How I saved hours and hours of time, reduced disturbances and stress level with a simple Gmail lifehack

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”

I’ve been re-reading Getting Things Done by David Allen recently and thinking about other ways to get closer to the “Mind Like Water” state and suddenly I’ve come up with a very simple, but useful lifehack for GMail. It aligns very well with all the recent trends in productivity, time management and lifestyle design set by Tim Ferriss in his Four Hour Workweek and assumes you should minimize all the unnecessary disturbances and batch your typical actions in order to save time.

So, what I did is very simple yet really helpful and I highly recommend you to try the same approach.

1. Create 2 labels in your GMail.

First one is “! once a wk” and another one “! once a mnth”.
The idea is to group all the not so important mail and not to get interrupted every two minutes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be once a month or once a week. Probably once a day and once a week will work better for you. Anyway, you got the basic principle.

2. Create filters for these labels.

For example:

Matches: subject:(“Facebook” OR “Linkedin”)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “! once a wk

and

Matches: subject:(“Twitter” OR “Microsoft newsletter”)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “! once a wk

Obviously, “Facebook”, “Linkedin”, “Twitter” and “Microsoft newsletter” are just examples. The point here is to put subjects or email addresses of those letters that you receive from time to time, but don’t need to read/process/reply the same second it’s received. It’s up to you to decide what these letters are, but I’m convinced that absolute majority of the letters fall into this category.

Then, you should tell your Gmail to apply the appropriate label for those letters and skip the inbox.

3. Schedule checks

Put view “once a week mail event and view once a month mail on your Google Calendar (or whatever calendar you’re using), make this event repeat every week/month correspondingly and create an email reminder.

3. Now, the most difficult step to actually practice: do not (do not!) check these two labels any other time than your scheduled time. I know these two labels look so yummy-yummy attractive when the number is more than zero, like in this screenshot (which is BTW the final result), but believe this is the habit worth developing.
gmail-gtd

Putting it all together.

So, if everything is done properly, you will have all the important mail (which is usually 1-10%) in your inbox right away and all the time consuming stuff (social networks, subscriptions, newsletters, etc) that prevents you from doing really important and inspirational things with your life will be held under two labels which are always available. Usually it takes very little time to process it all at once instead of doing it every single time when letter is delivered.

This is pretty much it. Good luck with implementing and improving! Hope, you won’t be spending the time saved in Twitter, but do something that you always wanted to start doing, but didn’t have enough time. And of course, I’m looking forward for your feedback!

8 Comments

  1. Hi,thanks for this great post. Did you also implement any of the other aspects of GTD? I've never found a practical way to keep up with my lists – be it on paper or using elevtronic tools. Any thoughts?

  2. Hi,

    thanks for this great post. Did you also implement any of the other aspects of GTD? I've never found a practical way to keep up with my lists – be it on paper or using elevtronic tools. Any thoughts?

  3. Well, I think the system itself if highly customizable. What it makes it quite difficult to implement on the other hand. I use various tools trying to keep as simple as possible at the same time. It would be too long to explain everything. Besides, I'm still very, very far from being some kind of guru. But my main tools that I highly recommend are Google Calendar and Rememberthemilk, so you would probably like to play with them. I don't use paper lists at all, the only exception is the business meeting, but after meeting is finished I transfer all the next actions and the ideas to Rememberthemilk.

  4. Well, I think the system itself if highly customizable. What it makes it quite difficult to implement on the other hand. I use various tools trying to keep as simple as possible at the same time. It would be too long to explain everything. Besides, I'm still very, very far from being some kind of guru. But my main tools that I highly recommend are Google Calendar and Rememberthemilk, so you would probably like to play with them. I don't use paper lists at all, the only exception is the business meeting, but after meeting is finished I transfer all the next actions and the ideas to Rememberthemilk.

  5. Elegant strategy. The exercise this presupposes is one that helps you define what is important and inspirational in your life. In going through your process and looking at incoming messages, the participant has to look at those issues to start the sort! Well done.

  6. That's 100% correct understanding and what I had in mind when suggesting this idea. Good to hear that we're on the same page with my readers! 🙂

  7. You mention that you might be tempted to read the emails you shouldn't be reading when there's a number such as “(10)” near the name of the label. That can be easily remedied: In the Gmail settings you can choose to hide certain labels so that they can only be seen if you click on “More” (or whatever that link is called in the English-language version of Gmail).

  8. Thank you very much for your addition! I actually use this one for a couple of months already.
    Though you can still be tempted to open this label, at least it doesn't scream at you “Read me, there are n new messages!” 🙂

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