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How to stop waiting by the inbox

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I recently sent one of those e-mails that leaves you feeling like a shmuck. Not because of anything I wrote, but because I knew I would be obsessively checking my inbox every five minutes until I got a response.

There are all kinds of reasons you might find yourself checking your e-mail for an eagerly awaited message. Maybe you’ve applied for a job and are waiting to be invited for an interview. You’ve just met a great guy and you gave him your e-mail address so he could ask you out. You’ve recorded a demo tape and you’re waiting to hear from the recording label you sent it to.

And so there you sit, trying to write a report, or a client proposal, or a blog post, and it’s all you can do to go five minutes before your next e-mail check-in. It’s the modern equivalent of waiting by the phone, and it feels just as pathetic. Worst of all, it gets you in the habit of compulsive e-mail check-ins that may persist even after you receive the e-mail you were waiting for…a habit that can be tough to break.

But there is a way out! The last time I found myself checking for that special e-mail I couldn’t wait to receive, I decided to implement a tech fix. I set up a Gmail filter that scanned for incoming mail from the person I couldn’t wait to hear from, and set it to forward any messages from that person to my cell phone as text messages.

You could use the same setup for any e-mail system that will let you forward e-mail based on rules (something you can do in Apple Mail). You’ll need to know what e-mail address to use to forward an e-mail to your cell phone as a text message; this list shows how to figure out the right email address to use for most major cell phone carriers. Or you can follow the step-by-step version of how I used Gmail to forward messages to my Fido phone; if new to Gmail filters, first read this article for the basics.

1. In Gmail, create a filter that looks for emails from the person you’re waiting to hear from — in this example, it’s Steve Jobs. (If I wanted to get an alert if I heard from anyone at Apple, I’d just enter @apple.com in this field.) Then click “next step”.

2. Set your filter to forward to your cell phone. The first time you forward e-mails to your phone, you’ll need to click “manage your forwarding addresses”.

3. The first time you forward messages to your phone, you’ll need to add your cell phone’s email address in this window. Choose “add new email address” from the dropdown menu that lists all the addresses your account can forward to. You can probably find the e-mail address for your carrier by looking at this list of e-mail-to-SMS gateways; if not, do a Google search for the name of your carrier plus the phrase “email to SMS”.

4. When you finally get the e-mail you’ve been waiting for, you’ll get a text notification that looks like this:

These four easy steps transformed the experience of waiting for a reply. Instead of checking my email compulsively, I put it out of my mind. When I heard the “message received” alert on my phone, I jumped on it: the reply had arrived! As delighted as I was to receive it, I was just as delighted to notice how relaxed I’d been while waiting. From now on, the filter-to-SMS trick will be my secret for handling any situation in which I don’t want to sit waiting by the inbox.

First posted on June 28,2010
  • CraigSKinsey

    I heard the “message received” alert on my phone, I jumped on it: the reply had arrived! As delighted as I was to receive it, I was just as delighted to notice how relaxed I’d been while waiting.

  • http://www.alexandrasamuel.com Alexandra Samuel

    So glad it worked, Craig!

  • http://www.lawsupply.com/search.asp?task=brand&vendorname=5.11%20Tactical%20Series 5.11 tactical

    This is quite an interesting advice you have shared, thank you for sharing the thought…

  • Scotty Storm

    That is useful, but from a spiritual meta physical stand point we are all repelling our emails from coming by being anxious about them in the first place. I find it useful to get my thoughts elsewhere…

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