If you’re like me, you don’t want every incoming email to disturbed you. Studies have shown even brief distractions can significantly reduce your ability to focus and therefore your overall productivity. On the other hand, some messages require immediate attention. When your boss or an important client emails you it’s important to be responsive. What’s a productivity-minded person to do?
In this post I explain how you can use an extra Gmail account to limit distractions and still get notified immediately when those important messages land in your inbox.
The Gmail notification problem
As much as I like the Gmail app it has limited notification settings. You can set it to never notify you of new messages, only notify you when high priority messages arrive, or notify you every time a new email arrives. At first glance notifications for high priority messages sounds perfect. Unfortunately Google uses a proprietary algorithm to decide which messages are high priority. You can create rules to make sure certain messages are always treated as high priority but you can’t control which other messages Google considers high priority.
The two account solution
To get around this problem we’re going to use two Gmail accounts. The first one is a “public” account. It is the Gmail account we will use to send emails. It’s also the account we will give out to people when they ask for our contact information. The second account is our “private” account. We won’t send messages from it and we won’t give the address out to anyone.
For the purposes of this blog post I’m assuming you already have a public Gmail account. If you don’t and would like to create one, you can do that here: Create your Google Account. You’ll also need to create your private account now if you want to follow along.
I’ll cover the details on how to set this up below. If you’re Gmail savvy and just want the overview, here’s what we’re going to do.
- Configure email forwarding from your public account to your private account.
- Create filters to forward designated emails to your private account.
- Add your private account to the Gmail app on your phone.
- Configure Gmail on your phone to alert you for all messages sent to your private account.
The following steps assume you’re using Gmail on a computer rather than your phone. The mobile app is fine but it doesn’t provide all the configuration and setting options that are available from the desktop version of the web app, https://mail.google.com.
Step 1 Configure email forwarding
Forwarding select messages from your public Gmail account to your private Gmail account is the key to this technique. For example, messages from a specific email address or messages that contain a specific subject.
From your computer login to your public Gmail account and click the settings icon in the upper right corner of the Gmail page. It’s the one that looks like a little gear.
At the top of the settings page, click on “Forwarding and POP/IMAP”.
In the top section of the Forwarding and POP/IMAP page you should see a section called “Forwarding”. Click the “Add forwarding address” button and you will be prompted to enter the forwarding email address. Here you will enter the address of your private Gmail account.
When you click “Next” Google will send a confirmation code to your private email account.
To authorize email forwarding you can do either of the following:
- From within your private email account click the link to confirm the requests.
- From within your public email account enter the confirmation code sent to your private email account.
Once you’ve authorized forwarding to your private account you’ll want to make sure automatic forwarding is disabled from your public account. That sounds strange but within your public account go to the Forwarding and POP/IMAP page and make sure the first option is set to “Disable forwarding”. If forwarding is not disabled Google will forward all email from your public account to your private account.
Step 2 Create filters to forward designated emails to your private account
What’s great about this approach is it allows you to identify which emails warrant a notification. To do this we’ll make use of Gmail’s sophisticated filters. If you’re not familiar with Gmail filters they allow you to create rules that automatically apply to new emails messages as soon as they arrive, even if you’re not logged into your account.
There are two ways to create new filters. You can go to the Gmail settings and create a new filter or you can create one while you’re reading a message. I’m going to show you how to create one from the settings page. Once you understand how to do that creating one from an open email message is simple.
First, go back to the Settings page then click the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab at the top.
Near the bottom of the filters page you should see a link that says “Create a new filter”. Click it and a search criteria form will pop up. This is where you tell Google which message criteria to use when it applies your filter. You can give it any combination of the fields on the form. For example, if you want to forward your messages from “firstname.lastname@example.org” to your private mailbox, you would enter “email@example.com” in the “From” field.
Once you’ve set your search criteria, click “Create filter”. If you’re not sure the criteria are going to give you the right messages you can click “Filter” and you’ll get search results for all messages matching your criteria. One thing to note, on a filter you don’t want to specify a label since filters run on all messages you receive as soon as they arrive to your inbox.
After you click “Create filter” you’ll be presented with a series of actions that can be applied to messages matching your filter. We want to check the box that says “Forward it to”. If you’ve already set up forwarding to your private email address that address should be in the dropdown box just to the right of “Forward it to”. Select your private email address and then click “Create filter”.
From the moment you click “Create filter” all messages arriving that meet your filter criteria will be automatically forwarded to your private Gmail account.
Step 3 Add your private account to the Gmail app on your phone
Assuming you already have the Gmail app on your phone, all you need to do at this point is add your private account.
Open the Gmail app and click the menu button at the top. It’s the one that looks like three horizontal bars.
Click the downward facing triangle to the right of your email account name.
A dropdown menu will appear with the list of email accounts the app has access to. Click “Manage accounts” at the bottom of that list.
A new screen will open showing which of your Google accounts are synced with your phone. Click “Add account” at the bottom of the screen and follow the prompts from there.
Step 4 Configure the Gmail app to alert you for your private account
Once you’re able to access your private account from the app on your phone, you can set up the notifications.
Click the menu icon, the one that’s the three horizontal bars.
You should see a list of your labels. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Settings”.
A list of your email accounts should appear. Click on your private email account.
The settings for your email account should now be displayed. Click “Notifications” and set the value to “All new mail”.
If you previously had notifications turned on for your public email account you can follow the same steps but set the notifications to “None”.
That’s it. Now when you receive email messages that meet your filter criteria they will be automatically forwarded to your private email account and you will get a notification on your phone. You can go back to the filters in Gmail’s web app and add, remove, or change them as you need. One important thing to remember is not to distribute your private email address. Just keep using your public email account as you did before.
You can also setup your private account to respond to emails as the public account but that’s a topic for another day.
I’ve been using this technique for years and it’s allowed me to remain responsive without getting distracted every time I receive a message.
If you’ve got questions, comments, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Just add a comment below.