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?

Spotify playlists to help with focus and concentration

Every person on this planet has the same amount of time on a given day, it is 24 hours. There are multiple ways to accomplish some results within that time: we can work longer or we can use time more efficiently.

One of the techniques to use time more efficiently is deep work. According to the book with the same name, deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

As a software engineer, I need to focus on cognitively demanding tasks, and I try to do the job in a state of deep work. I found that I can much easily to enter the “flow” when I listen to easy, relaxing music. It establishes background noise that guards from the outside fuss and helps me to concentrate on the task, to mentally focus and get together.

Spotify already prepared playlists with such music. Here are couple of playlists that I listen:

I also highly recommend to buy good noise cancelling headphones. I personally use Bose Quite Comfort 35 and they are great, I was blown away by the noise cancellation

Do you try to enter the state of the deep work? What techniques do you use?

How to read books and listen to audiobooks for free

Do you like to read books? Or maybe you’d like to make your commute more productive (like listen to audiobooks)? Then you should check out the app called Libby.

Some features that I like:

  • Libby is a free app available for Android and iOS devices. I was using it when I had Android phone and now use it on iPhone
  • It lets you to check out the ebooks and audiobooks from your local library instantly and for free. All you need to have is the library membership.
  • It can pre-download books over Wifi so it does not drain data plan during listening.

I have been using Libby for more than year now, and it complements my Kindle reader. I was looking for a ways to make my commute more productive. I tried to do some work from my laptop or read books, but soon I realized that I would need a pair of spare eyes due to the shaking. And then on my library’s website I found Libby. Since then I just put my headphones on and listen to the audiobooks.

Here is the short promo video:

How to install Libby

You can find instructions and links to the app stores on Libby’s official website:

How to find titles to read?

Since this app borrows books from the library, some of the most popular books may not be available. My algorithm of picking the book to listen to is the following:

  • If the book or books that I want to listen right now are not available, I place the hold on it so it will be automatically borrowed for me once it becomes available
  • I prefer reading non-fiction business books. So to find the next title I browse all business books, filter to pick audiobooks only that are available right now, and sort by popularity. Usually I can find few interesting titles this way.

How do you make your commute productive? Please comment!

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.