13 January 2015

Every desktop/mobile email client in the world defaults to having notifications enabled.  This is something to which I take great offense.  The purpose of email is that it is asynchronous communication with eventual consistency.  If you send me a message, it is delivered and stored in a durable medium and I will get to it when I am in my email.  I can handle the items in my inbox in a batch to optimized my efficiency.  I’d like to now put on my get-off-my-lawn old man hat and reminisce.  I recall a time when people checked email.  I don’t hear anybody saying anything about checking email any more.  Keep in mind that checking email is also sub-optimal and you should instead be processing your email.  The point of this post, though, is not that checking your email is not at the top of the pyramid of how to deal with the inbox, it is that checking email is higher on the totem pole than email notifications.  This business of hearing a sound and/or flashing lights every time I receive an email is just madness.


I came across a service that batches delivering your email and I hate the idea.  This is putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.  It’s like taking a statin to deal with the risk of heart disease as reflected by high blood cholesterol (the problem is not the high cholesterol - that is a marker that might indicate a problem, not the problem itself – drugs designed to bring down cholesterol are fighting your body’s response to the problem, not the problem itself (and creating more problems than they are addressing)).  The problem is not that your emails are getting delivered, it’s that you are getting interrupted every time you receive one.  The problem is that instead of receiving your email when you choose, you are receiving it continuously.  The problem is not that you have items in your inbox, it’s that you are sitting on your inbox and watching obsessively for the next communication.  You can mask the symptoms of your problem by batching delivery, but your life will be much better if you actually address the problem.  Having your email in your inbox waiting for you when you decide the time is right and coming to it when you choose is simply liberty.  Keeping your email from you until some tool decides to deliver it is an attack on your freedom (just like monarchies, dictatorships, and speed limits).

The answer is easy:

  • Disable email notifications
  • Check email at times when you are not in the middle of something else (I recommend using the Pomodoro Technique for setting aside times to work without interruption)
  • Process your email when you check it (you should leave your inbox with zero items in it)

The short short version: Stop allowing interruptions to your flow.  Stop it now.


Dear Gmail,

Please change your default for notifications in your Android/IOS/Windows Phone apps so that only the criminally insane who want to be interrupted and kill their productivity will explicitly enable it and disabling it will be one less thing to have do for the rest of us and those who don’t understand how to change their settings will have a reasonable default.  And while you’re at it, make the browser version of Gmail default to having the keyboard controls disabled by default.  That’s a silly default that serves no one.  If people want to use their mouse for controlling their interaction with Gmail, having the keyboard controls enabled does them no harm.  Those concerned with productivity will benefit greatly by having keys enabled without having to go change the settings.

Thank you in advance,
A Concerned Google Minion

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