Today’s Advent Calendar post is about the Gmail goal type, an official integration that you can access from the New Goal page. There is an excellent Gmail goal help page of course. By default, this goal type counts only the read messages in your inbox.
If you ever feel overwhelmed by your Gmail inbox or guilty about unanswered emails, this goal is for you. I’ve created one several times over the years whenever my inbox got out of control, and then archived it when the inbox was empty, which always turned out to be a mistake. For the past several months I’ve kept my latest goal running to encourage me to keep my inbox near-empty all the time.
One thing I like about the goal is that after it’s fetched a datapoint, the next time it counts your emails that same day, if the value is higher than it was, it keeps the lower value instead of replacing it with the higher one. So when you get the goal to orange or better, you don’t have to worry about the state of your inbox for the rest of the day.
There’s a nifty side-effect of this. I have my goal set to an allowed value of zero emails, which makes me empty my inbox at the end of a day. But the next day if the goal fetches a value before I’ve started reading my new emails, the goal’s value will be zero for the whole day. This means that if a tricky email comes in that I don’t want to deal with, I can procrastinate / think about it for a day but I’m forced to handle it the next day. That’s an appropriate amount of procrastination!
The goal doesn’t have to track read emails in the inbox; you can set it to track read and/or unread emails that have a specific label, including Gmail’s built-in labels like “STARRED” (a label that’s assigned whenever you star an email). This means you can make the goal track any arbitrary set of emails by using Gmail’s filters to apply a label, or by applying the label manually.
If your inbox is out of control now, you could create a Gmail goal with the default settings (tracking read emails in the inbox) to make you reduce both your backlog and new emails at the same time. However, a slightly more complex approach may work better. Give a label to all the emails currently in your inbox and then archive them. Create one Gmail goal to track that label so that you can reduce the backlog over time. Create another Gmail goal to track read emails in the inbox to encourage you to keep your inbox empty, or near-empty from now on. (This is an example of the backlog method that’s described in the Redqueening, Inbox Zero, Backlogs, and Fluid Dynamics Beeminder blog post.)