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No Email (harjtaggar.com)
213 points by kloncks on Aug 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments



One thing I would really love in an email client is a strong separation between reading and writing email. During productive hours when I'm sitting at my desk, I would really like to be able to 1) open GMail, 2) read old email 3) Write new email.

I absolutely do not want the ability to read new email during that time. In fact, I would really like to set up GMail so email only arrives on a fixed schedule, say 2-4 times a day.


To see e-mail only sent before today feel free to use this bookmarklet:

   javascript:(function(){var d=new Date(Date.parse(new Date())-86400000);var t="https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/"+"before%"+"3A"+d.getFullYear()+"%"+"2F"+(d.getMonth()+1)+"%"+"2F"+d.getDate()+"+in%"+"3Ainbox";window.location.href=t;})()
This searches gmail for "before:2012/08/29 in:inbox" where date depends on your current date.

I would love to use a search like before:2012/08/29 OR circle:"vip" [1] unfortunately doesn't seem to work. circle:"vip" alone works great but fails with "OR".

[1] GMail Search parmaters http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answe...


I'm actually working on a product right now that provides that precise functionality (and more!) for Gmail. It also lets you schedule when your email arrives for specific groups or single contacts. It's https://lightermail.com and we'll be opening up the beta in a week or so. Hope it helps


Just to comment on your landing page: Your comment here told me much more about what this is about than the copy there.

Unless you're counting on the incoming links' context to inform people what it's about (if you do, fair enough), I'd suggest a bit more info to the potential users.


Signed up! Will it have an "offline" mode for Gmail? This is something I, too, have been wanting for a long while...



Sounds good, but it will introduce new problems: 1) someone called and said "I sent you that urgent email; didn't you get it?!?" and you had forgotten about the rules you set up for email receipt. 2) Services that send email notifications now have to add another reminder so people may have to check their email rules in addition to the Spam folder in case mail is "lost" there.


The fact that someone else thinks an email is urgent does not mean that I'll think it is.

And if it really is urgent, they can call me. Unless you're the kind of person who both sends an email and then immediately calls me about it. If you're that kind of person you quickly will be informed of how much I dislike that. If you persist, I'll take advantage of my freedom as a contractor to choose my own projects, and you'll soon not be a person that has any reason to interact with me.


But they might want to send you some attachments or URLs, while not knowing other techniques to pass them to you.


If it's urgent you should still call first to confirm that the person is available and able to deal with what you need them to deal with and that what you're sending them is what they need.

Anything else risks wasting a bunch of people's time going back and forth which if it's genuinely urgent (it usually isn't) everyone should want to avoid.


If someone's likely to call you to follow up on an "important" email that isn't important, turning off email doesn't help. You'll still get a vibrate/ring, look down at your phone, and decide whether or not to pick it up -- exactly the kind of distraction we're trying to avoid here.

The problem with the call-me-with-only-urgent-stuff approach is the Boy Who Cried Wolf problem: if people are constantly calling you (because they know they're not going to get a reply until later in the day, and they need it <whine>noowwwwwwwww</whine>, you'll put your phone on DND/silent. But now you can't respond to actual emergencies.

Maybe we should go back to pagers...


In the first case, you must take action to appease them, whether replying to the email or taking their call. (Or you could script your interaction with them; an automatic email reply or such. But that's suboptimal too). It's outside of your control.

In the second case, they aren't able to distinguish what they consider to be emergencies from what are actual emergencies; this, too, is out of your control.

I honestly don't know how to deal with these. Thoughts?


My solution is as I described. I make it clear that I am unhappy. I make it clear why. And if they refuse to listen, I arrange my work so that they have no excuse for trying to ruin my day.

This is not a feasible solution for everyone.


So just have a manual "get mail" button that you can mash like every other mail client ever. If someone sends me an urgent email, and it's genuinely urgent, they'll follow it up with a phone call or a text or an IM, and then I can mash the "get mail" button.


I'm achieving exactly this with my local email client. Okay, it's not a fancy web application, but exactly that's making it so valuable for me.

When I open my email client, it shows all "old" mail to me, and allows me to write new emails. It only fetches new emails when I explicitly tell it to do that.

I'm using Mutt, but I think this should work with any other email client such as Thunderbird. All you have to do is disabling the auto-fetching of new emails. And if you still feel the urge to hit the "Get Mail" button, then just configure it away from the toolbar.

tl;dr: It's all there - you just need a tiny configuration change in your email client.


Perfect example of something that's been available for ages but people somehow think they need a shiny web app (SaaS with a monthly subscription, of course) to do.


Go into offline mode. Gmail will sync back up when you're online.


It's easy to pull mail into a desktop client on a schedule. Why haven't you taken a few minutes to set one up?


Because I'm not using a desktop client.


It does give you exactly what you want: easy access to old email, a simple way of writing new email, and a scheduled time for getting new mail.


It solves your problem. You'd be giving up the Gmail web client, but the Gmail web client has turned to crap lately and other mail clients have grown an "archive" button and a usable search feature, so there's no compelling reason not to switch.


Why not use a traditional mail client that polls for mail when you tell it to?

If you're a commandline junkie, Sup and Notmuch both come pretty close to a gmail-style "search everything / tags everywhere" philosophy.


I would really like to set up GMail so email only arrives on a fixed schedule, say 2-4 times a day

why not do it then? it's pretty simple to do?

I think the real reason is that you like the idea of doing that, but not the reality.

Cultural atavism might sound like a good idea, but the reality is the positive benefits of email and smartphones way outweighs the negatives.


I wouldn't be so certain of that.

On a vacation a few months ago I turned off automatic email fetching on my phone to try and eke out a few more hours of battery, and just kind of left it there to see what would happen.

On an average day I hit the "get my email" button twice. Once when I wake up in the morning to see if there's anything pressing, and once on my way home from work as I'm walking towards the train.

I have absolutely not missed the disruption that having a constantly-up-to-date email client in your pocket creates.

I have also yet to miss a single email due to this - people have better sense than that. If they need a quick response they know to call me or to text.

From this I've started pruning the apps and services that can interrupt me pretty hard. At this point I'm down to my calendar, my SMS client, FB direct messages, and the NYTimes (they seem to be pretty responsible, but they are on a short leash). It's worked out. I'm very much enjoying this pull lifestyle, instead of push.


How do I set that up with GMail? It's trivial on a desktop client, or one where I own the server.


GMail can be configured to retrieve mail from another mailbox. That is, it can function as a POP3 client. That's the route I would investigate first.


This is definitely a great idea, I've been thinking of different ways to accomplish it myself. The research backs this up too as a very reasonable solution, allowing workers to still be productive in replying, while only checking new email at certain intervals.

In fact, you've even come across the magic number for email checking frequency. Checking it 4 times a day provides the best trade-off between reply speed and productivity gain, as seen in research by Gupta et. al.[1]

[1] Gupta, A., Sharda, R., & Greve, R. a. (2010). You’ve got email! Does it really matter to process emails now or later? Information Systems Frontiers


I think you could set up a filter to directly archive all new email, and mark it with a specific tag.

Then, when you want to check your new email, search for that tag, and un-archive the messages you actually want in your inbox.


Yeah, it's weird that this feature doesn't exist.

It would be even better on smartphones; constantly having the new mail icon pop up on is so distracting that I have turned off automatic email checking on my phone, and just check manually every couple hours when not near a computer. This was after being surprised not to be able to find an option to control gmail's polling interval.


I use K-9 Mail on my Android phone. It lets me set up per folder poll intervals and per folder push settings. Eg, I can have email from one folder pushed to my phone on delivery (using IMAP IDLE), another folder to be polled once every two hours, another daily, and the rest manually.

Your "smartphone" doesn't sound very smart.

[Edit] I use sieve filters on the server side to route email into various folders on delivery.

[Edit2] I just double checked, and the "per folder settings" are not quite as granular as I thought. You can only set up one poll interval and add that to a selection of folders, and then set other folders to push or nothing. You can't have multiple poll intervals. Eg, Could set two folders to push, three folders to poll hourly, and the rest to manual only polls.


just have your secretary print your email twice a day (1). you can read it at your leisure (2), and dictate your responses whenever you want. (3)


what is this, 1950? Sounds like something from Mad Men.


i think it's a reference to knuth's advice on the matter


Automator, a printer and Siri might be pretty close.


It sounds like something 1950 got right. At least to me.


Better write your comments on the print out and have it faxed back by your secretary.


I'm trying to get all of that to sync with my beeper. The future is now!


I guess I still need some time for that, I never was the early adopter... :-)


For those who want to experiment with a (free) iPhone email app which does not allow you to write, reply or forward emails can take a look at Pigeonal. (disclaimer: I'm one of the developers).

The app scans your inbox(es) for ~200 domain names from services such as Github, Basecamp etc and groups all emails in boxes (pigeonholes), depicted by the service's icon.

You can tap each pigeonhole, scan the subjects and decide to 'archive all' or tap individual emails and mark them for 'follow up'.

That's all you can do. I'm personally not much distracted by reading emails, it's the writing part which pulls me out of my concentration and Pigeonal just about offers enough functionality to create follow-up tasks. Moreover, since the app only shows emails from a small list of domains the number of emails I have to process is relatively low.

The app is an experiment, your mileage may vary. We've developed it to see whether there is an alternative to the email inbox archetype. So far it's working for us, but it's far from perfect and I'm not as brave as the OP to completely ditch email from my iPhone.


Hmm that sounds interesting, kinda what Notifo's usecase was meant to be (before they abandoned it).

I currently use SaneBox, to keep my inbox under control, and has been exceptionally well. Would it be compatible with Pigeonal?


Currently we don't support generic IMAP accounts (only Gmail and iCloud). We're planning to add this in the next release (with the caveat that it might not work with all IMAP servers). I've not used SaneBox myself yet, looks interesting though.


I have never bothered upgrading to a 'smart' phone - I am happy with my flip phone that is great at making calls and texting. I don't need games, I don't need email access and I don't need the poor battery life a lot of those phones suffer from. I charge my phone once every 3 or 4 days and I am happy.

Should the need arise, I generally carry my netbook with me everywhere I go - and it only comes out if there is an emergency. At least then I have internet access and all the tools to actually make a difference as opposed to just being able to respond to an email. If it isn't an emergency, then it can wait.


I find myself in the strange position of doing mobile apps for a living but not really using my own smartphone much. The main thing that would keep me from going back to a flip phone is that texting on a phone keyboard is just too painful.

I also find the maps application pretty useful sometimes, but I have uninstalled a bunch of other distracting time wasters from the phone.


I was running an agency up until recently which did mobile apps. Always an interesting conversation walking into a new client meeting with my "burner" Nokia 1610 and explaining that I knew what I was talking about but had made a conscious decision to disconnect.


I couldn't go back to texting on a standard keypad, but I find the keyboard on the Alias 2 to be quite straightforward and is generally quite painless (except when I miss the space bar and hit the end key - that's just poorly placed).


I hear you on that. As far as the cell phone companies are concerned I don't own a smart phone, but I wanted to write some apps for one so I got a used phone and hook it up to WiFi when it's time to code.


I'm sure it's quite liberating to cut back severely on email, and I don't doubt the increased productivity it brings while trying to code or do other high-concentration tasks, but my one problem with this system is:

> If I happen to be away from my computer for a few hours it’s likely someone else will see the email and reply. If it’s something truly urgent that only I can help with, the other partners have my cell number and can call/text me.

It sounds like you've simply offloaded your compulsive email checking to other people. This system wouldn't work if everyone else at YC also stopped checking their email regularly, because then the urgent things wouldn't be caught in time and you wouldn't be pinged on your cell.


Maybe, the article isn't really explicit. I read it as: When I'm at the computer, I will see new emails as they come in. If I'm not, then probably someone else (of our large group) will be at their computer, and see the email as it comes in.

Of course, the sane alternative is just to set up a roster for checking email (say split the day into 2,3 or 4 hour watches -- and just share them around in a way that makes sense. Then everyone would be free to concentrate on other stuff outside their "email watch".

Whether that makes sense or not would be highly dependent on the internal structure of the organization and the internal business processes, of course.

The next natural step is to manage such group emails with a bug tracker or equivalent, so that when someone takes responsibility for an email, it is obvious to everyone else that the email is being taken care of. This avoid two people doing the same work.

I suppose an imap shared folder could be used for this (move mail before you read/answer it) -- but I've never used imap shared folders, so I'm not sure if that would work (well).


Congratulations Harj on breaking a harmful habit. Keep Going!

You did it by intent, while I only did it by circumstance. As such, we've probably learned different lessons from the experience.

For me it was my health. Those little things like walking and typing are often taken for granted until you can no longer do them. Not feeling well enough to accept invitations to go have fun with friends can wear on you. The same is true for not feeling well enough to answer emails or phone calls.

Could you leave your voicemail full for six months so no one else can leave messages?

With your YC involvement, probably not, but I had to do it, and it taught me a lot about interaction and contribution. Interacting with others is a choice. Similarly, making a contribution of your time and effort is also a choice. When you know you'll be in more pain after typing an email, or driving to see friends, your perspective changes since you finally realize there will be consequences, or better said, there's always a cost to the choice of interacting and contributing.

Making a conscious decision on your own needs and opinions of whether or not interacting is worthwhile is far better than merely reacting out of impulsive habits and social pressures to be polite. When you know it will cost you something and you still feel it's worthwhile, then you are consciously investing your time rather than mindlessly spending it.

I know I've posted this before, but...

Treebeard: "You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say." -- J.R.R. Tolkien


You need to classify this based on what type of work you do. For a developer, checking email would knock him off the zone. For a different job, one email answered late would mean a lost business for example. (the OP is a YC partner)


Very true. An algorithm that prioritises email threads based on dates mentioned (including keywords & phrases like "tomorrow", "after lunch") as well as tone ("No problem!" vs "Guys this is really dragging on!") would be a cool project to work on.

I made a simple "word monitor" for my emails that can make assumptions about gender, social status etc based on words that are considered 1st person singular, 1st person plural, articles, emotion, cognitive, and social. Works ok but really needs a lengthy email to make heads or tails of any hidden information/agendas embodied within.


Here is my system of not wasting too much time on e-mail: I only have one client application set up to access my various accounts - Zimbra Desktop, which I don't have any entries for in the OS menu, and I don't know any passwords myself as they are randomly generated and stored in KeyPassX.

Every day a cronjob starts up the client at 4pm, which starts minimized (thank you, KDE), proceeds to fetch new mail, apply various filters (e.g. CCs marked read and archived), and maximizes the window 2 minutes later.

Half an hour later another cronjob does a 'killall' on it - that way if I wasn't at my desk at 4, I wouldn't have to come back to be greeted by unanswered e-mails.

And, as the article says, there is always a mobile phone for anything truly urgent.


That is about the craziest idea for handling mail I've heard in a while. I'm not sure if I like it or hate it -- it certainly is a bit sad that (presumably) handling of mail is so slow you need to give the client 2 minutes to sort things out.

What happens if you're writing a reply at 16:32? Do you start over the next day?


I am guessing that if there is already a Zimbra Desktop process, the 16:30 job has no effect.

And I am guessing that if the process's main window is already maximized, the 16:32 job has no effect.


I am impressed with your design!

If I knew how to set up the same sequence of scheduled jobs around Mail.app on OS X, I would.


Why such a hatred, not in this piece, but trending, against e-mail? It doesnt bother me much. What i did instead, i dropped my phone, figuratively speaking of course. A month ago i switched, lastly, my phone off. What a relief, no more calls, no more call when i'm busy, no more missed calls and whats more important, no questions about why you didnt answer, called back, etc. I'm free!


On my iPhone I either use silent mode without vibration (when I want events to still reach my phone but not me unless I look at it) or airplane mode (when I want to completely go off the mesh).


Why such hatred against phone calls?


They violently interrupt what I'm doing at the very moment.


Don't answer them when they're interrupting or you don't feel like it (that's what I do). But, sometimes, people have genuine reasons to want to disturb you (something very important, or in emergency). That's I finally bought an iPhone instead of iPod touch and am much happier now.


> Don't answer them when they're interrupting or you don't feel like it

And then come up with excuse after excuse why you didn't answer. I got tired of it and got a phone that works... almost. It does allow me to read and send texts and to hear what the person on the other end is speaking when I pick up a call. But the microphone is broken and there is no way for me to give them an answer, which causes them to call really rarely if at all. And if they ask I can truthfully say that, well, my phone is broken, sorry... I'll call you from home or from office, or wherever, but generally later, when I feel like it.


It's still a violent interrupt - I use the silent, no vibrate, technique mentioned above, with an exception for my wife and my business partner both of whom know not to call unless they mean it. Everyone else gets used to voicemail pretty quickly I find.


I've done something similar. I disabled Safari on my iPhone. I've also set forwards on important mail to my icloud account which has push on the iPhone. This way if I do receive an important email, I'll answer or call immediately. Freeing myself of apps and Safari has made me more productive but now I wonder why I even need a Smartphone. The only apps I use now are Notes, Mail, Maps and the Music player. I'll admit one part of the reason why I removed all these apps is depression. Productivity is not my primary reason, but it has had a great benefit.


If you don't mind me asking, in what way did removing the apps help with depression?


I found myself wasting time watching youtube videos and playing games on my phone while in bed. I did this for a while, rarely leaving my room. I hoped to force myself out of bed by firstly removing these distractions. After that, it was a matter of willpower, I suppose. Not having something to fiddle with while in bed helped me get out. That's just one example. To explain further is rather difficult.


My technique for this is:

1) Separation of work and personal e-mail into two accounts (which is good for a whole number of reasons).

2) Work e-mail is configured on my phone but disabled. It means that if I have to access it it's relatively painless but there's no notifications and not even any ability to manually check without re-enabling it (which is a mental barrier which I know I shouldn't be crossing - like the HN noprocrast thing - you can override it easily but you know you shouldn't so you don't).

3) Personal e-mail isn't set to notify in any way except through the badge (I find personal e-mail is rarely urgent enough for me to feel any strong compulsion).

I find that the barriers you have to put up are actually very small, just enough to stop the habitual, quick checking. As soon as it takes more than a second or two to do, you stop doing it pretty quickly.

Now if only I could find similarly successful mechanisms for Twitter, RSS and the news.


I switched to only using a basic cell phone (one that only does calls and texting) at the beginning of the year and have thoroughly enjoyed it.


I haven't owned a cellphone for four years. I love it.


Right now I have an iPhone 4, a Galaxy Nexus, and a BlackBery Bold 9900 in front of me. I do dev work, so I flip between devices fairly regularly.

My Bold is still my daily device. Sure, the other two phones are better in almost all ways, but e-mail and unified messaging is one thing RIM knows how to do. At a quick glance, I can see incoming e-mails, SMS, twitter or Facebook, and know if I need to respond. I can set up different audible alerts for each and/or different coloured LEDs.

I rarely have my desktop e-mail client open, since my BlackBerry helps me filter out messages as needed while I work.

You can rally against me if you like, but I like my BlackBerry better than my other devices. It simply works for me. And I think this aversion to e-mail/distractions is a by-product of the devices being used.


Intriguing.

Could someone unwilling to pay for a wireless data plan but willing to pay for a BlackBerry Bold 9900 benefit from this unified messaging you speak of?

I ask because the Bold does have Wifi.

To benefit from this unified messaging, it looks like I would need access to BlackBerry's servers. Is it even possible to get access or buy this access without buying a wireless data plan?


At iDoneThis, we have several shared email inboxes (Helpscout is fantastic for this: http://helpscout.net). What ends up happening is that most of our emails are processed out of shared inboxes, which makes it easier to respond in batch (as Harj points out) while still showing responsiveness (because people batch at different times). We end up hardly using our personal company email addresses.


So "no email" means "no email on my smartphone". And didn't we have this discussion years ago, when Tim Ferriss hawked it to us as a groundbreaking, zen-like idea?

And no, I do own a smartphone, I just have to be very bored (or anticipating something, preferably romantic) to be checking email with it. The constant blackberry-like push email thing always seemed a bit odd to me (and I do have a biff running on my desktops), especially when it's exacerbated by a whole boatload of additional bleeps and bloops (twitter mentions, SMS, whatsapp, etc.). Recently I didn't have access to my iPhone for two weeks (left it in a friend's car) and "had to cope" with my old 6310i. I did feel a bit liberated, but mostly because it freed me from charging that device all the time…

Is it my "forever alone" nature and everyone else is getting that many apparently immediately actionable emails all the time? Or is it an age thing, as I'm not quite old enough for constant SMS-ing at a formative age, but do remember FIDOnet/UUCP access to news/email in once-daily batched form?


I want to see a blog post about someone who decides to stop reading blog posts about people who stop reading their email/twitter/facebook.


There have been quite a few posts recently with dramatic tales of breaking the email habit and trying to drop/cut back on email. No doubt email has been something that we struggle (and usually fail) to control. So we are left with dramatic measures, like "no email" or support cheats - like getting other people to do it for us.

Perhaps these mostly behavioral based solutions feel good (they make us feel as if we taking back control) but are they really the we can do at solving the problem of out of control email? Or are we just shifting the problem into text messages & calls or onto other people?

I'm working with a team now on re-architecting email to give us control over our email. We've started on a related but simpler problem - when I give a website my email I give them control. You can check it out at https://leemail.me

Soon we will be expanding this control to all email communications. If this sounds interesting, get in touch.

-Lee


I think that the main fundamental issue is that email makes it too easy to copy lots of people on a message, so you get lots of cross chatter (happens in companies in email and overly inclusive meetings). The other fundamental issue for some people is that a lot more people want to talk to them than they want to reach out to, so they get swamped (similar to the EB White letter about how many letters he and other authors receive, making it hard to actually write new things). I'm not sure these can be solved well with technology.


Great real-world anecdote, it's really refreshing to see busy people (I'm assuming Harj is a pretty busy person) understanding the implications of email overload and trying to deal with it.

Not everyone needs to completely remove email from their phones, but doing simple things like turning off push notifications and trying to push one's self to only check at certain intervals has been shown by research (and substantiated by experiences like this) to have huge upsides to productivity, lower stress levels, and creativity.

I'm learning a huge amount in this arena, it's a fascinating topic. If anyone wants to see a very cursory summary of what I've assembled so far, check out a small deck at http://www.slideshare.net/jlyman/email-overload-13506201


Getting a device with proper push email would have solved the issue of having to check email all the time. Having email on my phone with good gmail push notifications is the most liberating thing I've ever done, but that may be because of the type of work I have to do day to day.


Yup, email is a distracting compulsion. And make no mistake, it is just that.

For my sanity, I have email notifications turned off on my phone, so I only get new messages when I explicitly open the app (which I still find I do much too often). Definitely helps.


Author raises a lot of good points. And given how tied we are to technology it's really good there's continual interest in us evaluating it in our lives and how we feel about it.

The pendulum seems to have shifted in recent times and I think we're all going through something analogous to the drinkers/smokers in the 60's/70's. Those were feel-good times of indulgence and merriness. We realized the consequences though and learned moderation as a society. I have a feeling we're about 10-20 years from coming to terms with a healthy technology lifestyle.


I am inspired. I just did the same as an experiment. We'll see how it goes...


I want the opposite. I want to be totally absorbed in technology and can't wait until Google Glasses are released.


Let me introduce you Borgs, big friends of mine


This reminds me of a nice local quote regarding the conflict of getting stuff done vs. the acceleration of tech addictions to Facebook, WoW, etc.

We'll increasingly be defined by what we say no to[0]

[0] http://paulgraham.com/addiction.html


Not sure I follow. I don't take time off to "check" my email. When I get an email, I get a notification. I open it up, respond, and get back to what I was doing. Where's the time lost in this?


You will lose up to 24 minutes of full productivity, according to several different pieces of research. For example: "A study by Microsoft researchers tracking the email habits of co-workers found that once their work had been interrupted by an email notification, people took, on average, 24 minutes to return to the suspended task" [1].

The issue is the cognitive load introduced by task switching. You may not realize it on the surface, but breaking away each time to write a reply (or even to a lesser extent just the mere fact that you are now notified there's a message waiting) is causing a huge distraction for your brain, and slowing down your "real" work.

[1] Paul Hemp. 2009. "Death by information overload," Harvard Business Review 87(9).


A good five minutes is "Where was I?"

If you get interrupted a lot it helps to take notes on a pad, kind of use it as your "stack" and just list out what you're doing so when you're done you can go back to that frame of mind more easily.


You're interrupting whatever else you were doing, for a start. That'll throw your efficiency off.

Plus composing a reply is time-consuming in itself- you often need to look up something, check a document, etc. etc.


The time that it takes to get back into the flow of whatever you were doing.

http://www.atlassian.com/time-wasting-at-work-infographic


Not sure if you can actually be "100%" productive in that full work day -- but it certainly is more effective to do your work efficiently, and then go home and have proper time off, doing the same amount of work in less time. Six hour work days doesn't seem so bad if you're average worker is only working five hours out of an eight hour day anyway.


I think separating reading from writing email is a good thing. Emails you have received typically represent other people's agendas - those you write (especially if written from scratch not just a reply) represent your own agenda.

I would like a client that allows me to read in a browsey (flipboard?) way - no replies or forwarding allowed.

Separately I want the client to semi-automatically create emails from my to-do list - I get to edit and send.

This way I am able to understand what other's want me to know but I remain productive by focussing on my own agenda.


Once you delete fb, twitter, mail, quora, etc. from your phone, why not just carry an e-ink Kindle or a paper notebook/calendar and some kind of music player?


Anecdotally: OmniFocus, dictionaries, pzizz, Skype, all-in-one banking app, a decent camera. My iPad or an iPod touch would have all of those, but then I'd have to carry two devices (I'd need a dumbphone for occasional calls). No data plan, no notifications at all (except for some slow-moving badges), and I still love my iPhone.


Smartphones still have some utilities I depend upon e.g. I'd be lost most of the time if I didn't have the maps application and I don't believe that forcing myself to not be reliant on it would be a productivity gain.


look up inbox zero and use mutt. i did try mail act-on for apple mail. but again you can always run mutt on a shell somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

A lot of the problems discussed in the article and the thread here were solved many many years ago.

But yes, as a friend of mine put it: "The interesting thing about email is that it gives us the impression that we're actually working, while we really are not."


Mutt is perfect. No distractions, and full functionality[1]. I don't have to open up a web browser to answer my email. What's more, I can press a single keybinding that brings up my entire inbox instantaneously (no waiting for the browser to open, web interface to load, etc). You'd think those extra five seconds don't make a difference, but it really improves your workflow when you don't have to keep your inbox sitting open in another window all day, and even turn off notifications.

Now, I can keep email at an arm's distance, so it doesn't bother me when I need to do anything, but still at my fingertips, so I can access it quickly, spend as little time as possible taking care of what I need to do, and then closing it and forgetting about it.

[1] Gmail's implemenation of IMAP, on the other hand, is horribly, horribly broken, but it's possible to get it to work with mutt regardless.


This has been the most useful post for me all month. Man, I need to stop checking reddit, email, twitter, and HN. See you in a month!


Leechblock got me out of the habit of spending too much time reading various blogs/sites. I set it to block a certain set of sites between 10-12,13-17 hours.

It's trivial to work around if you want to, but having the "blocked" page pop up is a good reminder that I didn't want to be wasting my time and should get back to work.


Not too hard to edit /etc/hosts or equivalent and wall off distractions.


Just did the same myself. Had been mulling it over for a while, but this pushed me over the edge. Let's see how it goes


We're building a service that will allow you to schedule a number of "email moments" a day: incoming messages are temporarily queued until those moments and the sender is notified when you're checking your mail next time. We're looking for test users at http://kukoo.com


My phone goes into email notification silent mode after 6pm and back on again at 9am. Works great for me.


How do you achieve this - ie. what kind of phone/software?


I'm using K9 on Android. There is a quiet time option which disables notifications. :)

Hope this helps!


Deactivate push messages from your phone mail app and only allow for manual checking. I did that. And now I have to wait to read email which is usually enough time to drop the crack.

It might not work if the internet is way fast like it is in the US. I am in the DR which might make a difference...


Would be good to setup a system where you are able to get people to label something as urgent and you would still get this otherwise you would see it when you wanted. Depending on who is sending the majority of email your way and your social relationships this could work well.


The danger is that once everyone knows this they will all mark their emails as urgent.


You'd also need a system where you could blacklist people who abused it so nothing they set to urgent was treated as such.

Harsh but the boy who cried wolf and all.


Yeah it depends on who is emailing you. For Harj it is probably startups/ investors/ press etc, where there can be some social pressure upon using some kind of urgent tag only when it is genuinely urgent.

If most of your emails are customers who always want service right now then it is going to be a bit different.


On the other side of the coin, I've noticed that email is the new voicemail - people expect emails to be replied to in a window of hours, not days. People are incredulous when I show them my phone (no Android or iOS, sorry) and ask "How do you get any work done?"


Thankfully I have managed to reject the requests from upper management to set me up with a Blackberry at various positions.

It pains me to see friends receiving emails on their BB whilst at the pub after work and fretting over the email they've just been 'pushed'.


I think a completely converse strategy works too - I'm getting notifications for everything on my iOS devices, Android devices, several PCs etc.

I just ignore them all now; pretty similar to ads on web. And I have them available everywhere if I actually need them.


Thanks for posting this Hart. You inspired me to simplify my iPhone apps. I removed my personal and work email apps, and a lot of other clutter.

Going well so far. It's so much more productive to only do email on a desktop, and it definitely frees up my thoughts.


Another issue with email on the phone is that I find myself replying to emails out of habit, in many cases to emails which require some thought in the response and half-ass te response because I'm on a smartphone and don't have a real keyboard.


Receiving an email = a small but significant affirmation of one's self worth.

That's the problem.


Some of my friends follow, "no email checking" hour everyday at their work for focus. It's working really well for them and I'm thinking of giving it a shot too.


I have been doing this for a year now, it is great. For maximum productivity only check your email once/twice a day and never on weekends. :)


Sidepoint: Svbtle is taking over.


I started reading this and midway through I thought, "I better check my email.:


Very interesting write up Harj. I too deleted my Gmail sometime back but my motivation was different: I want to build an app with which I could write to anyone on email but vice-versa was not true.

Well it kind of started that way and after a few months of agony (unable to connect smoothly) and joy (better concentration) I am now with something interesting that you should see: http://bubbleideas.com


isn't it kind of arrogant to think that people would want to read what you have to say, but not the other way around?

There's already an app to do that, it's called SMTP, just don't use POP. After a few weeks you'll be so unpopular with your friends that you wont even need to switch off POP.


Yes you are right, but that is how I started on the problem of mail noise. I have come some distance since and have implemented a sort of 100% spam-less model where people can write to me once they are within my solicited network. We use quality of the connections (strange-ti-vity or closeness) to block or allow to & fro of private mails.

Strangers and people outside my network can also approach me somewhat, but they cannot not send me direct mails until I am hooked to them somehow - which is, like 'to be in the solicited network'. It is something like Twitter's DM & Tweet model except here we write mails instead of tweets.


Hey, first world problems!

In my head I try to keep it as "If it is an email, it can wait until tomorrow".

The author un-synced his email from the phone? Big deal. It is not that smartphones do not let you think (which is also true), but that they are just yet another consumer good made to keep you disconnected from reality.

As usual, it just depends how you use them. Think of it as a laptop, do you program on it or just surf facebook?

Smartphones could be the ultimate hacker device, if used properly.


Here's my custom solution to cutting down on email: self-control.




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