Emails productivity tricks

I hate managing my mail inbox, and I guess I'm not the only one here. Usually my inbox is for bills, paperwork, to-dos, and so on and anyway most of the items will require me to lose time at something I don't value.

Anyway I'm trying to keep it tidy and nice to open and here are some of the habits I'm using to manage the load of documents.

Automate

Most of the emails with attachment and invoice somewhere in the object/title and sent to my accounting software running in the clouds. Other emails can just be automatically archived under some conditions.

Label everything

This is likely nothing new, but getting the discipline to achieve this in the long run is what matters. In Gmail I often use the "Filter similar items" to automatically label similar emails.

Labeling alone is a nice trick which gets even more powerful with colors and emojis.

When I added this new label for dealing with my automated research of places, I've been creating this "housing" label with a 🏠️ emoji, and placed it under the πŸ—οΈ projects label for now.

Colorize

Green for good things, orange for what things that can drain money or energy.
For instance paid invoices and refund are in green and unpaid invoices, fines, taxes are in orange/red.

With those labels and colors, because I rely a lot on visual memory, I can get a good sense of my priorities without having to spend much time in my Inbox by reading emails titles.

Delete handled items

Once something is done, there is no point to keep it nor archive it, unless it's something I'm really too afraid to lose for now, then I can archive it so the email can be found later.

Delegate

My time is not more valuable than other people time, but I do value some things more than others, and I try to focus on what matters for me and delegate other emails if possible, for instance I ignore some emails sent to our company because I know my partner handles those specific ones. If I'm not sure my partner is dealing with something, I'm just forwarding the email with a communication for her.

Unsubscribe

I almost forgot that must-know trick, which is quite underrated and no so commonly used among family members, which is a pity. Whenever you receive recurrent emails you have no time to read, just unsubscribe from them, even if they make it difficult sometimes.

No newsletter please

I prefer to get news by RSS on my Miniflux instance, so everything that can be turned to a RSS feed will be, and every newsletter that does not propose a RSS feed, I'll convert it to a RSS feed via https://kill-the-newsletter.com/, and if the blog I want to subscribe to is banning such automation, I'll use RSS-Bridge to generate a RSS feed by scrapping the content of their blog.

Snooze

Sometimes there is nothing you can do with an email, yet. For instance it's the tracking number of a delivery package, and the package won't be there before 3 days. Or it's a very detailed email for your hotel or event booking for in a few months in the future. In such cases I just snooze such emails for a future date.

Dark mode

I try to make my emails boring and so reduce the anxiety they cause me, and for this Gmail proposes a Dark mode. If that's not enough you can also try some extensions that turn Grayscale / Monochrome mode on. For instance on Brave (Chrome based browser) I'm using this one below.

Dark patterns collection

I'm regularly battling to maintain Inbox Zero for my work and personal mailboxes and I have to say it's not a fun game. Especially when some crappy tactics at are play like below.

Let's start a collection, and update this post regularly with findings.

Elastic.co

First example is Elastic (elastic.co), with a work email I never asked for, inviting me to a local event. The email is long and I don't care about the Pizza party at all which is the first thing they mention in their agenda. I want to stop receiving such emails.

Looking at the bottom of their email, I notice a first unsubscribe button.

It redirects to a subscription page... (see below). Clever... !

When looking more closely, there is a second unsubscribe button, very hard to see due to the lack of contrast.

Who has then time to fill their unsubscribe form ? Not every weirdo. But that's it seems the effort which is due just for allowing me to regain a little more quiet in my mailbox. So now you know.

OVH

After months with Contabo (VPS), I decided it was time to close my domain and hosting subscriptions managed at OVH. I disabled the automated renewal a few weeks ago, and managed to setup redirects on my old websites. My subscriptions should be cancelled automatically but I can't wait and I want to get that out of my mind, so I want to force a manual cancellation.

To my surprise, it took me a lot of emails and exchanges with support. I understand the security measures and no one would like its accounts and services revoked by accident.

The problem is mostly the poor UX and customer support for getting this done. Let dig deeper.

When trying to cancel any service, I just get error without explanation nor resolution steps.

Later did I find emails from OVH asking me to confirm my revocation, so I could at least complete some of the steps, but it required me to leave my workflow and switch from my admin panel to emails, then manage those emails, then double check my admin panels for updates of services statuses...

In the end I opened a ticket to OVH support asking them to delete my account and the related services. They closed the ticket asking me to close my account only after services are revoked, which let me again with an unresolved solution.

I had to reopen the ticket and provide them the evidence above so they know I can't close some of my services. Closing a customer complaint on user's behalf without asking feedback is probably a tactic for improving their KPIs, but it ultimately tell they consider their customers to be nothing more than complainers with no real problem to be solved. This also tell the culture of OVH has diverged from customer first. No wonder I'm leaving you, OVH, as I'm expecting more from a service provider.

Click to Shrink

This morning Saturday I spent hours scrolling in my RSS feeds, napalm mode, marking tons of content as won't ever read. This made me wanna share my struggles with FOMO and attempts to fix.

Cap Limits

Years ago, a colleague was telling me he left Spotify for Apple Music because of the 10,000 song limit. I had no need of having to keep this much music at the same time. In fact, I do often listen to the same songs, even if the songs change. I regularly delete stuff from my library and make room for new ones.

But a decade ago I was in his shoes, collecting my likes and dislikes on TasteKid (wikiless) and making sure all my favorites TV shows, movie, book, comics, music bands were saved, so TasteKid would recommend me cool stuff. Until it went crazy. I complained to support and they told me I hit a cap limit and they cannot recommend more content beyond that cap limit. Shit. It feels terrible as a user to be punished by your product for using it too well.

I had an account on SensCritique (wikiless) until recent years and I contributed a lot to their knowledge base, lists of contents, until they block my account because I was not making perfect submissions and they had to fix some of them. Is that a reason to block me ? I politely asked for unblocking my account but they insisted the ban should be of one month. I requested a full export of my data (thank you GDPR) then deleted my account and contributions and never went back.

It's painful to contribute the internet and be banned because of imperfection. It used to be a more welcoming place. I fear to depend on external services because of this kind of politics or cap limit. Anyway, that's why I also self host my content and services so I cannot blame anyone else for failures.

Brain, you kill me

When I find an article I like, I often fall in the trap of opening all the cross linked articles. Which make me open too many tabs that I really don't have much time to browse right now so I save them for later in Wallabag. I had to install Tab Limiter (browser extension for Chrome) and force myself to a limit of 10-20 tabs per window/profile but it's hard. I did that after reading about people with similar issues (Reddit - It seems impossible to get rid of my 1000 tabs habit).

I recently stopped bookmarking stuff in my Git repository (or at least slowing it down), I instead switched to saving links into Shaarli, Wallabag and Obsidian daily notes, telling myself lies like bookmarking is worth it. I was regularly feeling overwhelmed with newsletter and FOMO so I opted for RSS feeds that curate content from my favorite authors and publishers but that brings its own issues as I exceed my capacity of how much content I'm capable of curating on a given day. Curating content and links is not suitable in 2024 and something better is needed. Recently I did the math and realized that from Wallabag, Gitea and and in total I have recently collected 11K links among my main bookmarking places. If I dig deeper and go collect links from my Twitter archives, my 10 years old bookmarks and links from my Obsidian notes, it sums to 20K. That's a big number I really need to cut into 1K maximum. Which I'm trying at /links.

Brain, you kill them

No tool will solve it; it's not a tool issue. One just can't digest so much content. If it's too late and you already succumbed to opening 10K tabs and notes and windows and you have started too many "watch later" challenges, let me present your friend, Gimli !

Imagine the open tabs, newsfeeds, information sources, lists, open windows, unfinished stuff, etc as the Ring used by Sauron in LOTR. Then act like Gimli, throw an axe at the problem. If you are strong enough, you can just quickly solve this.

It's really satisfying to delete stuff and decide never to read them. Rather than bookmark them for later and never read them, just delete stuff. Delete lines from your codebase. Delete branches of unfinished work. Close tabs. Delete "might be useful later" apps from your mobile phone. Uninstall browser extensions you rarely use. Archive emails that pollute your Inbox. Do you really need those daily emails from 20 newsletters ? Do you ever read them ? Do you really need to read the whole Hacker News ? You know there exist summaries ? Do you really need to read that whole article ? There exist ChatGPT summarizers that work in your browser, or you could simply jump to the article's comments section or look if any HN user already commented on that article. If you prefer to rely on your own judgment, just have a look at the intro and conclusion of any article you are about to read, and from there decide if you are interested to read more.

You think you need to bookmark everything and organize them, but most of those websites will be gone soon or later or will be behind paywalls. Save the few that really matter to you, using SingleFile extension for instance, if possible on your storage as we don't know if search engines or archiving websites will keep caching those pages nor if they will still exist in a few years from now.

Most of the long articles I've ever read could be summarized with a simple meme (image), they really are a perfect fit for the purpose of sharing a concept. That's also why webcomics are so powerful, like XKCD, it's minimalist and speaks to everyone. It might be the same for tons of those videos, podcasts you wanna consume. If you are regularly battling against your inbox, newsfeeds etc, it's time to use that axe and unsubscribe from this spam which is one of my productivity tricks, look here for more.

Look busy, be free

You have a limited time, your body has its own constraints and you can't grow new body parts to extend your capacity. You don't need to do more, but probably to do less and be more focused. For this, you need to give yourself more time. Think again about the cap limits. In past years, people have migrated away from Facebook, nowadays they migrate away from Twitter. Tools don't last. Social networks don't last. Content don't last. Instead old content disappear to make room for better old ones. Hopefully. There are websites other than Facebook and Instagram. Not overloaded with ads. Interesting and quieter ones. And we definitely need more calm while social networks are keeping us busy, VOD platforms push infinite content to us and email inboxes never feel empty. And we also need to replace most of the too popular platforms that succumbed to enshittification (wikiless).

You don't need to track 300 RSS feeds, 1/10 of that should suffice. While I write this, I went from 330 RSS feeds to 270 in about a week. I've noticed I'm really super excited about the content from maybe 5 of them, and enthusiastic/curious about maybe 25 RSS feeds in total. Speaking of that, I'm sharing a subset of those RSS feeds in my /links page.

You don't need to be present on every social media platform, 1 or 2 should suffice. Or none. After leaving Twitter and LinkedIn, I was mostly present on Mastodon (which I'm leaving too by March 2024) and I deactivated Instagram but I read every publication of my partner thanks to Instagram feeds provided by Picuki. Some websites allow you to easily backup your data before closing your account, I do keep backups in Dropbox. If not ready to close those accounts, deactivate the ones that pollute you and see if you can live a while without spying on random strangers and friends on internet. Because yes, maybe you shouldn't maintain a false sense of friendship with every influencer.

For similar reasons, I tend to archive WhatsApp conversations and unsubscribe from social accounts from time to time. If I don't recall why I follow an account or why the fuck I'm in this WhatsApp group, I better leaving it. It can be done in a polite manner of course, but the idea is to focus on your wellbeing.

No need for 10K songs on Spotify, I stick to 2K for a few years and in only a few days, I went to 1K, then 100 songs, then 30 songs. They come and go. No need to follow hundred of accounts, if a ten should suffice.

I started to use the axe in my 5K bookmarks and remove all that is not absolutely needed. It's easy once you are inspired by some tricks.

Numbers have spoken

Kill, destroy, eliminate, declutter, triage !

If triage is difficult, use the axe and destroy the whole problem. I've quit several social platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, daily.dev, Discord, ...) and then the FOMO goes away completely as well as the anxiety caused by having to keep up with tons of relationships on those social media. Dunbar's number (wikiless) explains you cannot keep up with so many people on so many platforms. The most cited number is 150, personally I put it way lower for me, maybe 1/5 or 1/10 of it.

I bet I have said it all. I'll continue to shrink and use minimalism to guide me (wikiless).

So what should we do instead ? I'll explain this further in another post. But TLDR; is you make something useful with your dreams and time. You shall create. Play music, draw web comics, share stories, make your own website, make your own art, software, your own place on the internet and in the world. You lack inspiration for a blog post or website ideas ? Let this guide you or this other one.

OK COOL... But this is just how things work, isn't ?

No wonder you don't have time if you keep scrolling social media, dramatic news, or if you accept every fucking social event invite from friends and family. Focus on what matters, say no. And even if you still lack time, it should not be an excuse.

In a former life, I was telling my overworking colleagues about making time for things that matter to you. They baffled. The thing is it's not because you work 14 hours a day you will be more productive than someone doing deep work for about 2 hours a day. Sometimes all is required to fix a problem is not more work but a good nap / break.

Credits : Julia Evans

Sometimes you really need to make time, it can imply some arrangement with your family or to setup unconventional work schedules but if that allows you to make something you have fun doing, why not ? When you are done with that, other people will surely react but who cares ?

But this was helpful

In order to do things useful for you and joyful for you, no need to chase the infinite self optimization which is toxic in itself and make you feel never achieving anything. You don't need to be 1% every day. It's difficult to improve every day and you will feel guilty by not reaching the goal. Instead, try to stay away from bad habits. Instead of focusing on developing new ones constantly, develop anti habits to kill the bad ones. Be also very wary of the self development guides that exploit your guilt for their business. You can chase infinite advices from random internet places or closed ones, but that's also something to be critical of.

Ironically, you should be also wary of this very article you read. I'm writing it for myself first, because it helps me clarify my mind. It's good if it helps you, but it's first and mainly targeted at me, like most influencers and authors write first for themselves or at least based on their own experience. In general, be wary of advice.

All content is not equal and because some advice exists does not mean it applies to you. So don't feel guilty of not following all trends and coaches. You can also make your own adventure.

Is it the end ?

Hopefully if you get me right, it's just the beginning, the start of living your life and stop letting everyone else's agenda control yours. There is also no urge to act now. First, slow down. Don't feel guilty of doing less, saying no, relax in your bed. If you reduce the noise and negativity, don't immediately go compensate with new projects. If you don't feel energized to start decluttering, at least take a break. Think about it. When was the last time you took a day off or had fun starting a useless project ? Do you have time for your hobbies ? Do you feel tired or exhausted ?

Use the axe.

Shrink it all.

Or go play your favorite game.

Related reads


Last updated: Feb 29 2024 3:27 PM CEST in πŸ—ΊοΈ Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium.

Quick Bugs, Slow Fixes

The tortuga engineer has good guts but often seems slow compared to the rabbit engineer.

The rabbit engineer is quick at decision and gives impression of progress to the product owner often disappointed with the slow pace of change of the tortuga.

The tortuga is busy battle testing the draft he's about to integrate in the product, suddenly he finds out the new bugs were introduced recently by the rabbit, and decides to postpone his work while focusing on debugging the shit.

In the meantime, the customer complains because of the new bugs introduced in latest release by the rabbit engineer.

The product owner is worried and decides fixing this bug is a priority.

The tortuga engineer was already investigating the bug and proposes a fix.

The rabbit engineer cannot wait for the tortuga to fix the bug and already merges new changes in the stable branch so the new release will not only be bug free but also deliver new quality shit.

The tortuga is busy integrating and retesting all the new changes made by the rabbit as it seems those changes includes critical changes of the core authentication layer and library updates that had nothing to do with the features the rabbit was working on. And those changes break things.

The rabbit becomes impatient at the slow tortuga and decides to create a hotfix and deliver his changes to production.

The customer is still unhappy.
The product owner finds the tortuga slow. and indecisive and is happy the rabbit already can deliver a fix from his machine tonight while the tortuga will be busy with kids at home.
The rabbit says tortuga is not working hard enough.
The tortuga is tortured with all the shit that is being merged in the codebase by the rabbit.
The rabbit says it's time to hire more people and he knows other rabbits who can help and it would be nice if the tortuga worked more like rabbit is doing.

The tortuga suggests to focus on quality and teamwork and slow down but the rabbit and the product owner look at him suspiciously.

The product owner suggests the tortuga to leave the team if he's not happy with the way things are. Because here where we work, speed is important even if results are not perfect.

"fuck this shit man".

A few weeks later, tortuga has left.

The tortuga is working in a good team nowadays, where testing is a thing, quality is under control, documentation matters, and collaboration is a foundation.

Effective content curation

I went up with this workflow that seem to pass the test of time and I'm sharing it with you :

  • I'm using ChatGPT Β» Summarize & Chat extension for Brave/Chromium (browsers) in order to save time at scrolling long articles in my inbox.
  • I'm not subscribing to any newsletter, everything is read through MiniFlux (RSS curator. If you don't know about that, read -> what is RSS?), combined with RSS-Bridge and ChangeDetection, all self-hosted. For any newsletter that cannot be replaced with RSS feed, I rely on my hero https://kill-the-newsletter.com/.
  • I edit my Feed titles with emojis expressing how I feel about their interest : πŸ˜• (Boring?) πŸ˜ƒ (Joyful read) etc.
  • I categorize feeds and label them also with emojis and sort them from the best to the worst. Those visuals clues really help. When I see nothing interesting for a while in any RSS I've subscribed to, I remove it from Miniflux.
  • I manage to keep a maximum of 20/30 RSS feeds of interest. Among those, I find maybe 5 to be absolutely fantastic and I'm even sharing them in my /links section.
  • I've configured Tampermonkey browser extension to take control of the rendering of my RSS feeds list and replace the whole page with "FOCUS", at least 80% of time.
  • Something too long to read but that looks interesting is immediately dropped from Miniflux and shared/saved into Wallabag (bookmark management) for later read. The goal is to declutter my subscriptions inbox.
  • Articles I browser randomly and are already saved in Wallabag are saved with tags like "x2" if it's second time I save them, "x3" if it's the third save I save them, etc.
  • If I find any image or PDF of interest, I save them locally to my Dropbox folder of interest. I have a folder for Books, which is subject to automatic triage with some scripting, also my ePubs are automatically converted to PDF. Duplicate files are moved to subfolders like "x2" if it's second time I save the same book, "x3" if it's third time, etc.
  • Everything in Wallabag is automatically labelled based on keywords. I don't waste anytime adding manual labels. If a label is missing, it means an automation is missing in my Wallabag auto-tagging rules.
  • I keep a maximum of 10 5 podcasts I'm subscribed to in Spotify. In the end I dream to only subscribe to a dozen of RSS feeds but that's probably very optimistic.
  • I want to take time for whatever is worth reading, and skip the rest fast.
  • Whatever is not worth is submitted to shrinking.