Unlearning email

The Why & How Of My Numptitude

For most of my adult life I’ve reflexively opened up my inbox in search of diversion, despite underwhelming and often counterproductive returns. ‘Variable reward’ shenanigans have made me their bitch. This is silly.

Rather than another round of minor sanity tweaks I smugly wrote the phrase “let’s get fundamental” at the top of a napkin* and considered how I would choose to use emails were I to put aside all of the absurd habits weak-willed, auto-Pavloving past-me has built for himself.

*…before taking a moment to consider that sometime soon I’m going to have to seriously rethink my personality and stop being insufferable.

Since I clearly can’t rely on my fickle discipline to change such behaviour I’ve smart-arsedly altered my tools to ensure that my past routines are either impossible or guaranteed to achieve nothing whatsoever.

Email How I did & How I do

Past behaviour / frequency

I probably check my emails—actively or absent-mindedly—10, 20, 40 times a day; idly on the off-chance something interesting has arrived or obsessively when awaiting a reply regarding a thing about which I’m worrying.

New messages will occupy me, rarely usefully: a charming essay from a friend that I’m not in the right frame of mind to answer becomes a burden; a work notice about a thing I-have-to-do-but-can’t-right-now leaves me pointlessly distracted.

To the best of my knowledge I have never received an email that requires immediate attention.

Ideal behaviour

Discover pertinent new things when—and only when—I have the time and inclination to react meaningfully.

Necessary tangents

  1. Currently I have a 4 / 5 hour focussed morning period in which I actively work. This has also become my preferred time to write the appallingly long, unforgivably-masturbatory dissertations I call personal correspondence.

  2. I have multiple Gmail accounts which I interact with through IMAP applications, either Mail (computers) or Inbox (phone). I’ve never used the actual online Gmail inboxes.

  3. Google allows users to write scripts that programmatically affect emails as they arrive (see: Google Apps Script).


Using a simple filter, all emails entering my inbox are now immediately archived and moved to an IMAP-unsynchronized ‘Snooze’ label within Gmail (meaning they never appear in the places I check email). At 5am every morning all emails with that label are automagically unarchived, de-labeled and moved back to the inbox. I.e. I receive all emails from the previous day in one go and will receive no more that day*.

* Details of how to do that below.

Day-delay, Part 1 Google Apps Script Shenanigans

  1. Log in to Google Drive

  2. Hit the ‘New’ button ->More->+ Connect More Apps

  3. Search for and connect ‘Google Apps Script

  4. New->More->Google Apps Script

  5. Add—and save as whatever your heart desires—the following:

    function setup() {
    function moveSnoozes() {
      var snoozedLabel = GmailApp.getUserLabelByName( 'Snooze' );
      var page = snoozedLabel.getThreads();
      if( page.length > 0 ) {
        GmailApp.moveThreadsToInbox( page );
        snoozedLabel.removeFromThreads( page );
  6. Run-> setup, then give all the permissions. This will create a ‘Snooze’ label in your inbox.

  7. Edit->Current Project Triggers->No triggers set up. Click here to add one now.

  8. Settings { ‘Run’ | moveSnoozes; ‘Events’ | ‘Time Driven’, ‘Day timer’, ‘5am to 6am’. }

  9. Save.

NB // For a more flexible snooze function have a gander at https://gmail.googleblog.com/2011/07/gmail-snooze-with-apps-script.html.

Day-delay, Part 2 Google Filters

  1. Gear Icon ->Settings->Filters and Blocked Addresses->Create a new filter.’

  2. Filter { ‘To’ | MYEMAIL@gmail.com. } This affects *all* incoming mail (but won’t accidentally grab outgoing mail).

  3. Create filter with this search.’

  4. Tick: ‘Skip the Inbox (Archive It)’ and ‘Apply the label [SNOOZE].’

  5. Create filter.’

  6. Gear Icon ->Settings->Labels

  7. For ‘All Mail’ [in ‘System Labels’] and ‘Snooze’ [in ‘Labels’] untick the ‘Show in IMAP’ box and set all their options to ‘Hide