Killing Email Interruptions: Personal Kanban using LeanKit, Gmail, and Zapier

Jim BensonApplications, Expert, Featured, Product5 Comments

Quick intro from Jim Benson:

We’ve asked Chris Hefley from Leankit to write a series of posts showing how to integrate tools many of us use everyday with our Personal Kanban. These are fairly technical posts, but also very powerful ones.

In this first post, Chris mentions that his aim is to keep his inbox at zero by taking action items and moving them directly to his Personal Kanban. Tonianne and I have also noticed that we also tend to act on emails the moment they arrive. This means that we allow email to interrupt our flow of work – then we get to the end of the day and are disappointed by how we let those interruptions derail our day.

Chris lays out a simple mechanism to move emails into your Leankit Personal Kanban that can both clean out your inbox and give some of those interruptions their proper priority. Also, I’ve turned Chris’ post into a video which is at the bottom.

Take it away, Chris


I aspire to keep my inbox at zero. About once every couple of weeks, I actually get there. I’ve got several tools that I use to help me with that, including moving emails to my Personal Kanban board in LeanKit.

LeanKit has a connector available for Zapier, a cloud based integration hub. Zapier provides hundreds more connectors with other applications, which makes it very easy to connect LeanKit with Gmail, ZenDesk, BugZilla, BaseCamp, and many more.

In this article, I’ll show you how to set up a “Zap” to create a LeanKit card based on an email in Gmail, complete with a link back to the original email, so that you can get that “to do” item onto your Kanban board and out of your inbox.

First, you’ll need to go to and create an account. There’s a free account that should work just fine, and if you need more integrations or faster synchronization you can upgrade later.

Once you’ve created your account, you’ll be asked to create your first “Zap”, and presented with the screen below:

Setting up Zapier with LeanKit

On the Trigger (left) side, choose Gmail, and choose “New Thread”.

Setting up Gmail with Zapier

On the Action side (right side) choose LeanKit and “New-Add Card” for the action.

So that when a new Thread is created in Gmail that fits the criteria we will add later, it will create a matching card in LeanKit.

Setting up Gmail with Zapier

Follow the steps in Zapier to set up your Gmail account:

Integrating your email

…and your LeanKit account.

Set up Zapier to LeanKitNow, in a separate browser tab, go into your gmail account, open an email, and create a Label called “lk” (or something similar) for that email. (Help for how to create a label in Gmail:

Back in Zapier, in the filter for your Gmail Trigger, choose the “lk” label you created in the previous step (it could take a few minutes for the label to show up after you’ve created it. If you don’t see it after a few minutes, try saving your “Zap” incomplete, and then coming back to this step.)

Filtering Gmail Triggers

In Zapier, Choose the LeanKit board you’d like to add cards to. This will allow you to select from any board in your LeanKit account (that you have access to with your login).

Filtering the LeanKit Board

After selecting the Board, you’ll be able to select the lane you want new cards added to, and the Card Type you want for your new cards.

Choosing the Lane

For the Card Title field, add the Gmail fields  “From Name” and “Subject”, and add “Plain Message” to the description field.

You can also add “ThreadURL” to the Description field if you’re using Basic or Team edition to provide a link back to the email. Or follow the instructions further down to add the link to the card header if you’re using Portfolio edition.

Selecting a card title

Test it like so:


Set up 2

If you’re using LeanKit Portfolio Edition, you can use the “External Card ID” field. Add “ThreadID” to this field from the list of available Gmail fields.

External Card ID

Open your LeanKit board in a new browser tab, and in the settings for your leankit board, enable Card ID, and set it up as shown below. The {ID} field is where the Gmail ThreadID will go.  (Check the gmail message url by opening an email in your browser and confirming the format of the url shown below for the email).

Card ID

Now, the link to the original thread will appear in the header of the card, allowing you to quickly jump back there without opening the card to view the description.

Links on Cards

That should do it. You can test the Zap and turn it on in Zapier. Now, all you have to do is label a message in Gmail with “lk” and then archive it to get it out of your inbox. The next time the Zapier sync process runs, it will pick up that email and create a LeanKit card for it.

Jim BensonKilling Email Interruptions: Personal Kanban using LeanKit, Gmail, and Zapier

5 Comments on “Killing Email Interruptions: Personal Kanban using LeanKit, Gmail, and Zapier”

  1. Stephen Franklin

    Awesome tip. If you do not use Gmail or if you use Gmail but do not want to use Label to mark existing emails, you can also set up a direct email address that can be set up to add a card into a board. In other words, you can get a Zapier supplied email address where anyone sending an email to that address will result in a card on that board. This is valuable for having others send tasks to your board without having to give them direct access.

  2. Mark Levison

    Chris – a very cool trick. Perhaps in the long run you can bake a simple version of this into LeanKit. Send an email to a special LeanKit acct id and it becomes a card. Expensify among others has a similar trick.

    While we’re at it do you have a recipe to:
    – add a Pomodoro Timer to our LK life?
    – Way for a Use (or Product Owner in Scrum) to spot older items on their board? so they can decide if the item is still relevant. Some of my cards are six months old and should probably be deleted.


    1. Chris Hefley

      Hi Mark
      At some point, I’m sure we will add email in standard. It’s not near the top of the list right now, but we all know it’s something we will eventually get to.

      We don’t really plan to add a pomodoro timer, but we can already do what you’re looking for in highlighting old items. You can use the search function (magnifying glass in the menu bar) to search for cards based on when they were created. You can also use the filters (menu bar icon looks like a funnel) to search for cards that have become “stale” – i.e., they haven’t moved in awhile.


  3. Mark Levison

    Chris you commented in January and I only got notified today. The date filtering for stale cards is useful if sad. Clearly much of my work is still very reactive. The life of a consultant.

    If I plied you or a dev with beer (or shots) at Agile 2014 would that improve the chances of making a pomodorro’s happen? Maybe we could get Zapier to integrate them with a simple web app 🙂


  4. Pingback: Personal Kanban using Google Calendar, LeanKit and Zapier | Personal Kanban

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