Who’s guarding your inbox? Getting more done with email filters

Who is guarding your email?

Have you ever been hard at work, noticed that someone sent you a message on Facebook and headed over to check it out?  If you’re like me, you might reply, surf around a bit and next thing you know it’s lunchtime.  And there’s a little voice in your head saying, “crap. I just wasted an hour!”.

With your phone, it’s easier to turn off your ringer than hear phone calls, see who they’re from and ignore them.  Good email filters are like turning off your phone.  They can be strong for you when you would be weak.  Email filters are bodyguards for your attention.

Important, urgent or actionable email should land in your inbox.  For everything else there are just 2 possibilities:

Put ’em somewhere else (archive, put it in folders, whatever works for you.)

  • Receipts: Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, etc.  Filter by subject or from address
  • Social Media notifications.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  “Bob is following you” or “Bob replied to your message”…
  • Email discussion lists that aren’t a Top-Priority.  Check ’em out later.
  • Vacation auto-responders from other folks.  Filter: (”we will reply” OR “has been received” OR “your inquiry” OR “will contact you” OR “will reply to you” OR “auto response” OR “for your interest” OR “for your message” OR “your enquiry” OR “out of office”)

Delete ’em

  • If you have friends who forward you “funnies” (that you don’t want) but also real email (you do want), create a filter for email FROM them that ALSO includes another recipient on their list.
  • Mail from old accounts, services or organizations (eg. schools, old jobs, professional orgs) you don’t want to hear from. Some services offer a one-click unsubscribe, but others force you to log in, or contact them. In that case just add a filter and move on.  Examples: (sales@dnforum.com OR marketplace-messages@amazon.com OR news@email.aircanada.com OR specials@ OR @futureshop.com OR DeltaAirLines@delta.com OR noreply@vbulletin.com)
  • Emails in other languages.  I don’t know anyone who would email me in Japanese, for example.  Filter: (秘 OR 密 OR 基 OR 地 OR を OR 作)

Other tips & tricks:

  • If you want to see email from your contacts before looking at new mail, some email clients will let you filter based on whether or not the sender is in your address book.  Tip from Leo Notenboom, Taming Email
  • If you’re worried you’ll miss an important message when you’re working or away from email, check out Jared Goralnick’s service AwayFind.
  • Gmail users can create unlimited addresses with this format, for easier filtering and tracking how companies use your address:  you+othertext@gmail.com

Any favorite email tips or tricks to add?

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76 Responses to “Who’s guarding your inbox? Getting more done with email filters”

  1. Jonathan Argue Says:

    Myself, as a gmail user, I make heavy use of the label feature. I’ve created a few filters that auto-label emails as they come in – e.g. a voice mail message from a VOIP account.
    As I organize a number of events, I find labels very useful for categorizing streams of information as it comes in… then if you want to concentrate on a particular stream, you just search on the appropriate label.

    Another method I use for getting rid of spam is a challenge-response system. Basically, if an email gets sent to my domain and it is not on my whitelist (maintained on the server that hosts my domain), the sender gets an automated response asking them to simply reply in order for their message to be send to me. This gets rid of about 95% of those ‘I HAVE ONE MILLION DOLLARS WAITING FOR YOU IN AN ACCOUNT’ and those ‘ LARGER MALE APPENDAGE’ emails… as Spam bots seem to ignore messages coming back to them. Where it fails is when people use a reply to address that is your own (you’d typically want to whitelist you own email).

  2. technotheory Says:

    This is AWESOME, Aaron. I completely agree with using filters RUTHLESSLY. What I like best about this is you gave concrete suggestions for search terms to filter.

    I hate linking to my own articles (especially since you already linked to me with AwayFind!), but I figured you’d want some video tutorials with how to actually create the filters. So that’s here: http://sn.im/filtermail

    Glad to see you’re writing more again here, Aaron! Looking forward to more ice cream : )

  3. evgenya Says:

    Hey Aaron,

    This is helpful and something I’ve always felt I should do more of, but procrastinate doing as it is a bit of a boring task. Perhaps you could include links to “how to create filters” in popular email readers like “Mail” or “Outlook” or even “Pine”, though the last one is probably not that popular anymore, for those who haven’t done this before. It might help jump start some people.

  4. evgenya Says:

    DOH, just read Technotheory’s comment and clicked through to his link. just what I was asking about. Thanks.

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