Distracted Living, Tech

My efforts to get control of my email through filters

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gmailI get too much email. Yes, I’m not alone in this — many of us are deluged by email. But over the past several years, I’ve becoming increasingly fed up with the email cramming my inbox. I either avoid it, or I stare at it and think, “How can I ever get through this?” It feels like a to-do list that I never created. It just happened.

My solution? Filter messages. Ruthlessly.

There’s nothing novel about creating filters to get a handle on email. People have done this for years. I even wrote a column on email filters and how to use them, back in 2006. And while I created filters for myself years ago, within Gmail, I decided about a month ago to take my filters even further — much, much further — in an effort to avoid having anything other than personal messages in my inbox.

That’s right: I want only email from people, preferably friends and colleagues, in my inbox. No bills. No appointment reminders. Nothing but personal messages in my inbox.

To do this, I used Gmail’s filtering tools (and its labels) to filter messages into folders (well, Gmail calls them labels) with names like “meetups,” “events,” “linked-in,” “facebook,” “reminders-etc,” and so forth.

This is, admittedly, a way to ignore things by avoiding looking at them.

And it’s working for me.

It’s relatively simple to do, especially if you decide, over the course of a month or so, to filter any and every message that comes into your inbox that is not a personal message. That means you don’t avoid the message. You don’t delete it. You filter it. Yes, that’s right: Leave it in your inbox until you’ve created a filter for it.

And Gmail makes creating filters quite easy. I usually filter things by the sender, but sometimes I do it by content appearing in the message. There’s one feature I really like: If you go to Gmail’s settings, and then to Labels, you’ll see that you’re able to set things up so that you only see the folders on your Gmail homepage when you have new/unread email (just select the “show if unread” option for the label from Settings > Labels). I like that quite a bit, largely because it allows me to ignore things unless there are unread messages. And I don’t even see the messages unless I select the folder. What’s more, when I look at email on my iPhone, I don’t see any of those messages — that is, the messages in folders — because I just look at my inbox.

The upshot? My email is under control. Right now, it’s got just three messages in there — two from my wife, another from a photography publication looking for writers.

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