3 ways to tame Google apps notifications

An iPhone with notifications

I’ve used Google Apps for the last 5 years at my last two organisations. It’s a fantastic tool, but I find that when you’re using calendar and docs/drive your email inbox easily becomes full of notifications. I’ve discovered three tricks to tame this, and to keep notifications out of your inbox and in their own place. This keeps my inbox free for emails from real people.

Setting up Filters

It’s pretty straightforward to set up a filter in Gmail to perform an action on types of emails. It starts with a search, just use the search bar at the top to search for a certain type of emails.

You can use the normal Gmail search operators and keywords to construct this search, or click the downwards facing arrow for an ‘advanced’ set of options.

Gmail advanced search

Test this by running the search and seeing if it catches the emails you want. When you are happy with it, click ‘Create Filter’, and you are given options of what to do with these emails now, and to any future emails you receive that match this search.

Google email actions screenshot

The two of these I use the most are to apply a label, and to skip the inbox. Applying labels can be useful for highlighting certain emails (or emails from certain people) in your Inbox. Emails with particular labels can also be found using the label categories on the left hand side of your inbox, so I usually find I want to ‘Skip the inbox’ so they only appear when I click the label and not in my inbox – keeping it free for other conversations.

Drive Notifications

Some of the most pesky notifications are those from Google Docs and Drive. It’s useful that these tools let you know whenever someone has commented on a document, actioned an item or changed something in tracked changes. If you’re working on something with lots of collaborative editing this can soon become unwieldy, so I set up filters for these two searches:

from:(Google Drive)

from:(Google Docs)

Both of these filters are set to apply the label ‘Drive notifications’ and to ‘Skip the Inbox’. I then have a label tab on the left where I can plough through the document notifications I am getting and check all the changes or respond to people’s comments. Worth noting this also puts notifications when someone has shared a new document with you under this label.

Drive notifications screenshot

Calendar Notifications

Depending on how you use Calendar, you can often get a lot of notifications of changed events or people accepting or declining them. I sometimes run optional workshops for over 100 people and sending those out floods my inbox. Using a filter with the search below to label the emails as ‘Calendar notifications’ and ‘Skip the inbox’ lets me shunt them all to one place where I can check them as I need to.

subject:(“invitation” OR “accepted” OR “rejected” OR “updated” OR “canceled event” OR “declined”) when where calendar who organizer

Something I’ve noticed is this can make it easy to miss notifications when someone invites you to a meeting, so it’s worth checking the label regularly for any of these. They do also pop up as tentative events in your calendar where you can accept or decline them, which some people find it easier to manage.

Group emails

These aren’t notifications, but I find emails sent to a whole group of people, a mailing list or only ccing me rarely need actioning, and usually just fill up my inbox. I created a filter using the search below to filter out these emails to a ‘Group emails’ label which I can check when I want to without them getting in the way of conversations I need to pay closer attention to.

from:(-me) to:(-me)


I’ve found these few simple filters help me keep my Gmail inbox focused on conversations that need meaningful contributions to or actions taking. All helpful in the quest for ‘Inbox Zero’!


Photo Credit: William Hook Flickr via Compfight cc






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *