Hello everyone!

I’ve wanted to do this feature for years (we once had something similar in 2008 called the ‘2 minute timer’, but it wasn’t quite right).

Over the winter break, I finally got a chance to implement a rough version of it, and want to share it with you to see if you think it’s a good idea.

What was the motivation?

When I met Chris in New York, he left me with the words “ActiveInbox does exactly what it says on the tin – it helps me get organised, but it’s not doing enough to help me get those things done”.

Another person might have said “Well, once you’re organised it’s up to you to get things done”. But not us! We want to push ActiveInbox to do more.

What stops us getting things done in Gmail?

  • There’s simply a lot of noise (menus, incoming email, features) that distracts you away from your current email.
  • Because all emails are different (even if you batch process related emails in a project), your brain has to do a lot of work every time you switch from one email to another. Thus there’s a temptation after finishing an email to do something else (like open your favourite news site, talk to a colleague, etc.).

How did we tackle it?

We have a new feature, called Focus Mode. Once activated, it will:

  • Temporarily remove all distractions in Gmail
  • Help you think of doing emails as a ‘session’ (with overall time, time per email). This makes it less likely that you’ll let yourself procrastinate as you “context-switch” between very different emails.

How does the Timer work?

  • It counts down for the amount of time you set for the session.
  • The white line below is how many emails you have left. Note if you skip an email (without replying/actioning/archiving/etc.) Focus Mode will not consider you to have ‘done’ an email.
  • Thus, if the emails-done line is ahead of the time-left bar, you’re on schedule.
  • The time-left bar will change colour if you fall behind.

Could you just show me a video?

Why yes, yes I can!

(You can go full screen, and turn on HD)

How do I turn it on?

First enable the feature – go into Preferences (the cog in the top right), scroll down to the ‘Lab Features’, and enable ‘Focus Mode’.

Then go into a conversation, click the Focus Mode icon, and you can choose how long you want the session to last, and how long you want per email.

(Note: if you load/refresh Gmail straight into a conversation, Focus Mode cannot work – it’ll be disabled. To get around this, go back to the inbox or search results, and open a conversation from there).

What happens next?

Tell me your first impressions, and whether you’re still using it after a few days!

If you like it, I’ll keep refining it.

Thank you’s…

B00ky, Nathan Sudds, David Shalev and Andrew Gross – you were all very instrumental in the earliest testing, thank you 🙂


This was written by Andy Mitchell