How I use Inbox Pause

InboxPauseIn the course of my recent shift from being a cynical government official to a working-from-home earnest do-gooder, I also jumped from the PC platform mandated at my old workplace back to a Mac. (It’s funny to reread that and see how it can sound as though I think the OS shift follows from the job shift—i.e., having stopped being a cynical government official, I stopped using the cynical computer platform—but really it just boils down to finally being able to follow my personal preference.)

And because I had a new MacBook Air, and because it was so fun to dive back into the world of Macs, I found myself eagerly implementing all aspects of the world of Macs. Among other things, after long using Chrome, I decided to use Apple’s native Safari web browser. One practical reason for this was that I had read somewhere that Chrome made higher processing and thus power demands, a concern that seemed worth paying attention to given that I would be traveling and depending on my MacBook’s battery lasting as long as possible. (I also really liked Safari’s “Reading List” feature.)

Then, about a month ago, I chucked Safari and readopted Chrome.

Why? One reason, and one reason only: I wanted to use Inbox Pause.

Now, let me zoom out.

Some of you will be well familiar with the line of thinking I am about to spool out, but for the rest of you: Email is, obviously, evil. It’s someone else’s attempt to grab your focus away from what you want or need to be focusing on and shift it to what they want you to be focusing on. (It’s not quite as bad as phone calls, which have been recognized for a few years now as just about the rudest thing you can do to someone without grabbing some part of your anatomy at the same time).

Now, of course, some of us have jobs that consist entirely of focusing on what someone else wants you to focus on, per an email they have sent. And others of us must sometimes focus on what someone else wants us to focus on. But much of the rest of the time, we need to uninterrupted blocks in which we can focus on ongoing projects that require sustained attention.

Much of the rest of the time, in other words, email causes us to focus on the “urgent” at the expense of the “important.”

Again, this is old news to many of you, but what’s not old or answered in a way that everyone can make use of is the question, “how do we keep from having our attention yanked all over the place by email?” Because of course, email is addictive. Any time we get bored or frustrated by what we need to be working on, we can click over to our email, where—even though this is usually not the case—we might find something interesting or pleasing. (Indeed, the fact that we are sometimes but not always rewarded when we check our email constitutes “intermittent reinforcement” and as such means we are pretty well screwed when it comes to the addictiveness of this behavior.)

Perhaps you have heard various advice intended to help you keep your focus from getting hijacked by email: don’t check your email first thing (wait until you’ve knocked off a couple of to-do list items); only check your email once per day (or twice or thrice, depending on the rhythm of your workday), preferably on a schedule. Etc.

All well and good, but what each of these has in common is the fact that they rely on willpower, that is, you have to decide not to check your email, and that’s not always easy to do.

Enter Inbox Pause, a Chrome + Gmail app by the makers of Boomerang that only allows email into your inbox at certain times that you can specify or customize as you wish (whatever times you wish, as many as you wish). In between those times, no matter how many times you reload your inbox, you will not see new messages or any indication that you have received new messages.

It works by accepting new messages but filtering them to skip the inbox; the filter is then removed at the specified times, and all of the previously hidden emails crop up at once in your inbox. I mention this because, the one exception to whether you’ll be able to see indication of new emails is if you have any automatic labelling set up that would show unread messages counts in your left sidebar.

But this turned out to offer an added feature for me: I set up a filter to apply a label to any emails from my boss, so that—while everyone else’s email is being hidden from me—I can seek out my “Boss” label and see if anything has come in from her. Obviously, there would be all kinds of ways to use such an approach to customize your Inbox Pause experience.

This app works really well for me, and frankly it’s nice to be back on Chrome, too, loss of the Safari Reading List notwithstanding.

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