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Taming Gmail: Streamline Your Inbox With Google's Filters

Learn how to automate your e-mail sorting using Google Gmail's powerful filters, and keep your in-box clear for good.

Gmail filters help keep your inbox clear.
(click for image gallery)

People often complain about being overwhelmed by e-mail, but staying on top of it is pretty simple -- if you approach it with the right philosophy and two simple rules:

  1. You don't need to look at new messages as soon as they come in. In fact, you shouldn't.
  2. You don't need to respond to, or even read, most of your e-mail. In fact, you shouldn't.

Life would be simple if you could simply ignore all your e-mail. But you need to read and react to some of it right away, including e-mail from your boss, close co-workers, spouse, family, and close friends. All other messages should wait until you've got time to deal with them on your schedule -- not the sender's.

The trick to e-mail, then, is knowing the difference between the e-mail you need to jump on right away, and the e-mail you need to postpone until you have time.

Gmail can help with that. The Google mail service offers powerful filters that instruct Gmail to automatically sort your e-mail into folders as it comes in. The most important e-mail goes to your in-box, where you can look at it right away, and most of the less-urgent e-mail can be automatically sorted into folders that you can check several times a week, when you have time to do so. I'm going to walk you through some basic tips how to use Gmail filters today.

Don't Check Your Spam Folder

Let's start with the most important filter of all: The spam filter. Gmail comes with an extremely good spam filter. It's already preconfigured, you don't really have to do anything with it. Sometimes, though, it makes mistakes; it lets a half-dozen to a dozen spam messages through to your in-box every day, and sometimes it incorrectly classified legitimate mail as spam.

Because spam filters are imperfect, users often check their spam folder regularly to see if any good mail has snuck in there.

And that leads to my first Gmail tip: Don't.

TIP: Don't check your spam folder.

I stopped checking my spam folder about a year ago. I noticed that, even though I found several legitimate messages there every week, none of them were important. They were all noise, e-mails I didn't really care about and didn't need to read anyway.

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