Inbox Clutter Week – The Quest for a Zero Inbox – Day 2: Filters, Labels, and Rules

This post is part of a series on reaching a zero inbox. Managing our inboxes can be difficult and stressful at times. These tips are designed to help you conquer your email permanently to make sure you don’t miss anything important and don’t waste your time on junk.

Now that we have crushed all of those subscriptions we don’t want, it is time to move on and do a little heavy lifting. Today, we are going to setup automatic rules to filter our emails so we only have to spend time on what is important.

Create Filters

Each email that shows up has a purpose. For example, I like getting emails from survey websites because when I have free time they are an easy way to earn miles and free stuff. However, I don’t want them to show up in my inbox.

Almost every quality email program has an easy way to build a filter system. I have tried it myself with Gmail, Outlook, and Thuderbird. Whatever email system you use, the logic will be the same, though these directions are specific to Gmail.

First, find a message you want to filter. I get daily emails about Israel news, and I don’t want them to show up in my inbox every day. Instead, I want them to go to a folder to read at my convenience. I opened up one of those messages and opened the Gmail options to start my filter rules.

Gmail Filters

Click on “filter messages like these” to start the filtering process. Once you click, a new menu will pop up asking you to define your parameters. It is important to think through what messages will be impacted by your rule.

If you get a weekly email from someone that you want to filter, make sure to specify the subject. If you just filter emails from that address, you could miss something important. However, if the address is only for the newsletter, you can filter all messages from that email.

What Do You Want the Filters to Do?

After you create the filter, you will be prompted to create filter rules. Both Outlook and Gmail have intuitive processes for this.

Gmail Rules

For my Israel news emails, I created a label and chose to have every message skip the inbox, mark as read, and never mark it as important. If I want to see these emails, I know where to find them. There is no reason for Gmail to alert me when they show up.

Gmail Label CountsI also receive emails regularly about the University of Boulder Interfraternity Council. As a fraternity advisor, some of the messages are relevant and important for me to read. For those emails, I applied the label “CU AEPi” and skipped the inbox, but I did not have Gmail mark the messages as read. For filters like this, I get a new unread count when I log into Gmail.

As you can see, I have filters for a handful of topics. In this screenshot, I have 3 unread fraternity emails amongst other topics.

You Can Change the Rules at Any Time

One of the best things about filters and rules is that you can always edit them. You change them all separately, so if something is not working the way you want it, you can go back and make a quick edit. To do so, go to the Gmail settings and open the rules and open the filters tab. You can change anything from there.

End Overwhelming Inboxes

The reason a lot of people don’t deal with their email is that they get overwhelmed. When I got home from a recent trip before I added my filter rules, I had nearly 500 messages to sort through. I created my rules and got it down to a more manageable 50 emails to deal with very quickly.

You can do it too. And the perk about doing it with Gmail is that you never have to delete the messages. They stay in your archive forever so you can do a quick search and find what you need.

Your Strategy

What do you think? Have you ever tried filters, labels, and rules? Do you have any more advice? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

I hope you enjoyed this post in Inbox Clutter Week – The Quest for a Zero Inbox

I hope you enjoyed this post in Inbox Clutter Week – The Quest for a Zero Inbox

Day 1: Unsubscribe

Day 2: Filters, Labels, and Rules

Day 3: Priority Inbox and To-Do List

Day 4: Reply, Archive, and Boomerang

Day 5: Maintaining the System

Image Sean MacEntee/flickr

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  1. says

    Check out, the have default filters that create gmail labels for you. It will catch most the common items, and you can tune it just by moving messages into each folder/label

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