How to get away from your Inbox and still keep your job

Despite being the most popular business communications tool (and by a rather wide margin), email has recently gotten a bad rap over a perception of being ‘intrusive’. For many people, frequent email notifications and reminders create an unwelcome distraction, creating a break in focus that, over time, begins to tell on your efficiency. We’ve got our Gmail desktop alerts flashing perennially, and even if you’re away from your desk, your mobile phones make sure you’re always in touch. For modern corporate warriors, email is the one tool you can’t do without.

Flooded Email Inbox

But it’s those very qualities that make email the near-perfect biz communications tool – speed, versatility, power, and accessibility – that lend it the tag of being an annoyance. Sure, some of your most critical work each day happens via email. But not all messages are the same and sometimes, you’d rather just finish what you’re working on without having to switch focus. In fact, it can take up to a few minutes to get back in the groove. Repeat this experience a half-a-dozen times a day (and that’s on the lower side) and you lose pretty much an hour’s work!

At the same time, most employees can’t afford to stay ‘off the grid’. Some mails need to get through, some notifications need to pop up, and some missives can’t be ignored – even for a bit. The trick lies in setting up a system that lets the vital messages through, but also allows you to focus on your work at hand without getting distracted by low-priority messages.

Some tricks, tips, and apps to minimize email distraction

Notification Management

Notification management services let you shut down your email inbox on your PC and turn off mobile email on your phone – but you’re still reachable when needed. For maximum effect, use in combination with the Do-Not-Disturb feature on your phone!

  • Gmail-IFTTT integration: Automation service IFTTT (www.ifttt.com) has proved to be one of the best productivity solutions around. IFTTT’s excellent Gmail integration offers improved notification management as well. Some of the coolest ones you might want to try out are getting mobile push notifications for any message marked urgent, forwarding Gmail notifications as SMS for specific senders, forwarding entire messages to SMS, and even forwarding all mail from Outlook to Gmail. Head over to https://ifttt.com/gmail to see more readymade email management ‘recipes’.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 2.44.13 PM

  • Email to SMS gateways: Email to SMS gateways such as SMS Global (www.smsglobal.com) and Red Oxygen (www.redoxygen.com) provide an easy way to integrate email with SMS. Using Gmail’s filters, you can forward certain mails and even calendar reminders to your SMS gateway – these will be delivered to the SMS inbox on your phone. For example, all mail from a client’s email or mentioning the name of a project can be diverted to SMS – Ensuring you’re available even when your mobile data’s turned off or you’ve turned off Gmail’s push notifications.
  • Awayfind alerts: If you’d rather not muck about with IFTTT and don’t mind trying out a for-pay service, give Awayfind (www.awayfind.com) a shot. Awayfind (available on the Google Apps marketplace and as a plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Outlook 2003-2010) integrates in your inbox to offer customizable email filters that serve as triggers for email. You can choose to ‘follow’ a discussion, sender, or topic for a set time. These triggers then send alerts to your phone.

Awayfind

Inbox management apps

Sometimes it’s not enough to deal with notifications. If you’re one of those people whose inbox is usually flooded with messages, you’ve got to sort this out first. Sanebox (www.sanebox.com) promises to help you deal with a swamped inbox by filtering out less-important mail. Don’t worry about missing out on important messages – you’ll get a summary of what all has been shifted around. Then there’s Mailstrom (www.mailstrom.co), which pledges to keep your inbox clean by helping group similar messages together.

No more mobile madness

So you’ve sorted out your desktop notifications and the only time you have to switch focus to your email app is when your boss or a critical client mails you. Perfect. Now let’s get to your phone. Phone notifications can be even more intrusive and distracting, especially if you’ve got a rather jaunty ringtone.

  • Customize your phone Inbox notifications: It might seem insulting to be reminded of this, but many people do forget to set up separate notifications for their various email accounts. You might want to keep your personal mail on silent and your work mail on vibrate – dive into your email app’s settings to see what can be done. The Android Gmail app also lets you specify notifications on a per-label basis.
  • Using Priority Inbox / VIP Contacts: One of the best ways of reducing email notifications on your phone is to set up VIP contacts (iOS) or Gmail Priority Inbox. You can then silence other labels or contact groups (or set up separate notifications) and but at the same time, ensure messages from vital contacts (like your boss, or a system alert) get through. You might also want to filter out mails by assigning labels and set special notifications for each.
  • Do-Not-Disturb: Especially useful during your weekly team meetings or while taking a power nap, the Do-not-Disturb feature on your phone can help. Apple’s iOS 6 and above supports this. Several Android phone makers also build in similar functionality into their devices. Or you can try out third-party apps like Cabooze Do Not Disturb or Nights Keeper. Some apps or platforms may even allow you to customize notifications on a per-contact basis. Pro-tip: You can also put any service you use (like Awayfind or your Email to SMS gateway) in your device’s whitelist to make sure critical notifications get through.

iOS6 Do Not Disturb

These tips should help you stay connected with your workplace and clients, while at the same time, make sure you’re able to give your undivided attention to the task at hand. No more glancing at your phone when it rings out aloud or glancing at the pop-up on the screen – not unless it’s important!

About Vaibhav

Vaibhav is a New Delhi based writer and photographer, and currently works as an associate editor with a leading travel publication. His other areas of interest include technology, history, international relations, and politics. He can be reached on Twitter at taoofdudeism.
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