Using Gmail Label Notifications on Android to Disconnect

Last year I wrote about Freedom via Gmail on Android:

On nights and weekends when I consider myself “off of work”, I used to occasionally check emails on my computer, which typically involves going into my office, booting up my computer, turning on my monitors, etc. Now I just open up an app on my phone to check to see if anything is important. If there is, I snag my Chromebook or my laptop and take care of it. If there’s not, which is usually the case, I continue doing what I’m doing with much less of an interruption.

That mostly has worked great. It’s helped me do things like take care of important customer service issues on a Sunday night without tethering myself to my computer.

There has been one big problem with it though. When something goes wrong with the site, server, or anything else critical, I find myself obsessively checking even after it’s resolved to ensure that it doesn’t happen again or that there isn’t some side effect that we hadn’t discovered. Sure, I get a text message if the server goes down, but there are so many other urgent things that can happen. For instance, if PayPal is down and we can’t receive orders, that’s pretty urgent too.

I also tend to check first thing in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, knowing that our employees aren’t working and that any issue would take longer for someone else to notice. It’s hard to relax on the weekend when you feel the urge to pull up email as soon as you roll out of bed.

A few weeks ago I had an idea: what if I could get Gmail on Android to only notify me of certain messages? Turns out, with label notifications you can do just that. It was pretty simple:

  1. On the web I set up two labels: Alert Phone/Silent and Alert Phone/Vibrate + Sound
  2. I then created filters to automatically label certain messages with one or the other
  3. On my phone I set up label notifications for those two labels. For the Silent one I set it to just show a notification in my shade but not to alert me, and for Vibrate + Sound I set it to vibrate and play my default ring tone.

As I was setting up the labels I checked the box to Also apply filter to matching messages, which allowed me to retroactively look at each label and see how often I would be notified. I only used the Vibrate + Sound notification when something was so important that I’d want to be interrupted or woken up, such as the server being down. I used the Silent label for issues that could wait a few hours but I wouldn’t want to let go for an entire weekend. Examples are emails from our hosting company’s support staff, our mail server being blacklisted, emails from Google Search Console regarding our site, and some internal alerts we have set up to notify us of odd occurrences on the site.

I just put this in place so the jury is still out. But my hope is now that I can truly check out for an entire weekend, knowing that if anything important happens I’ll get notified.