Optimising my email inbox with Slack

Posted in Life Hacks on the 22nd of September 2015 by @aaronrutley

I’m a huge fan of Slack for team communication.

I’m a freelance developer for a bunch of digital agencies. I’ve noticed how Slack has become a critical tool for every agency I work with because of all of the services it integrates with.

A Slack team for one

I started my personal Slack team to use a bunch of the popular integrations for personal and direct client projects such as: GitHub, Beanstalk, Twitter, Trello, Google Calendar and Google Drive. It’s a paid subscription and as I’m the only user it costs around $6 per month, it can be a little lonely but I always have slackbot to chat to ; )

This is working really well for me as the all of the notifications from the services I mentioned earlier are no longer emails in my inbox, they are messages in the relevant project channel in Slack. I could go on and on about how awesome the integrations are, but I wanted to focus this post on just one – the benefits the slack email integration can have on your inbox!

Optimising my inbox

Slack could easily kill all internal email within a company & I wanted to see how I could use it to optimise my personal inbox.

Slack offers email integration on paid accounts, basically it gives you an email address for each channel (something like 1234abcd@aaronrutley.slack.com) which acts like a normal email address, only the emails become messages in a slack channel and from there you can skim read them or read them in full.

The problem: all email has the same priority by default

Like most people, my inbox is overflowing with what I’ve started calling “read only notifications” which includes things like confirmations, newsletters, receipts and alerts (eg: dropbox subscription auto-renewals, online shopping receipts etc).

I never need to reply to these emails or action these emails, most of the time they are low priority as they don’t need my attention right away.

Mixed in my inbox are also high priority & important emails that I need to reply. So the underlying problem here is every email I receive has the same implied ‘priority’ of important by default.

A solution: forward to Slack

With Slack’s email integration I figured I could solve this problem by moving any low priority email out of my inbox and into a Slack channel. The benefit of moving the low priority email out is you can focus on important emails needing your attention (similar to Googles priority inbox).

To set this up initially I created a filter in Gmail searching for any emails that contain the word “unsubscribe” to forward these to a #later-mail channel in my personal slack team and then archive the email.

“Unsubscribe” catches most of these the low priority emails and I’ve been tweaking the filter with a list of keywords to catch anything that slips through (like Renewal, Miki, PayPal, etc). Keep in mind – I don’t actually want to unsubscribe from some of these low priority emails, I just want to move them from my email inbox and look at them later.

Here’s an example of a low priority email in slack: 

Taking this idea further

I’m planning a couple of overseas trips at the moment and I’m keen to hear about flight specials. So I setup a channel in my personal Slack team called #flights.

Most of the airlines / flight search sites offer email notifications for specials, so to bypass my inbox completely I’ve signed up with the channel specific email address that slack provides, so now any notifications from those services go straight into the #flights channel. (One of the airlines actually offers an RSS feed so this was even easier in integrate with Slack using a slash command.)

I’ve also started working on a few custom filters in Gmail so I can have a:

  • #newsletters channel for a few email newsletters I read often
  • #social channel for social notifications
  • #shopping channel for online shopping notifications
  • #billing channel for any accounts / billing notifications

These are just some examples, you could use this approach to optimise your inbox for absolutely anything!

If you want to take this to the next level you can even use the Zapier email Parser to extract data from your emails so they appear in Slack as short messages (not entire emails), see the ’email management’ examples on this post from Zapier’s blog.

In summary

This could be overkill for most people, however if you like the idea of inbox zero (like I do) this approach could help you get there!

I would like to get to a point where my inbox only ever consists of email that I need to reply to. Any other emails would be treated as “read only notifications” or  “newsletters” etc and forwarded to a the appropriate Slack channel for me to read at a later date.

Also – as I’m not deleting any email, it’s all searchable in my Gmail archive if I ever need it.

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