vim crowd out there. Setting reminders with these services requires using special syntax to send messages to external servers (usually in the form: email@example.com). For example, if you wanted remind yourself to pay a bill that’s due on Friday, forward the invoice to firstname.lastname@example.org so that it is returned Thursday morning, the day before the bill is due. Or if you wanted to remind yourself about your mom’s birthday on August 31, send a quick note to email@example.com.
The advantage of these services is that they are universal: they can be used by anyone with an email address, on any email client. The drawback is that they do operate externally, so to set the reminders you actually need to send and receive MORE email. And if you ever want to cancel, edit, or reschedule the reminder, you often have to reply with silly commands or somehow locate the service’s management system—if there is one. So in the end, command-line based services get the job done, but they can also make your inbox even more cluttered than it was before.
The better option is to use an integrated reminder service that is built for your particular email client. These systems manage your reminders internally, so you never have to send or forward emails to anyone. Instead, the reminders can be set with the simple push of a button and your messages never leave the client. If well integrated, the buttons and menus can be used like the client’s native buttons so that your workflow is uninterrupted.
If you’re like me, clicking a button and keeping email all in one place is much more appealing than forwarding messages using special syntax. Not every email client has one of these integrated services available, though. In fact, most don’t. But for those that do the advantages are quite clear.
The A-Z of Email Reminder Services
Boomerang for Gmail – integrated, works for Gmail and Google Apps on Chrome and Firefox, Basic (free) Personal ($5/mo) Pro ($15/mo)
Pros: extended feature set, full integration, friendly management system, cleans the inbox, mobile application
Cons: must upgrade for unlimited use
Boomerang for Outlook – integrated, works for Outlook, $29.99
Pros: full integration, cleans the inbox
Cons: no mobile control, no management system
Bumper – command-line based, works for all clients, free
Pros: universal, open-source, no third party access
Cons: requires setup, no management system
ClearContext – integrated, works for Outlook, Pro ($89.95)
Pros: extended feature set, full integration, friendly management system, cleans the inbox
Cons: no mobile control
FollowUp.cc – command-line based, works for all clients, Free or Personal ($5/mo) or Plus ($10/mo) or Premium ($15/mo)
Pros: universal, friendly management system, calendar and salesforce integration
Cons: external platform, limited feature set on lower plans
FollowUpThen – command-line based, works for all clients, Free or Premium ($24/yr)
Pros: universal, extended feature set, friendly management system
Cons: external platform, must upgrade to include attachments
HitMeLater – command-line based, works for all clients, Basic (free) Pro ($12/yr) Exec ($30/yr)
Cons: external platform, must upgrade to set messages more than 24 hours in advance, no management system
Laytr – command-line based, works for all clients, free (while in beta)
Pros: universal, extended feature set, calendar integration, friendly management system
Cons: external platform
NudgeMail – command-line based, works for all clients, free
Cons: external platform, no message threading, unfriendly management system
ReminderFox – integrated, works for Thunderbird, free
Pros: extended feature set, full integration, friendly management
Cons: messages not returned to inbox, no mobile control
Reply Later – command-line based, works for all clients, free
Cons: external platform, no management system
Snooze your Email for Gmail – integrated, works for Gmail (Chrome only), free
Pros: full integration, no limits or plans
Cons: no management system, does not clean the inbox
The Best Service for Gmail and Google Apps Users
Boomerang is a beautifully integrated reminder system for anyone using the Gmail interface. To set reminders, you can use the ‘Boomerang’ button to archive a message for now and have it automatically returned at a specific time. This is handy for delaying emails until the time is appropriate, but also helps you clean up your inbox. You can also use the ‘Send Later’ button to schedule a quick reminder to yourself for things that don’t have a thread associated with them. Finally, Boomerang also includes a response tracking system to remind you to follow up with people that don’t respond within a specified amount of time. Boomerang is offered in three versions, the first of which is free and allows you to set 10 reminders each month. But for the first 30 days, you get unlimited access. Head to the home page to download the extension and start Boomerang’ing.
The Best Service for Outlook Users
ClearContext is a robust service for Outlook with very similar functionality to Boomerang. In particular, ClearContext allows you to defer emails so that they are removed for now and automatically returned when you want to deal with them. You can also set follow up reminders for emails that don’t receive a timely response, but definitely read the full list of features to get the whole picture. You can try out the service for 30 days, after which you face a one time fee of $89.99 if you want to continue using it.
If you want a simpler solution that costs less, Boomerang for Outlook is a solid choice as well.
The Best Service for Thunderbird Users
ReminderFox is dynamic, free, and well-reviewed. ReminderFox is tightly integrated with Firefox, offering an extended feature set that allows you to set and control reminders from both in and out of your Thunderbird inbox. To see how to set a reminder for an email, check out the documentation on their website. This is a clear winner for Thunderbird users, especially since it’s free.
The Best Service for Privacy Concerned Users
Bumper is built for users that are concerned with giving third party access to any email data. Unfortunately this means that it takes a little bit of set up, but they claim no more than a few minutes. Bumper is also open source so if you have some technical skills you can customize it all you like. To use Bumper, start by reading about the set up process.
The Best Service for Everyone Else…
Laytr is a simple, stable, and easy to use command-line based service with a relatively friendly management system (the “Dashboard”). In addition to setting reminders, Laytr also allows you to schedule outgoing mail, similar to the Boomerang ‘Send Later’ feature and the native Outlook function. And if you still rely on a calendar, your reminders can be synced with Google Calendar and iCal. But the best part: it’s free, for now at least. Check out the tour to learn the syntax and get started.
If you made it this far, and in case you didn’t already know, this was written by the makers of Boomerang for Gmail. That said, it’s as unbiased as we could make it. 🙂