A popular story in Greek mythology is the tale of Sisyphus. He was a deceitful king, punished by rolling a giant boulder up a mountain, only to let it tumble down after reaching the peak. He was then forced to start all over again, repeating this cycle forever.
This reminds me of a problem we experience daily — attaining “inbox zero.”
We open our email and see 50+ unread messages. So we reply to and delete them until reaching zero. Yet, next time we log in, we have a new pile of unread emails to filter through.
It's like we're rolling a boulder up a mountain, just to watch it fall back down.
As a result, we neurotically reply and delete emails as they arrive, because we're determined to keep our inbox at zero. Except this can pull us away from prioritizing important projects, as we're constantly glued to email.
I avoid this by blocking my email's domain (ex. gmail.com) during specific hours of the day:
I call this process Automated Email Batching and here's my three-step process for setting it up:
Step 1: Download Block site from the Chrome store.
Block site is a Google Chrome extension (similar to Sidekick) that blocks websites during specific intervals throughout the day. After downloading the extension, just right-click anywhere on any website, then go to Options:
Step 2: Input email provider
After clicking Options, a new page will pop up. Here you'll input your email's domain under the Blocked Sites tab. I use gmail for my work and personal email, so I simply input that:
Then when I try to access gmail.com while it's blocked, I see this screen:
This process can be leveraged for any web-based email service (ex. outlook.com, yahoo.com, etc).
Step 3: Input times to block email during the day
Now click on the tab labeled Active Day & Times, uncheck the boxes for Saturday and Sunday, and turn on the Time Intervals button:
Then I choose the times I want to block my email:
This schedule forces me into 50 minutes of uninterupted work every hour. For example, gmail.com is blocked from 9:10 - 10:00am, which allows me to complete two Pomodoro sessions.
If you need more time in email than 10 minutes every hour, no problem. You can customize your Automated Email Batching system to however you want.
Now I’m not just telling myself I’ll batch emails … I’m actually forced into it.
Email batching is common practice, but this technique automates the email batching process for me. No longer am I reliant on willpower to batch my emails, as the system dictates the times I can check it.
Don’t become distracted by constantly pushing boulders up mountains, only to watch them tumble back down.
Instead, use Automated Email Batching to focus on the projects that matter.
Originally published Apr 27, 2015 2:53:00 AM, updated June 10 2021