in Discoveries

I have one major rule when it comes to email: anything that enters my inbox must come from a human being. It is easy to set up? Absolutely. Was that opening line intended to sound sexual? Probably.

This is important for two reasons. First, I don’t like when my phone vibrates, I take it out, I see a notification, I open my email, and oh really Bed Bath & Beyond has another 20% coupon what a shock. Second, minimizing the junk that comes into your inbox helps you process email more effectively.

It all starts with filters

Back when I started tinkering with filters, there was no Priority Inbox, separate Gmail tabs, or Google Inbox. Honestly, those Gmail features work well and may be enough for you. However, if you’re an email power-user overall control freak like me, I find that setting up filters manually—though it takes more effort—pays off enormously. I’m reminded of this every time I see the 30 or so emails that skipped my inbox, and think how nice it was to not pull my phone out 30 additional times that day.

Gmail has a good overview of creating filters, but I’m going to show you how to make a specific filter so non-essential emails bypass your inbox entirely and go into a separate label which you can check at your convenience. The beauty is that these non-essential emails won’t be mixed with your important email, and you decide when to read them.

Let’s get started.

How to filter messages to skip your inbox

Take a look at this example inbox I set up below. You wouldn’t notice at first, but scattered throughout the onslaught of Bed Bath & Beyond coupons there are some emails I actually need to respond to.

01 clean inbox

Step 1: Open any email you’d like to skip your inbox. Now click the “More” drop-down menu and select “Filter messages like these.”

02 clicking "filter messages"This will bring up the Gmail search box and automatically fill in the sender’s email address so you can filter all messages by this criterion.1 If you want to test out your search to see all the messages you’re able to filter, click on the search button. To get back to the filter creation prompt, click on the small grey arrow on the right side of the search box.

Step 2: Click the text “Create filter with this search.”

03 filter window

Step 3: Configure your screen to look like the image below by checking the following options:

  • Skip the Inbox (Archive It)
  • Apply the label: Junkie
  • Also apply filter to matching conversations.

I made up the name “Junkie” because I liked how it sounded like “Junk” but it’s not actually junk. It’s junk-ish. After all, I still want to read these emails at some point. You can create any label you want, just as long as you know this is where your non-essential emails will end up.

04 filter settings

Step 4: Hit “Create Filter” and watch the magic happen.

05 clean inbox

BOOM. Notice how the only emails that are left in my inbox were sent from actual humans! This makes processing my inbox extremely simple.

Filters may vary

You’re likely going to need to set up a lot of filters, basically one for each sender of non-essential email you receive. What I mean by “non-essential” is any email that you don’t necessarily need to read the moment you receive it. Here are some examples of what skips my inbox:

  • Bank statements
  • Any and all coupons and offers from retailers
  • Updates from forums I’m subscribed to
  • Announcements from concert venues about new shows
  • College alumni updates
  • Amazon order confirmations
  • Anything from social media, including Facebook event invitations, friend requests, mentions on Twitter, etc.
  • Emails from my coworker Paul Rabjohns

Obviously your own list will be based on your personal tastes. Some people may need to read bank statements as soon as they receive them. But most of us don’t.

I have over 200 filters that I’ve created over the years. Each time an email pops in my inbox I think, “Do I need to read these types of emails immediately?” If the answer is no, I create a filter. If I don’t have time right then, I mark the email as Follow-up and deal with it later.

The goal is to make sure that the only email that enters your inbox is worth pulling out your phone for. Questions from your boss, weekend plans with friends, delivery confirmations, etc. Take control of your inbox; don’t let it control you.

I should note that setting up filters is only half the battle. You still need to be able to process those important emails quickly and effectively. Check out an article I wrote about that very idea—the best way to organize your Gmail inbox.

  1. There are times where the sender’s address isn’t the most effective criterion. Some companies, for example, may send you email from a few different email addresses. Instead of creating separate filters for each one of these emails, see if there are any commonalities between all the emails. Do they all have the same subject line? Or even if the email addresses are different, is the sender name always “Bed Bath & Beyond”? If so, you can simply type that into the “From” field. Experiment. Gmail’s search is supremely powerful. []