Not using email is not an option for many of us. So better email management it is!
Decluttering and organizing your Gmail inbox is great, but it still requires your input, and therefore your time and attention. That’s not always ideal, which means it’s time for these questions:
- Which tasks can you delegate to Gmail?
- How can you avoid dealing with most email on a daily basis?
- How do you keep your inbox from going out of control if you decide to ignore your email?
The email strategy that we’ll explore today has some answers for you. It involves creating four basic types of filters in Gmail to sort your emails right automatically. This way you can overlook them most of the time and then batch-process them with ease, say, once every couple of days.
How to Create a Gmail Filter
By creating an email filter you’re establishing a set of rules that tell your inbox how it should process a certain email.
To create a filter in Gmail, first click on the gear icon below your profile picture at the top right in your inbox and go to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses. Next, click on the Create a new filter link there to start the setup.
In the Create Filter panel (shown below) that comes up, you’ll need to specify at least one criterion — such as a sender email address, a subject line, or a keyword — to filter emails. Once you do that, click on the Create filter with this search link at the bottom right in the panel.
This takes you to the next panel (shown below). There, you can specify what you want Gmail to do with the emails that match your search criteria. You can choose to archive them, mark them as read, delete them, mark them as important, etc. Check all the boxes that apply and click the Create Filter button. And that’s that!
Note: In the Inbox view of Gmail, you can drag and drop emails between the tabs and set up customized filters for incoming messages.
Now let’s see why you need each of the four filters we promised would help you manage email better.
To Direct Emails from All Domains But One to a Specific Folder
If the most important work emails you receive only ever come from a single domain or even 2-3 of them, create a filter to keep only those emails in your inbox and push the rest to a separate folder.
99.99% of the time, my work-related emails come from the domain makeuseof.com. That’s why I have created a filter that identifies emails:
- that are not from makeuseof.com,
- forces them to skip the inbox, and
- applies the label Misc (short for Miscellaneous) to them
Now when I open my MakeUseOf inbox, there’s no email that isn’t relevant to my work. As it is the frequency of emails has reduced since we moved to Slack.
Note: To exclude emails from a particular domain, in the From/To field you’ll need syntax that looks like this: -*@makeuseof.com — the minus (–) sign excludes the email address that comes after it. In this case that happens to be any email address from the domain makeuseof.com, as signified by *@makeuseof.com, where * is a wildcard character.
To Direct To-do Emails to an “Action” Folder
If you get too many emails, it’s easy to lose track of those that you need to take action on. To prevent this from happening, filter out the to-do emails based on the sender, subject, or keywords, and direct those emails to a separate folder.
One type of to-do email that I get in my MakeUseOf inbox is the comment notification that tells me that one of my articles got a comment from a reader. To ensure that I don’t forget to respond to comments, I have set up a filter that:
- identifies emails with the subject [MakeUseOf] Comment:,
- forces them to skip the inbox, and
- applies the label Comments to them
This filter directs all comment notifications to a separate folder. I check that folder once every 2-3 days and reply to comments in batches.
To Auto-delete Emails That Just Don’t Quit
Preventing email from reaching your inbox is much better than dealing with it once it’s in your inbox. That’s why I’d recommend making liberal use of Gmail’s Block and Unsubscribe buttons. You could even get yourself a smart unsubscribe tool like Unroll.me.
But how you deal with emails from mailing lists that don’t honor unsubscribe requests or from people that you can’t block even if you’d like to? And what about those emails that end up in your inbox no matter how many times you mark them as spam? There’s a way out:
- create a filter to identify emails based on the sender’s email address, and
- instruct Gmail to delete those emails automatically
If you don’t like deleting emails without taking a look at them, choose the Skip the Inbox (Archive it) option to archive the emails. Use the Apply the label: option if you want them all in one place.
Note: Don’t hit the Unsubscribe button or link in spam emails. It’s one of those mistakes that bring you more spam.
To Mark All Emails as Read
Just say "no" to email addiction.
?? ?you, before email
?? ?you, after just one day of email addiction
?? ?you, after years of email use
— Fiona Pigott (@notFromShrek) February 12, 2016
Achieving Inbox Zero is not as important as resisting the urge to check email every few minutes is. The latter becomes easier when there are zero unread emails sitting in your inbox every time you open it. Make this happen by creating a filter to mark all incoming email as read automatically.
While adding the filter, first use your email address in the To field to filter all emails sent to it. Then, use the Mark as read checkbox to mark every last email as read.
If you use the same Gmail account for managing email from other accounts, you’ll need to create similar filters for those other email addresses as well.
With this strategy, you’ll soon lose your eagerness to check your inbox for new mail and will prefer getting around to it when you have time. To me, this is the most useful Gmail filter ever.
3 Tips to Dodge Email Further
Move newsletters to your feed reader. Opt for getting only a select few as email updates. For the rest of them, visit each newsletter archive and add its link to your feed reader.
Hide all labels from the sidebar by clicking on the arrow next to each label and selecting Hide under In Label list: in the dropdown that appears. Keep only the Inbox link visible.
After you create filters based on #1 and #4, your inbox contains only the most important emails that you need to tackle, and even those appear read. This means that you can afford to ignore emails under all other labels and process them once in 2-3 days or even just once a week.
So… @nrh showed me that you can hide unread labels in gmail. This has done more wonders for my productivity than should be reasonable.
— Marcus Frödin (@marcusf) June 11, 2014
Cut back on personal email. It’s easy to do this if you’re active on social media. The key is to move all but the most crucial communication from your inbox to platforms that you’re either not as addicted to or can afford to ignore.
If you use email for sharing documents, switch to sharing files and folders via Google Drive or any other cloud storage/sharing service. Discuss shared documents in the Comments section on individual documents or via chat instead of email messages. This makes it easy to keep a record of things without cluttering up your inbox.
The Next Best Thing to Giving up Email
Giving up email is next to impossible in these times. At least, with the right email filters in place, you’re sure to have less noise to deal with. You know what that means, right? More time for other things in your life!
Have you instructed Gmail to dodge, deflect, and destroy emails without bothering you? Share with us the types of Gmail filters you use to reduce email stress.