Keeping email inbox clean: block the noise

Email is an important tool. It is hard to imagine our daily life without it. However, email too often becomes the source of distraction. Our brain likes to get things done. So it is so tempting to trick it that we are doing some actual work when we check the email. However, very often we are dealing with emails that we should simply ignore.

To be more productive, we must, among other things, to know where to pay attention and what to ignore. Many things consume our attention and mental energy without providing anything useful in return. One kind of such useless things are informational/marketing emails. You probably saw such emails:

  • “Summer sale, 20% off”
  • Warehouse Overstock Sale – Going On Now
  • Get Over 60+ HDTV Channels Without Paying A Dime
  • Need some travel inspiration?
  • Earn 80K Bonus Points and bring your travel dreams to life

I am not saying that email marking is pure garbage. I am saying that signal to noise ratio is very low. I found that it is very rare that marketing email arrives at the right time, with the right product that I am willing to buy (because I actually need it vs just impulse buying), at the right price from the right seller.

My solution: I maintain my email Inbox and aggressively cut the noise. One of the things that I do is I unsubscribe from mass-emails. This way I am saving my limited cognitive energy on the things that really matter.

Where to find “Unsubscribe” link?

Most of the emails contain information about how to unsubscribe from the mass email notifications. Search for “unsubscribe”, “stop”, “opt out”, etc

Here are few examples:

What are the techniques that you use?

One simple step to prevent distractions: disable Outlook email notifications

Our daily life is filled with distractions: received a new instant message, boss just stopped by, urgent task appeared on our radar. And emails, emails keep arriving. Dealing with distractions may trick our brain into thinking that we are constantly doing something important, like solving problems, making some progress. However, distractions are the ultimate productivity killers. Whenever we need to switch to the different activity we need to go through the lengthy context switching process. And it takes time to go back to the previous activity.

Hardly any office job now can be done without use of an email. And most of email clients will gladly notify us that some email arrived using notifications on our computers. Those email notifications are yet another source of distractions. Personally I had a problem with those notifications: whenever I saw notification about new email I felt immediate urge to open Outlook and check what is the message is about. It was happening even for not important or not urgent emails. And then it took me 15 or more minutes to get back on track (“Ok, now, what the heck I was doing?”)

I solved this problem by simply turning off the email notifications. As a result I was able to stay more focused, get more things done and feel less stress.

How to disable email notifications in Outlook for Mac?

Step 1: Go to Outlook menu, then click Preferences

Step 2: Select “Notifications & Sounds”

Step 3: Uncheck “Display an alert on my desktop”

That is it! You will no longer be bugged by annoying alerts that were preventing you from getting the work done.

So when to read those emails?

In some sense software is controlling us with constant notifications: “ding” and we are rushing to check what’s new just happened. But things should be in reverse: software is our tools, not our masters.

Same with email. We should be deciding when to check new mail, reply, etc.

I found that few things work for me best:

  • I check emails only few times per day
  • In the morning I just glance through the emails to check whether there is something really urgent that I need to drop everything and do right now. Otherwise I don’t want to spend time reading/replying to the emails as it can easily sidetrack me from accomplishing whatever I planned to do that day.

Lets be honest here: how often do we get an email that we need to reply or act upon the very same minute that we received it? One email every year? So should we always be on the lookout for it and sacrifice our productivity and work-life balance? I’ve answered this question to myself: no.

Microsoft Flow’s Todoist connector is broken, no workaround available

Microsoft Flow is a free tool that can automate some routine operations, like automatically adding calendar events, forwarding emails, and so on. I have been using it for many years now, since it just launched. And Todoist connector is one of my most used building blocks.

Unfortunately it recently stopped working. Todoist developers deprecated legacy API and Microsoft didn’t update the connector in time. Now all the jobs are failing with this error:

Action 'Create_a_task' failed
Error Details: The response is not in a JSON format.

  "error": {
    "code": 410,
    "source": "",
    "clientRequestId": "fa463f14-500d-4ca2-8350-e4f4646ab93a",
    "message": "The response is not in a JSON format.",
    "innerError": "<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC \"-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN\">\n<title>410 Gone</title>\n<h1>Gone</h1>\n<p>This API endpoint is no longer available. Please refer to our documentation to upgrade your client to use the latest API version:</p>\n"

Fix: no, ETA: no

There is no fix or a workaround that I am aware of. I have reported the issue here:

It was acknowledged, but there is no information whether the fix is in progress or when it should be deployed.

Do you use Microsoft Flow? What is your workflow setup? Please share it in comments.