plum mail

Inbox Delays

This blog is part of a series called Changing Communication Behaviours


Inbox distractions are the natural enemy of deep work.
To strike a balance between communicating effectively and knuckling down, some inbox control is needed.

The motivated among us close their email apps, turn off notifications or unplug the internet all together.

However, for us mortals, checking email is habitual.
Even if we don’t want to be distracted, often the temptation is too strong.

This is where inbox delays can really help with reducing distractions at work.

The challenge is that ‘notification addiction’ may be the hardest user-behaviour to change.

One step at a time

The key to most habit forming is a regular, achievable action. Imposing a radical 23 hour inbox delay is unlikely to stick on the first attempt. The right way to introduce this new behaviour is to start small and build up.

We recommend starting with a one hour inbox delay. Choose one hour in your day that you set aside for making progress with your blog/code/design/ironing and switch on inbox delay for that time.

Plum Mail will not let any new emails into your inbox during that hour.

If you check Plum Mail it will simply say, ‘inbox delayed for 59 minutes’ and count down.

You can, however, write new messages to send out because the act of writing new messages might be the task you actually needed to focus on.

Plum Mail uses tooltips to offer recommendations on inbox delay settings but we will not enforce any particular inbox delay strategy upon you.

If you’re a seasoned deep work pro and you want to check your emails once every harvest moon you go right ahead.

Step two, by the way, is to have two hour-long focus sessions during the day.
One in the morning and one in the afternoon.

As you become acustomed to inbox delays and start to see the genuine benefits of deep work emerge, you can start to tune the inbox delay settings to strike the perfect balance between communication time and deep work time.

After a period of inbox delay, you can record in Plum Mail what you did with that hour. Each week, Plum Mail will remind you what you managed to achieve while you were not distracted by email.
This will help reinforce the benefits that the inbox delay brings you over time.

Mean what we say

Some users have asked me whether, during a delay, there would be some kind of manual override. The short answer is no.

You already have the ability to close your email app and you already have the ability to open it up again (the equivalent of a manual override).

There is no point creating an inbox delay feature with the intended benefit of giving the user more productive focus time if users bypass the delay feature to satisfy a craving to check email.

The benefit will not be realised, the feature will be rendered useless and the behaviour unchanged.

An inbox delay needs to be a delay with no compromise.

If someone needs to get hold of you very urgently there are always better synchronous options to do that.

Do not disturb

Knowledge workers need to be respectful of each other’s time. We can help one another become more productive if we are aware of when others are trying to concentrate and when they are available.

When your inbox delay is turned on, Plum Mail will do two things to let other users know you’re in a period of deep work.

First, when someone types your email address, Plum Mail will let them know that, right now, your inbox delay is turned on. This works for all Plum Mail users.

For non Plum Mail users, when they email you we will send a quick email back with the same message.

This is a powerful catylist for changing behaviour.
When users share in and observe each other’s behaviour, it becomes normal faster.

Someone new to the inbox delay concept will also be introduced to the idea and consider whether they also need a mechanism to achieve distraction-free focus.

This is exactly how ‘do not disturb’ signs work in hotels. It’s totally ok to want a lie in and it’s totally ok to need to concentrate on something at work too.
Let’s communicate this fact.

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