Deep Work In Gmail

What Is Deep Work?

  • Cal Newport, a professor at Brown, wrote the best selling book about how the most productive people regularly cut themselves off from distractions, isolating themselves to allow solitary thinking.

What Is Breef?

  • A Gmail addon that clears distractions and lightens your inbox, so you can focus on your deep work that creates your future.


  • The modern world scatters our minds. It’s hard to do work that actually moves the needle. As Cal quips, “No billionaire ever came about because of being great at answering messages”.
  • Specifically, every time you switch tasks it takes time to re-engage. It leaves behind an attention residue that can linger for at least 10 to 20 minutes reducing your cognitive capacity.
  • One oft-cited study found the impact comparable to being stoned.


  • Eliminate distractions. The core message is to make focus your default mode (e.g. by scheduling in advance when you’ll use the internet).

  • Visualise the top items you want to complete this week, the ones that’ll make a difference, and aggressively prioritise them. You can prioritize better.

  • If you work in an office, email is going to be responsible for a lot of your distractions (the things that numb your IQ).

    In 2012, a McKinsey report found employees spend about 28 percent of their day responding to, reading, or writing emails. Email is checked more than 70 times per day, with some of us checking in an astonishing 350 times.

    Some email-coping tips…

    • Write longer emails. It’s counter intuitive because it takes longer to write and to be read. But that’s tiny in comparison to the true cost of interruption. So that’s what you want to minimize.
    • Don’t do hard tasks in your inbox straight away, move them to somewhere they can be grouped by goal and scheduled into blocks. Realistically, you still need to check your email often, but you can minimise the cost by not thinking too deeply about it. Just ’triage’ and move the harder tasks into their own Gmail Label for later (e.g. To Do), or into another tool like Asana.
    • Don’t arrange meetings in email. The interrupting back & forth is off the chart. Use Calendly or Doodle Poll instead.
    • Use Gmail’s ability to send emails in the future. Schedule non-urgent emails you’ve written to go out as far into the future as possible, to avoid the dreaded rapid reply to whatever you’ve just sent.


  • Breef lets you check your inbox, without scattering your mind. The smooth-scrolling feed eliminates cognitive load…

    • Not making you choose which email to look at
    • Encouraging you to skim read and make rapid decisions about what you’ll do later. You won’t think too deeply about any one email.
    • Blurring out Gmail so you don’t get sucked in.
  • Breef helps you focus on one topic at once, by organising newsletters in your inbox.

    Get into the mindset of “I’m doing my project now; ok now I’m going to read emails with the latest business tips; ok now I’m going to read emails sharing great discounts.”. Topics make it possible to work with intentionality, and schedule your time.

Curious Ideas

  • Breef could implement a ‘compelling scoreboard’ of how quick you can get through your inbox, and how often you interrupt your deep work by checking your inbox, to motivate you to change your habits. The scoreboard could even work across your whole team.

Key Lessons

  • Do one thing each day that’ll move you closer to your goal, and ruthlessly eliminate distractions that stop you achieving it.
  • Email is a huge cause of distraction.
  • Breef makes ’triaging your inbox’ a focused task. And minimises the harm to your mind.
  • Breef makes it easy to create lasting order in your inbox.

Be briefed, briefly, to be brilliant