Three steps towards a better Gmail workflow

Inbox When Ready is a Chrome extension for Gmail. It protects your focus by hiding your inbox by default.

The extension takes 30 seconds to install, and it’s easy to use.

To get the most out of Inbox When Ready, you should reflect on your Gmail workflow, and then configure the extension according to your needs.

This will take about 10 minutes, but many people who do this report saving more than an hour per week as a result.

Here are three things to do:

1. Reflect on your ideal inbox schedule

Every time you see your inbox you risk getting distracted, and the cost of distraction is surprisingly high. The basic aim of Inbox When Ready is to help you see your inbox less often.

In an ideal world:

  • How many times would you see your inbox per day?
  • At what time(s) of day would you see your inbox?
  • Which days of the week would you see your inbox?

Take a minute to think about these questions.


Here are my thoughts on this:

  • How many times would you see your inbox per day? 
    For most people, the best answer is: once or twice.
  • At what time(s) of day would you see your inbox?
    It’s good to have a regular schedule. Be sure to avoid your inbox (and other interruptions) during your “prime time”: that time of day when you’re fresh, focussed and best able to do deep work.
  • Which days of the week would you see your inbox?
    In some roles, you’ll perform better if you have some work days where you avoid your inbox entirely. You’ll be more focussed on your inbox-free days, and you’ll spend less time dealing with email overall, due to the efficiency gains associated with batch processing.

By hiding your inbox by default, Inbox When Ready ensures that you only see your inbox when you intentionally press the “Show Inbox” button.

But — things are not always that simple. Some people find that after a while, they develop a habit of unreflectively pressing the “Show Inbox” button. In some sense, the inbox is still too easy to access.

Whether or not this is an issue for you, you should try setting up an Inbox Lockout Schedule. This lets you schedule time windows when the “Show Inbox” button should be disabled. Early mornings, evenings and weekends are great times to lock yourself out of your inbox.

Use an Inbox Lockout Schedule to stop yourself seeing your inbox during mornings, evenings and weekends.

To define your Inbox Lockout Schedule, browse to chrome://extensions/, find Inbox When Ready and click “Options”.

2. Setup filters for urgent emails

Inbox When Ready is based on the assumption that most emails you receive are not urgent. Sometimes, though, you do get urgent email — emails you want to know about as soon as you receive them.

Gmail’s built in labels and filtering features can help you handle this.

With Gmail filters, you can route urgent email to a special label. Then, you can see if you have new urgent email even when your inbox is hidden (screenshot left). If you have an Android smartphone, you can enable notifications only for urgent mail (screenshot right).

To get this setup:

  1. Create a Gmail label called “@Urgent”.
  2. Setup Gmail filters to automatically apply the “@Urgent” label to your urgent email.
  3. Configure desktop and smartphone notifications for the “@Urgent” label as per your requirements.

The only tricky thing here is designing Gmail filters that will reliably catch all your urgent mail. A few suggestions:

  • Make a separate email address for urgent email. Tell your colleagues, clients and third party services to use this address when they need to reach you urgently.
  • Add filters for VIP senders. Perhaps all email from particular senders should be treated as urgent.
  • Add filters for emails with subject line containing the word “urgent”.
  • Setup an auto-reply for inbound email. The auto-reply should tell senders when they can expect a reply, and what they should do if they need to reach you urgently.

3. Configure your smartphone

One day, I might make an Inbox When Ready smartphone app. In the meantime, here’s my preferred setup:

  • Disable all email notifications except those related to the “@Urgent” label (see above).
  • Use an app blocker to disable the Gmail app daily between 7pm and 11am. I recommend AppBlock for Android or Freedom for iPhone.

How are you finding Inbox When Ready?

I’d love to hear how you’re using Inbox When Ready, and what other measures you’ve taken to improve your Gmail workflow. I’m actively working on the extension — your feedback will be a great help :)

Did you find this helpful?

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