Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Keep your inbox on a diet

In this post I write about a short list of things that I did to keep my inbox uncluttered on Gmail. The feeling I get now with a light inbox is similar to the one I get after I clean my apartment: I enjoy being there.

Image by dnorman

Recently I've been observing myself getting anxious by trying to act on incoming mail. Bold entries in Inbox are giving me an itch, I feel that I need to answer or read or do something about them immediately.

The spam filter in Gmail is extremely good, but the problem wasn't too much spam. It was all the emails that I want to read. Even if I shut off the email tab to be able to focus on work, when I open it up, I still scan, read or even react on messages which are not urgent.

The solution was to mercilessly filter and archive. The main focus was to move all the email that I can see later away from the Inbox and here are some hints that helped me.


Group friends

I made a list with email addresses of people that usually send me jokes, funny web sites and such things. Then I put the list in the following form:
{ friend1@myfriend1domain.com friend2@myfriend2domain.com }
and made a filter which applies a label named 'Friends' to messages from the addresses above.

The curly brackets tell Gmail to look for all the search terms inside. You may also use names, not only the full email address. I also checked "Skip the Inbox" in the filter editor, to archive them on arrival. This moves the email from the Inbox, which was the main purpose. I left the emails unread so that I know later which ones are new.


No need to unsubscribe - build a filter

You can get rid of all the newsletters you subscribed to some time ago and you don't read anymore. It's a bit annoying to go to each website and unsubscribe. Most of the times it’s useless. What I did was to make a few filters that mark the newsletter messages as read and archive them. You may even apply a label, if you plan to locate the email later easily.

It's also possible to use a more complex filter that will do the same job. Check this post on lifehacker to see how.


Group enemies

Most of the emails I get are from friends or from various nice guys concerned about my sexual life. You may apply the same policy mentioned above for friends to keep away messages coming from annoying contacts. The action is different: delete them right from the start. Gmail keeps messages in trash for 30 days, so you still have some to undo if needed.


Track your behavior

I’ve been watching the way I handle emails for a few days. This made me notice more patters, like always marking as read messages from a certain friend, without actually reading them.

Some other newsletters I forgot about were popping up. I solved the problem on spot by extending the filtering scheme to include the new pattern. Live a happy life with your slim Inbox.


On the following two pages you’ll find a gazillion tricks related to Gmail:

1 comment:

Nicusor said...

These tips you are using are interesting. But not everybody has this itch seeing unread e-mails in inbox:).

Nevertheless, I have a different one. If I move an unread e-mail into a different folder, I will forget about it.

So, for personal e-mail account but also for business, I quickly review everything is new and identify what is urgent to react, and for the rest, one by one, I check them and move/apply label according with the content or the sender.

This is my method to be sure I'm not skipping anything. Sure, I'm not using all the power of the Web2.0 Gmail, but at least I can sleep well.