Wrangle Work Notifications

January 04, 2021

How I manage my notifications at work to minimize context switching, remove redundancy, and reduce noise, so I can focus on more impactful tasks.

NOTE I no longer use this work setup, as I am looking for new opportunities. Assuming my next job doesn’t have managing notifications solved, I plan to use some of the learnings shared here to help protect my time.

In this Age of distraction, The Culture Of Impatience And Instant Gratification, fomo notifications coming from every device (often the same notification) and manifestos on Focus (see Section 2.2) there is a lot of debate around distractions… but i’m not here to talk about societal issues. I’m here to tell you something you already know. There are a lot of notifications. Ok, well, more specifically I’m going to tell you how I manage notifications at work.

Managing these notifications can be pivotal to making sure you are spending your time wisely. Not every notification is of equal value and it vital that we use tools to help us manage and prioritize when we are notified, where we are notified and more important, if we are notified.

“The people that work for you need to get into flow. Anything that keeps them from it will reduce their effectiveness.” - Peopleware (summarized nicely here)

Usual Suspects

Of all the tools I use at the work the main culprits for notifications are JIRA, Google Docs, GitLab, Slack. Represented as a diagram, this is the flow of notifications: prehack dataflow

Let me run through each tool and the notifications I receive and the notifications I act on.

Google Docs

I’d be here forever if I listed everything for which we use Google Docs. I mean, you can use as a pseudo cloud database, if you had the business requirements (or the moxie) that matched. Let me get hand-wavy and say we use Google Docs as a way to collaborate on business requirements. I get notifications when a document is shared, someone comments on a doc of mine or I get assigned/mentioned in a comment. I act on document shares (usually just a drive-by and then I add it to a queue) and mentions in comments. All of these notifications are emails that I receive in Gmail.


Few people may have been surprised on this one. The reason I get many notifications from Gitlab is that I am in the many approvers groups we use to approve merge requests. This is just my way to keep a pulse on what code is shipping, while I do tech leady things (don’t worry I am in the acceptance phase, not the bargaining of knowing that 80% of my time doesn’t go into coding full-time). So I get notifications when merge requests are created, changes are pushed, comments are made, mentions are made and a few more. I act on merge requests being created, mentions and responses to my comments. All of these notifications are emails that I receive in Gmail. We have a self-hosted GitLab solution


We use JIRA for issue & project tracking. As a tech lead I spend more time in this tool than I’d care to admit. I get notifications for updated tasks (status changes), comments on tasks, mentions in tasks, etc. I act on notifications assigned to me, comments on tasks, mentions and created tasks. The last of which will largely go ignored in this article. All of these notifications are emails that I receive in Gmail. We have a self-managed JIRA solution.


It’s Slack.

All roads lead to…

So what am I to do? Keep toggling back and forth? Do I want to keep two different notification centers (I use that term liberally to try to emphasize a point). That wouldn’t be much of a post would it? We’re here to try to solve problems, not just point them out.

Given that Slack has the vast majority of notifications, I spend quite a bit of time in there already, and it has (arguably) the most integrations, I set out to send the notifications I need to Slack. Towards the end of this I’ll share some ways I manage Slack notifications.

I tried out a few various bots to aid in this adventure, which I’ll mention with each tool, but, ultimately, I ended up using the Google Drive bot and Gmail’s filter-then-forward functionality to send emails to Slack.

hack dataflow (Not pictured is the fact I still check Gmail for other emails)

Get Notifications to Slack

Google Drive

Google Drive for Slack

The Google Drive bot will notify you of shared files, comments, assignments, and more. Beyond notifications, I enjoy that the bot allows me to respond to comments from within Slack itself and modify file permissions of shared documents.

See Google Drive for Slack > Set up the Google Drive app for directions

Note: Your Slack Administrator needs to enable this bot

Filter Google Drive Emails

The Google Drive bot has all the notifications I need, but what about those emails that are still sent? I don’t want to see notifications in two places. I need to create two filters; one for comments, the other for shared docs.

Comments Filter

In Gmail

  1. Start creating a filter
  2. Enter comments-noreply@docs.google.com in From
  3. Select Create Filter
  4. Check Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  5. Select Create Filter
Shared Docs Filter

In Gmail

  1. Start creating a filter
  2. Enter drive-shares-noreply@google.com in From
  3. Select Create Filter
  4. Check Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  5. Select Create Filter

Slack Email

For GitLab and JIRA, you will need to setup a Slack Forwarding Email. Email sent (or in our case, specifically forwarded) to the Slack Forwarding Email will appear in your account’s Slackbot.


First, if you are or know a Gitlab admin, there is a Gitlab/Slack integration. If you aren’t an admin or don’t know an admin (that will or can’t help you), do the following:

In Gmail

  1. Start creating a filter
  2. Enter gitlab@REPLACE_WITH_YOUR_DOMAIN in From
  3. Select Create Filter
  4. Check Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  5. Check Forward it to: and select your Slack forwarding address
  6. Select Create Filter


In Gmail

  1. Start creating a filter
  2. Enter jira@REPLACE_WITH_YOUR_DOMAIN in From
  3. Enter mentioned you on in Subject
  4. Select Create Filter
  5. Check Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  6. Check Forward it to: and select your Slack forwarding address
  7. Select Create Filter

Tame Slack Notifications

Now that we have our notifications funneling through Slack, unsurprisingly Slack has even more notifications. There are a few things we can do to reduce the noise and make some notifications a pull, rather than a push.

Channel Level

Leave the Channel

Leaving a channel would be the best course of action to reduce notifications from that channel. If you are worried you may lose track of the channel, just do what I did and start a spreadsheet that has the channel name and any relevant notes for the channel.

Channel Notifications

Often you don’t have that luxury and have to stay in the channel (you only need to check the channel occasionally, it is private and you couldn’t get back in, optics, etc.). Staying in that channel doesn’t mean you have to deal with it fighting for your attention. We can simply mute the channel.

Here is an example of the channel settings in Slack iOS: channel settings (That’s right, I created a channel called muted-channel. i didn’t have the heart to use one of the product channels I had muted. I kid, I kid)

Mentions or keywords on mobile is the most I set for a channel. More often than not I choose Nothing. Note that if you Mute Entire Channel or Ignore @s that applies to desktop and mobile.

Application Level

It isn’t hard to imagine how going through each channel won’t scale. Thankfully there are a few things you can do application levels to manage notifications.

Slack iOS App


In Notifications settings, similar to the Channel Level settings, you can set what to be notified about, as well as when and how. slack notifications

Do Not Disturb

In Do Not Disturb, you can pause notifications and schedule a period to not be notified. slack dnd

Slack Desktop Preferences

On Desktop, I Mute all the sounds from Slack, hide the badge, and disable the bounce (isn’t cute anymore). desktop preferences

iOS Slack Settings

In Settings, under Slack Notifications, I only show alerts in Notification Center and disable Sounds. I go back and forth on whether to show the badge. When I go on vacations Allow Notifications is set to off. ios settings slack

Device Level


I have Do Not Disturb scheduled on my phone from 10 PM to 7 AM (local time). This Do Not Disturb applies to all applications. You can manage Do Not Disturb in Settings > Do Not Disturb. Apple Support has all the information you should need in Use Do Not Disturb on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch - Apple Support.


When working on my laptop, I turn on DO NOT DISTURB when I start focus work. I don’t schedule Do Not Disturb on my laptop, because I do my best not to be on laptop after hours. macos dnd

Known issues

  • Sometimes google drive bot disconnects
    • That’s why I don’t mark things as read in the email filter (but isn’t all unread the same as all read?)
  • Slackbot can easily become a dumping ground.
    • Yup. That’s what your inbox used to be. If you wanted, you could setup an email address for separate channels using Send emails to Slack | Slack.
  • Some of these filters could be manages by bots.
    • Yes and no. Some don’t meet my specific needs (security, filtering, etc) and some cost money. I wanted to just be pragmatic, use a tool I knew that fit the bill and not write my own bots (I have more interesting work projects and side projects).
  • Sometimes you can get lost in work and forget about checking notifications
    • That is kind of the point, but be mindful, you should still be an integrated member of the team
  • The filters could be a lot more fine grained.
    • If you look at the notifications I get, what I act on and what is forwarded by the filters I still get more alerts than I need. I can say I have that as follow up as i keep iterating (“we’re never finished” 🙄). In the meantime, I’ve erred on the side of caution.


Slack Bots

If you are unfamiliar with Slack bots, I’d recommend checking out Enabling interactions with bots.

Gmail Filters

If you are unfamiliar with Gmails filter-then-forward functionality, I’d recommend checking out the post How to Forward Gmail Email Using Filters.

Start Creating a filter

For the source of truth on the matter of creating filters go to Google Support, Create rules to filter your emails.

In Gmail

  1. Find the search bar at the top of nearly every Gmail page
  2. Select the down-pointing triangle, tooltip Show search options
Via Settings

In Gmail

  1. Select the button toward the top-right with the gear icon, tooltip Settings
  2. Select the Settings menu item (that’s not confusing)
  3. Select the tab Filters and Blocked Addresses
  4. Select Create a new filter

Device Do Not Disturb iOS Exceptions

Do Not Disturb at the device level on your phone is great, but what if your job duties depend on you replying to on call notifications (or you have love ones you want to be able to get a hold of you)? I allow Favorites to contact me when I have Do Not Disturb on and (sigh) I have PagerDuty in my Favorites for the on call situation.

You can get the PagerDuty numbers from PagerDuy

Notification Hack Data Flow PUML

title Pre-Notification Hack Data Flow
left to right direction
object `JIRA` as jira
object `GitLab` as gitlab
object `Slack` as slack
object `Gmail` as gmail
object `Google Drive` as drive
object `Josh` as josh
jira —|> gmail #00F
gitlab —|> gmail #FFA500
drive —|> gmail
gmail —|> josh
slack —|> josh
title Notification Hack Data Flow
left to right direction
object `JIRA` as jira
object `GitLab` as gitlab
object `Slack` as slack
object `Gmail` as gmail
object `Google Drive` as drive
object `Josh` as josh
jira —|> gmail #00F
gitlab —|> gmail #FFA500
drive —|> slack
gmail —|> slack #FFA500
gmail —|> slack #00F
slack —|> josh


Josh Aaseby
Software Engineer