How-to: Maintaining “Inbox Zero” with Filters

Recently, I had a discussion with a group about email. One of the guys in the group mentioned that he rarely checks his email because of all the newsletters and other junk mail he receives. “You can’t control them,” he told us, “and it’s a pain to try and delete everything.”

While I agree that controlling your inbox is difficult, the feat is not impossible.

I’m not going to claim to be an “inbox zero” guru — if you saw my inbox you’d yell “hypocrite” — but I can encourage, rather remind you, to use filters for your email messages.

Filters are especially handy for getting rid of junk mail or other unwanted items. My favorite filter is to automatically delete newsletters or similar messages I didn’t sign up for.

Setting up the filter

Each email client’s method for setting up filters will differ. This how to will show you Gmail’s method.

Designing the perfect filter takes some tinkering, especially if there’s some messages you’d like to pass through the filter. For example, I can set up a filter to delete incoming newsletters (which I rarely sign up for), but a generic, catch-all filter would delete everything. There might be occasions I want to read particular newsletters (such as those from The Droid Lawyer with opportunities to win swag).

The first step is to decide what specific email messages you’d like to filter. You can filter almost any message in any way, so the possibilities are endless. In this example, we’ll create a filter that deletes unwanted newsletters, but keeps particular ones based on the sender or content.

In the Gmail search bar type unsubscribe.

In this example, we'll create a filter that deletes unwanted newsletters, but keeps particular ones based on the sender or content.

 

This search will display all of the messages that contain the word “unsubscribe.”

Unsubscribe Search Results

 

This search will help you decide what newsletters to keep.

Unsubscribe Search Results Specific

 

For instance, in this case there are newsletters from the ABA, Technolawyer, and Droid Tot 1’s accelerated reading scores that I never want to delete. I’ll make a note to add ABA, Technolawyer, and homeconnectautodelivery to my list of “safe senders.”

When you decide which senders are important,  you’ll be able to start setting the filter.

Open Gmail’s settings by clicking the gear and Settings.

Gmail Settings

Now click Filters on the menu bar.

Gmail Filters

You’ll see a list of filters (if any) currently applied to your Gmail account. If you’ve never set up any filters, this are should be blank.

Filters Applied

You can edit, delete, import, or create a new filter by clicking a corresponding link.

Edit Delete New Import Gmail Filters

In this case, we’ll click Create a new filter.

Now is the time you’ll need to recall that list of safe senders, because you’ll enter those key words in the popup window.

Filter Words

 

Type unsubscribe in the box under Has the words, and your combination of filter words in the box under Doesn’t have. You can see the result by clicking the magnifying glass. You can return to your filter search by clicking the down arrow on the right side of the search box.

Gmail Search Box Down Arrow

 

Note that you can easily create a filter from any search just by clicking this down arrow.

Next click Create filter with this search or Continue (if you came back from the search results). You should see this:

Filter Creation Menu

 

You apply the particular filter by clicking the corresponding box. In this case, I want message to Skip the inbox and Delete it. When you’re ready to say goodbye to unsolicited newsletters, click Update filter. I can choose to apply the filter to any matching conversations already in my inbox.

Say goodbye to another portion of inbox hell.

The dragon’s tamed

As you can see, the filter possibilities are virtually endless, only constrained by your imagination. Filters can have a huge impact on how you handle email.

Think about using filters when you have a big case with a lot of email correspondence between attorneys and parties. You should also consider using filters in conjunction with folders. Folders and filters work well in your zero inbox scheme.

Oh, and if your email client can’t set filters, it’s time for a new client.

2 Responses to How-to: Maintaining “Inbox Zero” with Filters

  1. Good guide on creating Gmail filters Jeffrey! I would also like to add to the list of words to filter keywords such as “aweber, opt-out, change subscription, subscriber settings, infusionsoft, update settings”. Businesses and marketers are getting smarter and are not always using “unsubscribe” so the above keywords will bring a couple of extra senders that can be filtered out with the rest.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.