Switch Off Email Notifications, Except For VIP Contacts

Jocelyn Glei from Unsubscribe divides her email contacts into five lists: VIPs, key collaborators, friends, potentials and random.

  • VIPs include your most important 3-5 relationships, like your partner, your boss, and your biggest client. You would like to be really responsive to these people, within hours, or at least within the same day, so that they feel taken care of.
  • Key Collaborators include people you work with, and depend on, on a regular basis, include close colleagues, friends, family and advisers. You would like to respond to them in a timely manner within 1-3 days to move projects and relationships forward.
  • Fun People include friends and colleagues you engage with for laughter and relaxation. You can respond to them within a week or two when you have time.
  • Potentials include people who could be important in the future, including prospective clients, employees, collaborators and friends, who need to be sorted into one of the other categories. You would like to respond to them within 1-3 days to keep the momentum going.
  • Randoms include people who have written to you uninvited and unverified. You have no obligation to respond to them, unless you really want to accept an opportunity they are offering.

Jocelyn recommends creating a short list of VIPs, key collaborators and fun people, and using this hierarchy to decide which emails are really urgent and important, which emails to pay attention to, and which emails to ignore.

I have a more extreme approach to email myself. With my own 80-person team, I try to use face-to-face meetings to build alignment, along with Basecamp to record next actions, instead of email. Since I have stopped sending email, my team has also learnt not to email me, and my inbox volume has reduced dramatically.

As a result, I am able to keep email notifications off on all my devices. I process my email inbox three times a day for about 15 minutes: an hour into work, an hour after lunch and the last thing before I leave work. I use David Allen’s 2 minute rule to answer and all emails I can handle within 2 minutes, defer action on some emails by moving them into my @action and @waiting folders, and create corresponding actions for them in OmniFocus. When I need to draft a long response, I do it in Ulysses, instead of AirMail, by blocking time for all such emails.

The only exceptions to my email workflow are emails from my VIP contacts: my boss and my girlfriend. AirMail has a nifty feature that lets you turn on notifications only for your VIP contacts. This lets me filter my email inbox to focus on the most important people in my life, and always respond to them immediately, even as I remove the distraction of constant email notifications from my life.

I would encourage you to turn off all notifications on all your devices for a week, to see firsthand the difference between a life full of distraction and a life without them. You might still be tempted to check your email and social media apps every 15 minutes, so removing notifications will only be the first step towards a life of intentional focus. And, if you can’t imagining ignoring emails from your family members, key colleagues or important clients even for a few hours, use an email client like AirMail to classify them into VIPs and selectively receive notifications from them.

If you already use a variation of this tip, and have had success with it, I would love to learn about your experience. And, if you have been inspired to turn off your notifications or create a VIP contact list after reading this post, I would love to know what impact it has had. Do share your experience in the comments below or on Twitter @gauravonomics.

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Author: Gauravonomics

Recovering creative re-learning how to create a daily writing and sketching practice for the second half of life