4 Smart Gmail Filters That Help You Deal with Too Much Email

Akshata Shanbhag 14-04-2016

Not using email 4 Influential People Who Don't Use Email (And Why) It's difficult to imagine a life without email, but some people are choosing to stop using it altogether. That includes US Senators and famous filmmakers. Read More is not an option for many of us. So better email management it is!


Decluttering and organizing your Gmail inbox 10 Underused Gmail Tweaks to Add to Your Workflow Today Gmail has been around for so long now. But some Gmail's features still surprise us. Let's look at ten features that can speed up your email management and your workflow. Read More  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 That’s why I have created a filter that identifies emails:

  • that are not from,
  • 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 Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Group emails can really kill productivity. It's time to put mail clients to rest and use collaboration services like newly launched Slack. Read More .

Note: To exclude emails from a particular domain, in the From/To field you’ll need syntax that looks like this: -* — the minus () sign excludes the email address that comes after it. In this case that happens to be any email address from the domain, as signified by *, 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 Gmail Adds a Block Button, Groupon Still Exists...[Tech News Digest] Also: Netflix thinks TV as we know it will disappear, Samsung hopes you'll pay more for a designer television, and the single hardest Mario level ever created. Read More . You could even get yourself a smart unsubscribe tool like

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 Still Getting Spam? 4 Email Mistakes to Avoid Today Avoiding spam is impossible. But there are some lesser known tips, tricks, and secrets that can help you fight the battle against suspicious email. Read More .

To Mark All Emails as Read

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.

Cut back on personal email. It’s easy to do this if you’re active on social media How to Keep Up with the Trends on Social Media Modern journalists always have an eye on social media to see which stories are trending and why. Do you want to track social media trends like the professionals do? Read More . 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 10 Tips for Managing Shared Files on Google Drive Take Google Drive beyond a file storage system with the many tips and tricks that it offers for real-time collaboration. Here are ten tips to help manage your files on Google Drive. Read More  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 6 Simple Tricks to Reduce Email Stress Dealing with email is the best part of my day. Said no one ever. You need all the tips you can get to manage your email inbox? We can help you out! Read More .

Explore more about: Email Tips, Gmail, Time Management.

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  1. Alex
    October 13, 2018 at 5:24 am

    I have filtered emails successfully in gmail using labels as you describe. The issue I have is knowing that emails have arrived without having to scroll down the labels on the left side, looking for indicators of arrived, unread mail. I have left Skip the Inbox (Archive it) unchecked and had assumed that email would be delivered to both the labelled folder and Inbox. However, this is not happening and emails are delivered to labels without appearing in the Inbox.
    Any suggestions?

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 29, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Alex, as long as you have left the Skip the Inbox and Mark as Read boxes unchecked, you should see the unread emails in the inbox and under the assigned label. If that isn't working, maybe you can try selecting the Always mark it as important option while creating the filter. Ensure that you've enabled Show markers under Settings > Inbox

  2. Bill
    March 30, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    I appreciate the help I am getting but there are still unresolved questions in my mind. How do I select mail that is "to," "from, " or "cc" to a specific address, or any combination of the three. I can see that if I put the address in the "from" box, it will select messages from that address. But how do I select messages that are sent TO an address other than mine? Or cc'ed to an address other than mine?
    T'bird offers 13 different criteria (subject, body, to, from, etc. etc.) and 6 different conditions (contains, doesn't contain, is, etc. etc.) I can enter multiple criteria and conditions and require that any of them or all of them be met.
    Gmail seems to permit only a few criteria (from, subject, does or doesn't contain, etc.)
    What is the point of the "to" box. It would seem to me that the only use for this would be if I have two e-mail addresses and want to sort in address A depending upon whether a copy had been sent to B.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      March 31, 2018 at 4:53 am

      You can use the OR filter in the Has the words box like this: OR

      Any criteria that work in the search box should also work in the Has the words field in the filter. Since you get prompts for filter attributes in the search box as you start typing, it's easier to copy-paste conditions from there into the filter.

      • Bill Wilkes
        June 27, 2018 at 12:34 am

        It has been a while since I started trying to use Gmail, and I have solved some of my problems with Thunderbird, so I am not so eager to move to Gmail. However, I have not given up, and I am continuing to try to do more..
        I really miss the ability to have multiple criteria that Thunderbird provides, because making filters to sort out mail that is either from or to or cc'd to Joe, Sam, and Bob still seems to require a bunch of filters instead of just one.
        But my bigger problem is trying to get ANY filter to work as the filters in Thunderbird do. I would think that if I create a filter that says label any message from, "Bob," that every new message that comes in from Bob would receive the Bob label. The messages just pile up in the inbox. The filter doesn't work until I open Gmail and "edit" the Bob filter. I don't actually change anything, but when I click on "save", all of the accumulated messages from Bob will be given the Bob label. I don't understand the purpose of filters if they only work when I have the Gmail app open.

        • Akshata Shanbhag
          June 28, 2018 at 1:33 pm

          That sounds strange. I haven't had trouble with Gmail filters the way you have described. Yes, they will still appear in the inbox if you don't choose the Archive checkbox while creating/editing the filter. But the labeling should work even if you don't have the app open. Anyway, since Thunderbird is working quite well for you, it makes sense to stick to that.

  3. Bill
    March 20, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    I suppose this would work if the instructions agreed with reality. ,1, I don't have a picture on my Gmail. 2 I do have a couple of avatars on the page, but there is no "settings" symbol near either of them. 3 there is a settings gear farther down the page, but clicking on it takes me to the tablet accounts page, where there is no link to "filters and blocked addresses". There is no link to anything with the word "filter" in it.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      March 21, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Bill, which device are you using?

      • Bill
        March 23, 2018 at 2:23 am

        That was an Android device because I am trying to minimize my use of Windows. I did discover later that the instructions you gave DO work when one opens Gmail in Windows. I hope when I finally get used to it, I will find the same ability to filter mail that I have in Thunderbird. It appears that I can, but what I liked about Thunderbird filters is that you can select several criteria and then whether the mail must meet any of them or all of them. E.g., only messages from Joe with an attachment or only messages before or after a certain date.

      • Bill
        March 23, 2018 at 3:17 am

        I have another question. In Thunderbird, my filters generally move a message to a specific folder. Messages from Joe go to the Joe folder.
        In GMail, all I can do is to apply a label or a category. I don't understand categories, but I do see familiar folders in the choice of labels. However, the message is now in both the folder and the inbox. Does "skip inbox" PLUS "add label A" mean "move the message to folder A?" Move the message seems so much clearer - I have no idea why I would want a bunch of labels scattered among the 200 messages in my inbox.
        Also, I want all messages from Joe's Glass company AND all messages from anyone with glass in the subject OR in the body OR both to be moved to the glass folder. I've tried putting "glass" in the "from box, in the "subject" box , in the "has words" box, but nothing seems to work. Do I have to spell out Joe's Glass, or can I just put in Joe or Joe's glass or Joe's Glass Co?
        Also, there is a box for "subject" and another for "has the words." Does the subject have to be exact? Or can it simply be required to include a word? What does the "has the words" box mean. Does that mean has the words in the body? in the subject? either?
        Take a look at Thunderbird and how to create a filter - it is quite transparent and easy. I never once had a problem trying to create a filter, but I'm just groping around with Gmail.

        • Akshata Shanbhag
          March 25, 2018 at 2:36 pm

          Bill, in Gmail labels sort of double up as folders and tags. "Skip inbox" + "Add label A" does move the email to the folder A as you guessed. Once it does, you will the see the message when you open folder A, but you won't see the label "A" itself in the message list. You'll see it if you open the email.

          Now, if you leave the message in the inbox and add the label "A" to it, you'll see the email in the inbox and folder A, but in the inbox it will be labeled "A", and in the folder A it will be labeled "inbox". I guess this approach comes in handy when you view emails the All Mail folder, which contains sent messages, drafts, and trash items apart from incoming messages.

          Categories make it easier to filter personal messages from automated ones, messages sent to a mailing list, etc. For example, if you get a password reset email, you're sure to find it under the Updates category. Marketing emails show up under Promotions and Facebook/Twitter messages show up under Social.

          As for creating the filters you mention, the From field is reserved for a sender's email address. The To field is for an email address that belongs to you i.e. if you check multiple accounts from Gmail. This is why putting in "glass" in the From/To field won't work.

          You'll need to create two separate filters here: one where the From field contains the email Joe's Glass and the second where you put "glass" in the Has the words field.

          The Subject field is only for the subject and it doesn't have to be exact i.e. it can simply include a word or a set of words in a particular sequence. The Has the words box filters words that are either in the subject and/or body of the email.

          Thunderbird does make filter creation easy, but really, it's not so bad in Gmail either once you get the hang of it.

  4. Julija
    January 29, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Hello, I do not understand how fill in the box Filter "has the words"??
    If I write one word - it works, but how do I separate a few words?
    Using a space, comma or dash ... - does not work. Gmail filters out only the first word.
    Please help me.
    Thank you.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      January 30, 2018 at 3:06 am

      You can filter multiple words or phrases with AND/OR operators. If you type in a few words without using one of these operators, Gmail considers the sequence as an exact phrase and searches for it specifically as it appears.

  5. Anonymous
    April 14, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    "To Auto-delete Emails That Just Don’t Quit"
    That is only a partial solution. You are moving the clutter from Inbox to Trash. Google should add an option that if an email matches the filter, it is spam.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      April 16, 2016 at 2:40 am

      That would have been convenient, but for now we're stuck with blocking senders to mark their mails as spam or auto-deleting mails. The latter is a partial solution. I prefer it because I don't use the All Mail label much, so the deleted emails stay out of sight and I can empty the trash once in a while.

  6. Anonymous
    April 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    I don't understand "inbox zero." I keep all my messages - every one I've ever gotten over the last 25 years, in my primary inbox. I can mark them important if I need to, and the chronology of when they were delivered helps me assemble a journal of my day.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      April 16, 2016 at 2:42 am

      I guess it depends on how you see your inbox. You see it as a sort of journal, while people like myself who maintain an empty inbox see it as a to-do list.