The Beneficence of Email Filters

Email has been a mainstay of communication for a long time, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. Email is also one of the easiest mediums to program. And as a result, almost every website, app, or online shop we use sends us a barrage of notifications, advertisements, and updates every day.

These can really pile up! And somewhere within this relentless digital blizzard are a few real people who actually need our attention. The good news is, most email systems give you the ability to set up filters so that you only see what you need to see.

Targeting emails

This example uses Gmail, but most email providers have very similar filtering capabilities.

1. Click into an email you want to keep out of your inbox.

2. Tap the triple-dot menu icon to bring up action options, and click on "Filter messages like this"


A form will pop up, allowing you to isolate this kind of email in the future. You can target:


  • “From” - sender address
  • “To” - recipient address
  • “Subject” - the text of the subject line
  • “Has the words” - text within the contents of the email
  • “Doesn’t have” - check if the contents of the email lacks a word or phrase
  • “Size” - allows you to filter based on total storage size of the email, including its text and attachments.
    (There is also a “Has attachment” checkbox to help narrow your search.)
  • “Date within” - filter mail received within a specific time frame
  • “Search within” - determine scope (search in “all mail”, or limit to a folder or label)

In the case of Facebook emails, they will come from [email protected]. You could use the full address to isolate ‘notifications’, or you could use just “facebookmail.com” so that all mail from Facebook is targeted. (This strategy will work for any website.)

Tip: Unless you’re trying to accomplish something really specific, it is sufficient to just enter the “From” address.

3. When you’re ready, click the “Create filter” button.

Setting up the filter

The next screen allows you to decide what to do with the emails your search returns.


You can choose one or several of these options. Here are a few ways I set up my filters:

  • In the case of Facebook or Twitter emails, I simply select “Delete it.” I don’t need social media emails. When I want Facebook updates, I open Facebook and check my red-flag notifications. It’s safe to just delete them the moment they arrive.
  • Some emails are good to store, but aren’t important to read, like Amazon purchase confirmations. For these, I select “Skip the inbox (Archive it)” and “Mark as read”. You might also choose to apply a label to these emails so that you can quickly bring up a list of all your Amazon notifications.
  • If I get an email forwarded from my “[email protected]” address, I “Star it” and apply a “Support” label on it to ensure it doesn’t go unnoticed.

There are a ton of additional options, such as automatically forwarding certain types of emails to another address, marking them as ‘important’, preventing them from being marked as “spam”, applying your filter to the whole conversation… You can go as simple or complex as you need.

When you’re happy with your action plan, click “Create filter”, and Gmail will automatically apply the new rule.

And if you nerd out on this stuff as much as I do, your life will be filled with new levels of glee to see mounds of obnoxious email magically expelled from your inbox.

Take charge of your inbox in just a few minutes

By setting up a few simple filters today, you’ll reduce your inbox traffic by 90% or more. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to save yourself a thousand hours of searching through the angry e-blizzard for the messages that actually matter.