Make Email Notifications Work For You
Email is out of control. Newsletters, lists, financial transactions, errors and warnings all show up daily; and dealing with them individually takes a considerable amount of time.
The amount of email I've had in my inbox has varied from dozens to hundreds. I can’t spend all day answering email, after all: I’ve got a business to run! Other than unsubscribing, the best way to handle this tsunami of information is to create a workflow in which you can address bulk categories of emails in a single pass. My strategy is to make it easier to take action on emails than let them sit in my inbox.
Gmail provides tools to categorize and consume similar emails quickly. By utilizing filters and labels, you’ll get out of your inbox and back to work faster. Let’s look at how each tool works.
Filters are rules that all your incoming email gets passed through. A rule is essentially a search query, and any email that matches that search will then have actions applied to it. Using a filter lets you delete those emails you just can’t unsubscribe to, or automatically label emails of a particular type.
A label is a method of organizing your emails. They work like a folder, with the exception that an email can have multiple labels associated with it. You can even nest them! The two I use most often are "Notifications" and "Reporting." I use the "Notifications" label for bulk messages, like those from Twitter or MailChimp. I use "Reporting" for anything that gives me numerical insights into my business, i.e., Baremetrics, Google Analytics, or server response times.
First, divide up your incoming mail by types using filters, and conquer them by applying labels and actions automatically. You can do things like star, automatically archive, or forward a piece of mail.
After you have this setup, you’ll be able to look in a label, skim through the topics and read what you need to. When you finish hit
Mark all as read and move on to the next label. No more clicking through every single email.
Create one label for each type of email list you are on, a "Notifications" label, and a "Reporting" label.
To create a new label, look on the left bar of Gmail, hit More, scroll to the very bottom and click "Create a new label." This view gives you the full interface so you can control nesting. Note that you’ll have the option of setting up a new label while creating a filter also.
To create a filter, first, you’ll need to search in the top bar. Try some searches like the one in the
Matches section in the examples below. Gmail has an excellent quick reference on the more advanced ways to search. After you have crafted a search that targets just the right emails, click the down arrow on the right of the search bar and select "Create a Filter with this search." You can create a filter from any search! Next, you’ll decide what you want to do with the matching emails, and create your filter.
Check out the examples below to see some familiar services leveraged with this system.
This workflow may seem like a lot of work to set up, but you’ll gain that time back in a day or so. Dealing with email can be a giant time-sink, especially when you are applying human reflexes to machine generated emails. I like to let the machines handle the triage for me, that way I can spend more time helping people learn awesome new skills with DailyDrip!
Automatically Delete all emails coming from a domain
Matches: from:(*@example.com). Do this: Delete it.
Matches: to:(firstname.lastname@example.org). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Office."
I often create a label unique to an email list, this way I can deal with those emails at the proper time. Getting them out of the inbox removes the stress of reading them immediately, so I can scan through them when needed, and not have them interrupt me. It’s great to know that the monthly birthday party starts at 2 pm, or there are donuts in the breakroom. I don’t need to think about that in my first couple of hours of my day! This method keeps that noise to a minimum during my most productive hours.
Special Case: Support emails.
Matches: to:(support@DailyDrip.com). Do this: Mark it as important.
I love talking to our customers, and given the number of emails we send at DailyDrip, most of that contact comes via through email support. I always want those marked important and DO NOT skip the inbox. I like to see these quickly so I can respond asap.
Matches: from:(*@marketplace.amazon.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Amazon."
This method will filter off all those messages from independent sellers on Amazon asking for reviews after you buy a product, without stopping the shipping/delivery notifications.
Matches: from:(email@example.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
I read our Baremetrics stats daily as part of my reporting sweep.
Matches: to:(*@noreply.github.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "GitHub."
Love me some GitHub, but I don’t need it in my inbox. Notice that this matches on the 'to' field, instead of the 'from' field. This way I can handle account notifications separately from PRs and comments on our code.
Matches: from:(firstname.lastname@example.org). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
Automatically put all your exceptions into a reporting label for later review.
Matches: from:(email@example.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Ops."
I like to keep my server monitoring notifications separate from my application monitoring ones. This method makes tracking down problems a bit quicker during emergency downtimes, as there is fewer data to sort through. All my Hobbit and XYmon reports go to Ops.
iTunes Connect & Apple reporting
Matches: subject:(iTunes Connect). Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read.
Matches: from:(firstname.lastname@example.org) subject:(Financial Report). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
I just love that time of the month when iTunes Connect sends me one email per country that I’m selling in. I get that reporting done better through other applications, so I don’t even look at these emails usually.
Matches: from:(email@example.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
Log notifications for long running tasks are wonderful to know, and I look at the at the same time I do my daily exception browsing.
Matches: subject:(New Subscriber to). Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read, Apply label "Notifications."
Matches: subject:(Unsubscribe from DailyDrip). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Notifications."
It’s great to keep an eye on your email lists, but when you are getting a lot of subscriptions this can be spammy! I mark new subscriptions as read, and just scan the dates, but like to keep an eye on unsubscriptions, so I manually mark them as read.
Matches: from:(firstname.lastname@example.org). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
I read our Mandrill stats weekly as part of my reporting sweep.
Matches: from:(email@example.com). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
Skylight is great about giving weekly speed reports on our site; I check it with my usual reporting sweep.
Matches: from:(firstname.lastname@example.org). Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Reporting."
I read our Sumo Me stats weekly as part of my reporting sweep.
Matches: via Twitter. Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Notifications."
Twitter Mentions and DMs don’t need to be in my inbox every 30 seconds.
Matches: subject: TestFlight. Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "TestFlight."
I’m on so many beta versions of apps distributed through TestFlight that the emails hampered my productivity. Sometimes I got over 10 of these emails a day! I like knowing new releases are available, especially when I’m working on an app, but rarely does that need immediate attention.