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I used to keep Gmail open all the time in my browser, but not anymore

I’m not the kind of person who keeps a tremendous amount of tabs open in their browser because I have a feeling that it makes me inefficient, but for years, Gmail was the app I almost never closed. Mainly because I felt the urge to respond to an email as fast as possible or if it was something unnecessary I wanted to dump it so I can get close to inbox zero. After a while, this became a habit and I felt I had a great control over my inbox.

This changed a bit when I moved to a manager position and I received 50-100 emails a day. I was trying to apply the same technique I used before to stay organized but that meant that I spent most of my day in my inbox. Based on the metrics from my Rescue Time reports, I spent 70% of my screen time in Gmail. I sent a huge amount of emails myself, but I’m sure that I spent at least a quarter of that time just organizing messages and setting up filters. It was anything but efficient.

I didn’t use push notifications for emails in my browser but as the tab was open all the time I could easily notice when I received a new message. And when that happened, I was there in a few seconds to see what was the new email about. It was really hard to do focused work that way. It was even worse when I was writing an email and I saw that the number of unread messages just kept growing in the background. I’ve lost focus every few minutes.

I couldn’t find a great solution to this problem so I just forced myself to ignore these triggers as much as possible. When I went full-time indie a few years ago I thought that now I have the freedom to keep Gmail closed and check it just a few times a day. That worked fine until some of my products got some traction and support mails started to hit my inbox. Once again, I felt the urge to get back to every user as soon as possible and Gmail became my new-old homepage. Jumping in and out from tasks and focused work came along.

A few months ago I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg where he describes a "framework" you can follow to get over bad habits. The first step is to identify the habit loop, and the second is to identify the cue that triggers the habit.

I think my habit loop is jumping into my inbox whenever I see I got a new message to feel I am in control. The cue that activates the loop is the unread message counter that becomes visible on the opened Gmail tab. So I think a really easy solution would be to just close the tab and check my inbox only a few times a day.

What I don’t know at the moment is how to get rid of the feeling that if I don’t check my emails frequently the number of unread messages will get to a point where I won’t be able to handle it.

Maybe I should take a step back to figure out what makes me feel this way. But first, I have to close a tab in my browser.