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10 Must Have Email Filters That Will Free Up Hours A Day

By | 27 comments

No junk mail

Most of us spend more time in our email inboxes than we have to. No matter how many emails you get in a day, there’s something you can do to make your email life easier.

With these 10 email filters, you’ll be able to free up lots of time, have fewer important unread emails in your inbox and most of all…they might give you your sanity back.

I’m using Gmail as a primary email client but the filters can be applied to any email client. It doesn’t matter if you use Outlook, Airmail, Android or Windows. They all work but the settings might differ slightly.

The Power of Email Filters

The main benefit of email filters is that your inbox only contains important emails. Our default behavior when we check email is to open our email inbox and assume that everything in there is important.

What you want to is having important emails buried among spam and unimportant emails like this:

email_inbox

This is where email filters come in handy. They can help you have an email inbox with only important emails. So where do the other emails go?

Usually into a separate folder. Out of 100 emails, maybe 10-20 are really important. You can save yourself a lot of time filtering and sift through emails by utilizing filters.

The one downside of email filters is that you’ll have to teach yourself one new habit to check the “unimportant” emails because they aren’t in your inbox. They’ll be in a separate folder. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.

As you go through the 10 filters, you’ll see what I mean.

1. Put all emails you’re CC’ed on in a separate folder

Let’s start with an easy and powerful filter by routing emails you’re CC’ed on to skip the inbox and put into a different folder.

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.

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.

Here’s how you set it up within Gmail:

  1. Click on the gear icon in top right corner   Screenshot 2
  2. Click on Settings
  3. Click on “Filters and Blocked Addresses”

Here you can add new filters by clicking on “Create a new filter”.

To find all emails you’re CC’ed on, in the field “Has the words” you want to type in:

cc:[email protected]

It looks like this:

Screenshot 3

Then click on the link “Create filter with this search”. On the next screen, you can then decide how you want to deal with these kinds of emails.

Screenshot 4

I recommend you make the emails skip the inbox and then move them to a folder (Gmail calls them “Labels”). In this case, you’d create a new label “CC”.

Once you’re done, click on the “Create Filter” button and you’ve created your first filter!

Now you can read all the emails you’re CC’ed on at a time that’s convenient for you without having them clutter your inbox.

Now I do have you give you a warning: it’s easy to miss out on those emails. So you have to check the folder on a regular basis to stay on top of everything. I recommend once a day. If you find yourself constantly forgetting to check the folder then consider creating a repeating task in your task manager until it becomes a habit.

Assuming you’ve seen how to set up a filter, all the following filters will follow a similar format.

2. Note to Self: They’re Now All in One Place

One of my friends sends himself emails for when he wants to remember stuff. As a productivity nerd, I don’t completely approve of this approach but it’s working for him.

Over the years, I’ve seen others do it too. It’s especially useful while you’re driving because you can compose emails to yourself with help of Siri.

I know there are other ways to get notes to yourself but if this is a habit you already have then I’m here to help you make it even more efficient.

What you can do is have all emails you send to yourself redirected to a separate folder. Now you have all of them in one place and they’re easy to find and reference.

Here’s how you set that up:

  1. In the filter box, in the fields “From:” and “To:” you want to type in your own email address. Screenshot 5
  2. On the next screen for your actions, you want it to “Skip the Inbox” and “Apply the label” which can be anything you want. I would call it “Notes to Self”.

Once you have it setup, all the emails you send to yourself are now rerouted to your folder.

3. Never Lose Your Username and Password Again With This Filter

Have you ever forgotten your username or password on a website?

While apps such as 1Password can help with that (and you really should use one), 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…you’ve guessed it. There’s a filter for that.

In the filter box, in the field “Has words” you want to type:

username AND password AND account

This filter finds all emails that have the three words in the email. On the next screen, you want them to skip your inbox and move to a label (“Accounts”).

4. Have All Your Favorite Newsletters in One Folder

When we did a lot of research for our course Escape Your Email (shows you our complete email system for dealing with email) one thing we’ve learned is that AE readers love to read email newsletters.

The problem they had was they subscribed to too many of them and it cluttered their inbox. On top of that, if they didn’t have the time to read all of it right away they would keep it unread in their inbox so they could read it later.

Guess what happens when you are subscribed to 5-10 newsletters that email you once or twice a week…

Your inbox gets cluttered even more and now the truly important emails get buried somewhere in between. This creates a bad habit of checking all emails linearly which as you know by now is a huge waste of time (and soooooo inefficient).

An easy fix is to route all newsletters to skip the inbox and moved into a separate folder.

  1. Find all email newsletters you’re subscribed to. Specifically, you want to get the email address that they send from.
  2. Once you have your list, in the filter box you want to put in the “From:” field all the email addresses separated by “OR”. It might look like this:

  3. In the next screen, you can have them skip the inbox and moved to a label (“Newsletters”).

Again, it’s important to keep checking your newsletter folder. I usually check mine once a week on Friday to catch up with everything. If you keep forgetting to check it and it’s important to you, create a recurring task in your task manager for it.

5. Mass Unsubscribe from Email Newsletters You Never Read

Speaking of newsletters…

Chances are you’re subscribed to a bunch that you stopped reading but you’re still receiving them. One of the best things you can do to make your “email life” easier is to unsubscribe from them.

I know it sounds so simple yet I’m surprised most people don’t even consider it.

Here’s a simple guideline: if you haven’t read the newsletter in over a month, unsubscribe from it. That includes ours!

(Although I secretly hope you stay on but you have to do what’s best for you.)

This also applies to other regular email updates you get such as notifications, flash sales and discounts, and such.

Here’s an easy email filter to find all your email subscriptions to unsubscribe from. In the search bar, type:

Screenshot 7

unsubscribe OR “manage your subscription”

This query will find everything you’re subscribed to. Now you can unsubscribe one by one from newsletters you don’t read anymore.

BONUS TIP: Another thing you could do is to move all these emails to a separate folder “Optional” and then read them on your own time.

6. Stop Being Bombarded By Notifications With This Simple Filter

We have a lot of IT people reading AE. When we put together Escape Your Email -the first course in the industry that teaches people how to effectively manage email – we worked with a lot of system administrators, IT directors and managers.

If you’re not in IT, let me describe to you what their inboxes typically look like: it’s 90% system notifications. They get hundreds of emails a day and most of them are auto-generated notifications.

I’m not kidding. 9 out of 10 emails are just automated notifications about servers, systems and such. They have to read them and monitor them but they really aren’t that important. What is getting lost are the important email support tickets and mission-critical updates.

You might not work in IT but you might have similar email notifications that you get. Maybe it’s from social media (someone commented on your photo), the project management tool you use, or a daily report you only ready once a week.

Don’t let these automated notifications take up your attention and clutter your inbox. You can set up a filter for this.

If you’ve followed along so far, you already know how to set up email filters so I won’t repeat it here because it’s going to be different per person. What I would suggest is to filter by sender’s email address AND subject line.

7. Pay Your Bills Quicker and Make Filing Your Taxes A Little Easier

Do you want all your bills in one folder?

Yes, you’ve guessed it. There’s a filter for that. It might make filing your taxes a little easier when everything is in one place.

(If you run a business, you really should put everything on a company credit card. That will make it even easier and you won’t need this filter.)

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Create list of all companies that you get bills from
  2. If possible, create a filter based on the email addresses of each vendor/company you work with. If that’s not possible, then create a filter for each company. Either way, route the emails into folder “Bills”.

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)

If you don’t have Autopay enabled, make sure you check this folder on a frequent basis to pay your bills on time. I highly recommend you use Autopay but if it’s not an option, then create a recurring task in your task manager.

(Please, do not put this on your calendar. You’re cluttering your calendar for unnecessary reasons. This really should be in your task manager with due dates.)

8. Put All Your Purchases and Receipts In One Place

Related to bills, you can also have all your purchases and receipts in one place. If you shop at the same place, you could create a custom filter for it.

On top of that, you can also create a generic filter for emails that contain the word “receipt” or “order number”. For example:

Screenshot 8

Has words: receipt OR “order number”

9. Protect Yourself From Spammers with This Filter

A lot of people are very secretive and hesitant to share their email address. Some people even create multiple email addresses: one for spam, one for regular use and one only for family.

Personally, I think that’s overkill but I can understand where they are coming from. They want to ensure their email address doesn’t get spread around and such.

Spam is a legitimate concern and most of us deal with it on a daily basis. If you ever wanted to know if a website is sharing your email address, you can use a nifty trick with Gmail by using a plus sign.

For example, let’s say your email was [email protected]

You could also have:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Anything that appears after the plus sign gets ignored. Gmail will read it as “[email protected]”. However, you can still create filters around the full email address with the plus sign. That means you can filter emails based on “To:[email protected]” and any variation with the plus sign.

I’ve seen some people do this when they signed up for our email newsletter which led me to research this.

You can also use this for other purposes. For example, let’s say you email yourself often stuff and you want it automatically sent to a specific folder. You could use [email protected] and create a filter to redirect it based on the folder name.

The same idea applies if you own your own domain. You could set up a catchall email address that gets sent to your primary email address and put into a folder.
So let’s say your email address is [email protected], you could send emails to [email protected] which gets redirected to your personal email address, and then stored in folder “finance”.

How to set that up is beyond the scope of this post but I wanted to let you know that it is possible.

10. Create Your Filter Based On Your Needs

I hope by now that you have a good idea how powerful and useful email filters can be. The possibilities are endless but everyone’s situation is different.

That’s why I recommend you start thinking about creating some of your own filters. Here are a couple ideas:

  • Put all UPS, DHL and FedEx notifications in one place
  • Each time you get a confirmation email of a flight you’ve booked it gets automatically forwarded to Tripit
  • For all the emails you can’t turn off or unsubscribe from, have them skip the inbox. For example, I do this for confirmation emails from OpenTable when I’ve booked a restaurant. I can’t turn off these emails otherwise I’d lose the service.
  • If you’re an avid online shopper you can put all your emails containing “discount” or “coupon” in one folder.

There are endless ways you can use email filters to make your life easier.

The primary benefit is that a lot of unimportant emails skip your inbox. Keep your inbox for the important emails that need your attention.

Based on my own experience and our clients’ experiences, you do not want to have important emails skip the inbox. What happens is the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomena. If you don’t see it in your inbox, you’re more likely to miss out on it. That’s why we advise you to keep your important emails in your inbox. You can still use filters for them, i.e. color emails from your boss in red, but the power of filters really shines for all the unimportant emails.

Next Action

Implement one email filter today. Do not try to implement all of them at the same time. You might get confused and lost when you don’t see any emails coming in (especially if you make a mistake in a filter).

Put one filter in place, get used to it for a few weeks and then implement another one. Over time you’ll save hundreds of hours on email. This is not an exaggeration. I still have email filters in place from 2010 and they’re still working fine and have saved me hundreds of hours over the years.

In a strange way, it’s a good investment to make. But like I said, start with one and slowly implement the others over time.

And if you need more help, I recommend you check out Inbox Detox to help you declutter your email inbox. We also have a training course inside The Dojo, our productivity community, that discusses more tips and tricks on email.

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27 Comments

Posted by sivanandareddy  | June 2, 2018 at 11:05AM | Reply

thanks dude for all you r information

Posted by Mary Keith Tarrobal  | June 4, 2018 at 6:32AM

We’re glad that you’ve found the contents of this post informative. We appreciate it. :)

Posted by Brian H  | May 28, 2018 at 12:47AM | Reply

Unfortunately never use gmail; need FFox equivalents. Used to be easy, but can’t create filters any more. );-(

Posted by gunet  | March 29, 2018 at 10:56PM | Reply

thank you so much

Posted by Gianpaolo G.  | February 23, 2018 at 2:18PM | Reply

Impressive effort. This article is very useful to help save tons of time with emails every day.

Posted by Mary Keith Tarrobal  | February 27, 2018 at 10:24AM

We’re happy to know that you liked the article. :)

Posted by Lindsay  | February 20, 2018 at 2:24PM | Reply

I have numerous filters setup currently and am looking to start utilizing Newton. Does anyone know if I will have to eliminate these in Outlook to ensure all email carries over to Newton?

Posted by Daniel  | February 20, 2018 at 8:34AM | Reply

I’ve been doing this for years, but server side on Gmail, through which I route all my accounts (including institutional ones) except for my Apple account. I thus only have two inboxes, and by spending two minutes per day adding any new filters for new senders on Gmail, I seldom have more than ten emails per day that I know automatically are important. Once or twice a day I run my eye down the list of other folders that these Gmail filters have automatically created in Postbox to see if anything needs checking. About twice a week I run internal Postbox rules on various folders containing newsletters, advertising, promotions etc. which I have either read or will not now read, and all messages more than a certain number of days old are automatically deleted.

Posted by Yannick  | September 10, 2016 at 6:08AM | Reply

For “10. Follow Up”, if you are a PC Outlook user, the best for me, remains GTDOA addin – unfortunately a discontinued product but I hang to it because nothing can beat it yet. Why? This addin adds a “Send & Delegate” option before sending the email. Which creates an automatic “waiting for” task right after the email was sent. It makes the review process of all “WF” super lean.

Posted by Curtis  | March 31, 2016 at 1:54PM | Reply

I’ve set up several filters in Postbox and they work fine when I run them manually but they don’t seem to be working automatically…

Posted by Mark Pearson  | March 31, 2016 at 12:06PM | Reply

Implemented all of these, including at work. Looking forward to getting them to free up my time.

Posted by Vishnuteerth  | July 30, 2015 at 7:36AM | Reply

Thanks for this article Thanh. I have implemented filters in gmail based on which email is moved automatically to some labels. While this solves the problem of excess email clutter in the gmail web interface, I am finding that postbox (set up based on imap), still shows some of the mails that ought to be under a label, under inbox… any ideas on why this is happening and how I can fix this?

Posted by Killybush  | January 4, 2015 at 6:58AM | Reply

Apple mail rules are fine for many things. But they do not filter off Facebook messages, THE most annoying category of incoming mail. Perhaps there is a way to do it, but if not, why is this?

Posted by Xavier  | August 27, 2013 at 3:13AM | Reply

Another great tip: create a catch-all e-mail address (if you own the domain). Then, when you give out your e-mail address, use @youremail.com. When you start receiving unwanted e-mails or even spam on that e-mail address, you can easily filter it out and see who sold your e-mail address. Extra benefit: you can ask your bookkeeper to send e-mails to e.g. [email protected], your family members to use [email protected] and set the filters up accordingly.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | August 27, 2013 at 1:21PM

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

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

Nice!
I’m gonna use all of them!

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