August 10, 2017

Ever feel overwhelmed by all that email? This week’s tool offers a way to stop it, at least for a bit.

Kristen Hare: Hi, Ren! I’m ready for our next tool! And also for my kids to be back in school, but that’s another column. What do you have for us this week?

Ren LaForme: I’m going to pull a familiar tool out of the toolbox because it just got a massive upgrade. Let’s talk about Boomerang again. Did you see the big new additions to its feature list this week?

Hare: I saw something one of our colleagues forwarded us and lots of “Amens!” but haven’t dug in. Tell me more!

LaForme: So until now, most people used Boomerang to schedule emails. It’s a great tool for that, and we totally recommend making use of it to avoid sending those terrible, no good, very bad late night emails.

But a couple of days ago, Boomerang added a new feature that I think takes a huge step forward in fixing the culture around the way we deal with our inboxes. So they just added this feature called Inbox Pause. And it essentially lets you set up a one-click away message to tell folks who email you that you’re temporarily away. It’s a lot like the out-of-office message, but the functionality is improved quite a bit.

Hare: Pause is such a good name. I can feel my shoulders relaxing a little bit. How do I use it?

LaForme: It works like Boomerang and is now part of the suite of tools you get access to when you install Boomerang. It’s just a little plug-in sort of deal. You do have to give it a few extra permissions, so current Boomerang users will have to reinstall.

Once you have it, a blue button appears on the top left of your inbox — or at least on Gmail, where I tested it — that says “Pause.” Click it, and you get a bunch of options for temporarily pausing your inbox.

You can set what the autoresponder says to the people who message you, how long you want to be paused and, if you’re one of Boomerang’s paying customers, you can whitelist certain email addresses or URLs so that their emails actually come through when you’re paused. You can also create a schedule when your inbox is paused if you’re a paying customer.

Hare: I feel like this goes really well with the link our colleague Katie Hawkins-Gaar shared in her newsletter, The Cohort, about deep work (not to be confused with deep state.) This seems like a nice way to force yourself to stop opening that email tab and focus.

LaForme: For sure. There are a lot of studies that show that the constant distraction of your inbox beeping at you, among other things, ruins your ability to really use your whole brain on the work you’re doing. I can see people using Inbox Pause to set up times where they’re focused solely on one thing. Or, shoot, they could set it up after hours to really make sure they’re taking time away from work, which Katie also wrote about this week.

Hare: This goes well with some other tools you two focused on last year with the 40 Better Hours Project. There are tools that you can set that kind of help force you to stop clicking about, right?

LaForme: There are a ton of great tools out there for those of us who are a little less good about resisting the urge to constantly check social feeds, inboxes, texts, etc. Consider this another weapon in your arsenal for taking back your own time and attention span.

Hare: This is great. It’s so simple I’m guessing there’s not much you’d change about it. Other than maybe a Force Pause situation when you’re putting off a project that needs to get done.

LaForme: Right. There’s nothing I’d change about the tool. But if I could snap my fingers and change culture…

When we share tools like this, we often hear from journalists that they’ll never fly in their workplaces because their bosses wouldn’t support it. That’s the bigger issue here, and that’s why I think this tool is important. When you’re setting up that auto-response, it suggests linking to the Inbox Pause website where they address the benefits of taking time away from email. That’s smart. I almost like this tool less because of what it does and more because of the awareness it creates.

Hare: Amen.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here. Got a tool we should talk about? Let Ren know!

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