[HOWTO] Tame Your Overflowing Email Inbox

Category: Email

Is your inbox overflowing? Are important messages getting lost in the shuffle? Are you spending too much time managing your email? If so, it's likely you're not using filters to direct the flow of incoming emails. Learn how to automatically file messages in folders, forward them to someone else, or dump them straight into the trash. Oh, and if your Spam folder is gobbling up messages that don't belong there, I'll also show you how to solve that problem too...

Create Your Own Email Rules and Filters

If your inbox typically has hundreds (or thousands) of unread messages, you may feel anxious just thinking about what you might have missed. You may be wearing out the Delete button out of frustration. And your family or friends may be wondering why you haven't replied to them.

A lot of time is spent sorting, moving, forwarding and deleting email instead of reading and acting upon it. Email filters, also called rules, can relieve you of some of this administrative burden. Today I'll explain how they work, and how they can work for you!

Read on for help using filters or rules to automatically direct your incoming email messages in a way that makes sense for you. The goal is to decrease the amount of time you spend managing your inbox, and increase the time you spend actually reading and replying to your emails. Below you'll find instructions for how to do that with several of the most popular email services.

Creating Email Filters

To create a filter in GMail, log in to your account and click the "Show search options" icon inside the search box at the top of the page. (See image below) A window displaying search options appears. Parts of a message that can be searched include the From, To, and Subject fields, and the message body. You can optionally select messages that have attachments, or are part of chat sessions. You can also filter based on the size or date of the message.

To find all mail from a specific contact, start typing his/her name or email address in the “From” field. Select the desired contact from those that appear. If you want to filter ALL messages from a specific domain, you can enter example.com (for example) in the From box.

When you've entered all your criteria, click the “Create filter” link in the bottom-right corner of the window. Some actions that can be applied to matching messages are obvious: Skip the Inbox (archive), delete (move to trash), and forward to another address. One action that I find very useful is "Never send to Spam." I subscribe to a few newsletters that would occasionally end up in the Spam bucket, so this ensures they always make it to my inbox.

Creating a Gmail Filter

Gmail does not have user-defined folders; instead, “labels” can be created and attached to messages. You can think of them as folders, because they work in much the same way. With a filter, you can funnel all messages that match your criteria into a label. Combining the "Apply the label" option with "Skip the Inbox" is a useful trick.

IMPORTANT: If you check the box "Also apply filter to matching conversations" your new filter will be applied to existing messages, as well as new messages as they arrive. This lets you apply your filter retroactively, which can help to organize the messages you've already accumulated.


Outlook.com (formerly called Hotmail, and not to be confused with the Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express desktop email programs) calls its filters “rules.” To create a custom rule, start by clicking the gear icon near the top right on Outlook.com’s main menu; then select “View all Outlook settings” in the dropdown window. Click the "Rules" link in the Settings dialog, then click the "+" icon to begin creating a rule.

You can filter messages based on the sender’s name or email address, words in the message’s subject or body, message size, whether it has attachments or not, and who the message was sent to. Matched messages can be moved to another folder, marked as junk mail, labeled with a category name, deleted immediately, flagged for followup later, or forwarded to another email address.

Outlook.com lets you create rules to automatically handle email as it comes in, but doesn't give you the option to apply your new rule to messages that have already arrived.


Yahoo! Mail’s filtering procedure is similar to Outlook.com. Start at the main menu and select the gear icon found at the top right of the window, then "More Settings". Click the Filters link and then click “Add new filters” to create a new filter.

Areas you can search include From, To/CC, and Subject fields, and the body of messages. Operators that can be applied to the target text (search keywords) include Contains, Does Not Contain, Begins With, and Ends With. You can specify whether the filter should be case-sensitive or not. For example, if you specify "banana" as a word to look for in the Body, and you check the "Match case" box, then messages containing "banana" will match, but those with "Banana" or "BANANA" will not.

Options are somewhat limited here. You can move messages that match filter criteria to other folders (including Trash, Spam, or a filter you create), but you cannot forward a message to another email address, or apply your filter to existing messages.


To create filters in Apple’s iCloud Mail, log in to your iCloud.com account and select the Mail app. Click the gear icon at the bottom-left corner and select “Rules” from the pop-up menu. Select “Add a Rule” to get started.

iCloud Mail’s filtering options are limited compared to those in the OS X desktop Mail client. (So are Outlook.com’s compared to the MS Office Outlook client.) But creating a filter is dead easy. Using drop-down menus, select a condition to be met, i.e., “If a message is from…” Second, complete the condition statement by entering text, i.e., “me@mymail.com.” Third, specify the action to be taken, i.e., “Move it to…” trash, spam, some other folder, etc.


AOL Mail filters can divert incoming messages to specified folders or send an alert to your AIM or mobile phone (not the whole message, just an alert that you have an email from so-and-so waiting).

To create a filter in AOL Mail, start by clicking the down-arrow next to your Username in the upper-right corner of the AOL Mail screen. Click Mail Settings and then select “Filters Settings.” Click "Create filter", name the new rule, then set up the condition(s) and action to be performed on messages that meet the condition(s).


Are you still using a desktop email client such as Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird? If so, a bit of Googling (or the Help screens in those programs) will point you to the instructions for creating filters there. The concepts should be very similar to what I've discussed above. I've been using Gmail since 2004, and I can't imagine being tied to a single desktop for my email. Webmail services such as Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com allow you to manage your email from any computer (or mobile device) with an Internet connection.

It's worthwhile learning the capabilities of the filters or rules in your email client. Doing so will keep your inbox tidy and organized, and will save you time and tedium. GMail has the most flexible and powerful filtering options of all the ones I've worked with, which is one of the reasons I use it manage my inbox.

I should mention that you can avoid the need for a filter if the offending items can be squelched by simply unsubscribing. Look for the "Unsubscribe" or "Manage subscription" link that's usually buried at the bottom of the email message. Sometimes it's in a tiny font, or masked with a color that makes it hard to find.

Here's one final tip: If your email doesn't have the type of filtering you want, create a free GMail account and forward all your messages to that address, where they can be filtered according to your needs. You can even configure Gmail to send outgoing messages with your old address in the "From" line, so your friends will never know the difference.

Do you use email filters or rules to tame your inbox? If so, how? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 9 Feb 2024


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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Tame Your Overflowing Email Inbox"

Posted by:

bb
09 Feb 2024

Microsoft has over 10 products involving the word "Outlook." Confusing. And they are releasing another, called "Outlook (New)." Yes, the "(New)" makes it different than all the rest.

Sheezh. And if you really want to know, Outlook (New) is the replacement for "Mail."

They really, really need to work on their nomenclature. They keep trying to dumb it down, e.g. simplify, but all they do is make it more confusing.


Posted by:

hifi5000
09 Feb 2024

I think I have a solution that others on here can do.Instead of one e-mail address to handle every message,I have two addresses to handle messages with varying priority.

I have one primary address to handle messages from wanted and higher priority persons. The other e-mail address handles messages from other entities that are lower priority such as newsletters and weekly tip bulletins.Both addresses are set up to fight spam.

I use a e-mail client,Thunderbird,where I can use local folders to store my messages.

At the end of each month,I go on a web browser and directly delete any messages from that month that I do not need.As a precaution,my Trash folder retention period is 3 weeks in case I need to pull back a message which happens rarely.


Posted by:

Stephen
09 Feb 2024

@hifi5000,
We set up a similar arrangement for my mom. We all used the verizon dot net email since we were using their service (nowadays, you access it from the aol site). They allowed you to create subaccounts. So we had one for us family folks, then we added a miscellaneous address (it had 'misc' in the left side) and a 'valid business' which had a 'vb' in the left the side. The theory was that the vb would be used for things like well, valid businesses, for example, utilities and banking and the misc would be for newsletters or other organizations that didn't rise to the level of a valid business. For her it worked pretty well.

I have my own domain as well as the verizon address from years ago along with some sub accounts. Pretty much just friends and family use the vz account, and all other entities (like Bob) get their own email address at mydomain. So when Bob sends out his emails I can see that it's addressed to the address I gave him and and it's from him. My email host has the catch-all function which I pay extra for so that any and everything at my domain gets sent to it. I also have it auto-forwarded to my verizon account so I have the email in both places. I too use thunderbird and keep stuff around on the web servers for a few weeks before thunderbird automatically deletes them.


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
10 Feb 2024

I'm a retiree, and I don't interact with many people/organizations. I have two email accounts. One's an outlook, and the other's a gmail account. Both are set up using IMAP. I use Thunderbird as my email client on three computers that dual-boot two OSes each. When I move from one computer/OS to another, the Inboxes are automatically synchronized because IMAP retains my messages on the server. I don't bother with local folders, I just create the folders I want for email organization on the servers using their Webmail interfaces. When I finish reading a message, I move it from my Inbox to the folder I'll store it in, and it's automatically moved on the server too.

I mostly use email to get newsletters and correspondence from a few websites I post on. When I want to interact with my friends and family, I usually call them on the phone or see them in person. I'm lucky because my friends and family members all live in my community.

When I receive an unexpected message, if it purports to come from a trusted source such as a friend or family member, I contact them by phone to confirm they sent it. For other sources, such as businesses I deal with or my bank, I go to their website rather than to take a chance on the links in the message (I'm skeptical of unexpected messages, and my bank will never send me messages containing links). Any message I can't confirm gets sent to the spam/junk folder. Everything else gets read at my leisure.

When I read any message, if there's a link in it, I check that the URL it will send me to matches its label before I do anything else. If I have the slightest doubt about it, I don't click. If I want to check out the destination, I do an Internet search for it instead.

I don't use filters here because I don't get too many messages on any given day, so I can easily 'filer' them manually, as I go through my email each day.

That's about it for how I handle email here,

Ernie


Posted by:

Frank
10 Feb 2024

I am 84 years old and have vision impairment so I looked diligently for the "gear" icon on my Hotmail account. It turns out that at the far right of icons are three dots horizontally positioned. That's where I found "Rules".


Posted by:

Rick
10 Feb 2024

I have tried unsubscribing to email that I don't want but it never seems to work. If anything, I seem to get more junk emails.


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