10 Email Filters That Will Reduce Inbox Stress

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email filters

Most of the emails in your inbox right now don’t have to be there. Yes, that’s right – you can clear, tag and file them without ever having to read them. There is a way to get fewer emails in your inbox and I’m about to show you how.

Quick Summary

  • Email filters are search queries that can manipulate emails.
  • Having your inbox only hold important emails is vital for efficient email management.
  • Setting up these 10 filters will allow you to only have important emails in your inbox.
  • Estimated time to set all these up: 1 hour. Potential time saved: days.

Let me ask you a quick question: how do you manage your email when there are 50 unread emails in your inbox and only 2 of them are important?

To elaborate, here’s a screenshot over an overflowed email inbox.

email inbox

Somewhere in there are important emails....

Somewhere between those unread emails are two emails that are very important (highlighted in orange). How would you ever be able to quickly get to those emails when it is surrounded by other unimportant emails?

The usual answer is to go through all of your emails one by one and go through it as fast as possible.

That is so inefficient. It’s time to fix this.

Introducing Filters

We’ve written before about the boomerang effect before and how that can help you get fewer emails. There is another trick for getting fewer emails in your inbox and that is by using smart email filters.

Isn’t it annoying when all your unread Facebook notifications take up your inbox, and somewhere in-between them are important (work) emails? What’s the point having all these emails in your inbox when you can just review them later? Checking them one by one is a waste of time.

What I’m about to show you is how you can use email filters and rules that will stop emails from landing in your inbox. There are two main advantages to this.

First, your inbox will only hold important emails. Second, you can aggregate similar emails and go through them a lot faster and at your own convenience and time.

NOTE: Most of these examples will use Gmail filters but sometimes I will show you how to use it using Postbox (my email client of choice). Even if you use another email client or provider, you should be able to implement all of them. If you are new to Gmail filters, I suggest you read this post first.

Let’s get down and dirty and implement some filters!

1. CC Emails

The carbon copy email is one of the most misused features of email that results in us having more emails in our inboxes than necessary. Especially if you work at a place where email is one of the primary ways to communicate, you’ve probably already experienced how bad it sometimes is (let alone sometimes the politics surrounding it).

Most of the time you don’t have to read the emails that you are CC’ed on right away. It’s usually just to inform you of something, and you can read them on your own time when it is convenient for you. I usually do this every Monday and Friday, but you might have to adjust that depending on your workplace.

You can set up a filter that will move all incoming emails that you are cc’ed on into a different folder (it “skips” the inbox). This will prevent your inbox from overflowing with emails that can be checked later, so you can instead focus on emails that are actually important.

Unfortunately, this filter is not possible within Gmail because it only works with email clients. Almost every email client allows you to use filters and you have to figure out how you do that within your email client. I’ll show you below how I do it within Postbox.

Post-edit: It is actually possible to go it in Gmail, as pointed out by Roger Mitchell in the comments. Perform a search for “cc:[email protected]” and then create a filter out of that.

Next action: In Postbox, go to Tools > Message filters. Click on New and now you can add a filter. See below.

cc filter on postbox

CC filter setting on Postbox. Implement this on your own email client.

The key to making this work is that you regularly check your CC folder. Otherwise you’ll be misinformed and miss out on (potentially) important information. I suggest checking it at least twice a week or daily at a specific time.

2. Note to Self

A lot of people like to email themselves notes and things to remind themselves of. While we generally advise people to use a note taking app (such as Evernote) or to dump those thoughts into a task manager (such as OmniFocus), if you like to use email for this, then there is a great filter for this too. This filter will move all incoming emails from you into a folder called “Notes”.

Next action: The filter is really simple and all you need to do is through your Notes folder once a while and take action on those captured thoughts. Substitute my email address with yours of course.

note to self

Notes filter that are sent from your own inbox to yourself.

 

notes to self

Notes filter that are sent from your own inbox to yourself.

3. Account Information

One of the annoying things is when you forget your username and/or password on a website. While apps such as 1Password can help with that (and really should), most of this information is also stored in your inbox.

With a clever search you can usually find this information but if you want to have all your account information in one folder, there is a filter for that.

Next action: Setup a filter that will search for both “username” and “password” and “account” in an email and store that in the folder “Account Info”.

account info

Aggregate all account information emails into one place.

 

account info

Aggregate all account information emails into one place.

4. Newsletter subscriptions

Newsletters are another source of emails that should be managed more carefully. There are a lot of great newsletters out there (we hope our newsletter is one of them) but also a lot of them email you too often and aren’t all that great.

Now is the time to get a grip on this. Inherently, newsletters aren’t urgent – they are just there to inform you.

Next action: get the email addresses of your five favorite newsletters and create a filter that moves them into a folder “Newsletters”.

newsletter subscription

Redirect all email addresses from your newsletters into one folder.

 

newsletter filter

Redirect all email addresses from your newsletters into one folder.

Once a week, or when you see fit, go through your newsletter folder and enjoy your favorite content.

5. Unsubscribe

If you have done the above, you have likely realized that you also have a bunch of subscriptions to newsletters that you never read, and really should get rid of. While services such as unroll.me and otherinbox.com can help you with that, if you’re uncomfortable with using those, you can set up a filter to gather all emails that contain the word “unsubscribe”. That way you catch all newsletters and other sources of email notifications.

There are different variations of the word “unsubscribe” and to catch all of those emails you have to get creative with your filter keywords. Here is the OR statement you can use:

unsubscribe OR opt-out OR opt-out OR smartunsubscribe OR unlist OR “manage your account” OR “privacy policy”

You can use this in the search bar and it will show you all emails that contain either one of these words. Now you can manually unsubscribe from any newsletter you don’t tend to read (I hope we’re not one of those!).

6. Notifications from websites, services and apps

As I briefly mentioned in the beginning, there is no need to have all your notifications from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and such to occupy your inbox. Save your inbox for important stuff.

Ideally, you should log into each social network (or app or service) and turn off email notifications completely. But, there is also a simple email filter solution.

Next action: Make a “social media” folder that holds your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and such emails in that folder (skipping the inbox). Then once a day or week you check that folder and you can go through it lightning fast.

notifications filter

This notifications filter, when adjusted to your own needs, will save you lots of time.

 

notifications filter

This notifications filter, when adjusted to your own needs, will save you lots of time.

You can use the same idea for other websites that send you a lot of notifications.

7. Finances and Bills

Having all your bills and financial information in one place is very convenient. Especially if you have automated payments going on and you review those payments on a monthly basis. Having all these bills in one folder makes it really easy to review.

Next action: What you can do is gather up all your bills, find their email addresses and redirect all incoming emails into a folder called “Bills”.

bills filter

Collect all bills and payment emails in one place.

 

bills filter

Collect all bills and payment emails in one place.

Obviously change the email addresses to the services you use and get bills from. Everyone has different bills but here are some broad categories you can start off with:

  • Phone
  • Internet and TV
  • Rent / mortgage
  • Gas
  • Electricity
  • Web hosting
  • Netflix
  • Insurance (car, health, property)

One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes companies will email you from different email addresses each time, e.g., AT&T. I’ve set up separate filters for these companies. Sometimes they have a consistent keyword or phrase in the subject line you can match. An example for AT&T would be: subject:(AT&T) bill. This will find all emails that have “AT&T” in the subject line and contain the word “bill” in the body.

8. Annoying friend or family member

Admit it. We all have one. That one friend or family member that likes to forward you chain emails, junk and stuff you’re not interested in. The best way to address it is by talking to that person and explaining how you don’t want to receive those emails anymore (a form of exerting your boundaries) but if you can’t do that this email filter will help.

Next action: Get a list of emails from people you want to “blacklist” and then this filter will send all those emails that have “fwd” in the subject line to a different folder.

annoying friend filter

I'm getting rid of those emails from Aaron ;-)

annoying friend filter

I'm getting rid of those emails from Aaron ;-)

Just kidding. Aaron only ever emails me really cool stuff.

9. Purchases and Receipts

Keeping your inbox clear from all your online purchases is one of the best things you can do if you’re a serial online shopper. Especially if you are an Amazon Prime member or an app addict on the Appstore like yours truly.

Next action: Here is a filter that will move incoming emails that contain the word “receipt” or “order number” to the “Purchases” folder.

purchases filter

Have all your order confirmations and purchases in one folder.

 

purchases filter

Have all your order confirmations and purchases in one folder.

10. Follow Up

Here’s a common pitfall: you send an email where you expect a response from someone. A few days later, you haven’t received a response back. Now you have to follow up again and find that darn email somewhere. Sounds familiar?

This happens far too often, and a way to address it is by putting those emails into a separate folder. Then all you do is check this once a day or so, and see if there are any emails where you are waiting for someone. If that is the case, you simply follow up. You can do this manually by dragging emails into the folder but you can also automate this with a filter.

I forgot where I got this trick from (if you do know, let me know and I’ll give that person/site credit) but a neat way to do this is by using three underscores (_) as part of your signature. So your signature might look like this:

Hi John,

Great game yesterday! I left my iPad at your place. Can you let me know when I can stop by to pick it up?

___
Thanh

Next action: Create a filter that finds all emails with three underscores and that are sent from you (just alone the three underscores won’t work as many broadcast emails use this too).

Then your filter will look like this:

follow up filter

Automatically filtering emails that you need to follow up on is a must.

 

follow up filter

Automatically filtering emails that you need to follow up on is a must.

It’s very subtle and it gets the job done. If for some reason you can’t use this, another way to do it is by using an expression you always use to follow up with people. For example, you can have a phrase such as “I need a reply within X hours” where X might be different for each email, but you can make a filter for “I need a reply within”. If you do go this route, I suggest you use a TextExpander snippet for this to automate it and to decrease any chances of typos.

Editor’s Note: You can also create a follow-up tasks in your task manager of choice, or search in the Sent folder.

Wrapping it up

There you go – 10 email filters that will make your life easier. Getting to inbox zero is a lot easier now. If you think someone could use this, please consider forwarding this post to that person.

Do you have any great email filters? Please share yours below in the comments!

Photo by meddygarnet.

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About

I grew up in The Netherlands, went to university in Los Angeles and now I'm living in different places every couple months. When I'm not writing about personal productivity or time management, I'm probably trying out a new restaurant in the city I'm in (I love food!). One of my specialties is time management for organizations, executives and employees. The reason I started this blog with Aaron is that I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them become a better person. This blog is a footprint I want to leave behind and I hope you get a lot of value out of my articles. Feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

14 Comments

Posted by Vincent  | September 5, 2012 at 7:19AM | Reply

Nice!
I’m gonna use all of them!

Posted by Anton  | September 5, 2012 at 7:37AM | Reply

Hi, Thanh! Great post!
But do you know about possibility of “nested” queries to decrease quantity of your filters? Check this screenshot: http://tinyurl.com/9xu2wb5
You can make really tricky filters – it’s not necessary to make huge amount of filters for one reason.

Posted by Anton  | September 5, 2012 at 10:21AM | Reply

By the way. Excuse me, I forgot to change language from Russian to English. And also – such “long” filter you have to type into field “Has the words”. Check the screenshot: http://tinyurl.com/8uomq29

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 7, 2012 at 2:14AM

Hey Anton,

I did not know that. Thanks for pointing that out! I guess I’ll change some of my filters too now. This is a great tip.

Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Roger Mitchell  | September 6, 2012 at 5:03PM | Reply

Hey Thanh,

It is possible to search for cc’ed messages in Gmail by typing “cc:” in the search bar. When this converts to a filter, it appears in the “Has words” section. Have you tried this and it did not work?

Cheers,

Roger

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 7, 2012 at 2:13AM

Hey Roger,

You’re right. It is indeed possible the way you mentioned it. That’s awesome. I will adjust the post shortly and add it in there.

Thanks man!

Posted by Dr_Ngo  | September 7, 2012 at 9:28AM | Reply

There needs to be some kind of a productivity program.

Run it, it attaches to your gmail. One-click apply filters. It’ll also have a top 50 e-mail filters people use. Taming email 2.0

Posted by Andrea Nagar  | September 11, 2012 at 4:55AM | Reply

I’ve recently discovered a service SaneLater that can help you tremendously, automatically sorting your emails, putting your newsletter in a separate folder. It can also automatically retrieve items that end up into spam.
Another nice feature is the ability to schedule follow-ups.
The service would cost 5$/month: you can sign-up for a trial here: http://sanebox.com/

I’m not affiliated to the service in any way, I’m just a happy user.

Posted by J  | November 8, 2012 at 7:56PM

Another great tool is http://mailstrom.co . You hook up your account and it shows you your inbox emails by sender, date, list, social network, shopping, and so on. Then you can batch delete, archive, or move messages.

It’s great for sifting out the crud in your inbox, especially if you’ve let your emails languish in there for too long but don’t want to delete important emails.

(I’m also not affiliated with this, I just find it really helpful)

Posted by tklaas  | March 13, 2013 at 12:35PM | Reply

For all Gmail users there is another great possibility, you can have as many addresses as you like and create filter for this.

Your real address is:
[email protected]

Then you can also receive mails to the following addresses:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Add these addresses to you address book,
and create filter based on the “sent to” address.

You can send mails to yourself like notes or movies,
or add [email protected] as BCC to any mail you are waiting for a response.

Posted by Max  | May 24, 2013 at 2:30PM | Reply

Great post. I have a simple way for processing my emails too. I find google labels are not necessary if your running a mac though.

I usually process most things like reciepts, bills, and newsletter under marked read > archive.

Once that rule is in place to process them to clean my inbox, I usually have specific smart mailboxes established with the same kind of labels you have in gmail.

I do it this way because when I feel I need to check those mailboxes I go ahead and just check them but I don’t have to worry about having a number count of emails to mark as read.

As of now I have the following mailboxes:
– Travel (this has airline/hotel addresses)
– Receipts (online receipts addresses)
– Shopping Deals (email addresses from clothing stores, usually sending promotional codes)
Etc…

Also another way I like sorting mail is depending on the email address I suplply to different sites. If I’m signing up for a newsletter I usually attach a “+newsletter” at the end of my email name, but before the @ symbol. Doing it this way I can just filter by “To:” email.

My 2 cents.

Posted by Mattheous  | August 6, 2013 at 8:51PM | Reply

I did all of these–but I don’t think they’re working. I did them in Apple Mail, so it only works when my mail app is open (but I opened it once a day or so, after lunch). Any idea? And maybe I should email you guys some screen shots (if you’re not too busy)?

Posted by Xavier  | August 27, 2013 at 3:13AM | Reply
Posted by Thanh Pham  | August 27, 2013 at 1:21PM

I really like this tip. Everyone should do this. Thanks for sharing Xavier!

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