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20 Ways to Use Gmail Filters

20 Ways to Use Gmail Filters

One of the coolest things about Gmail is its filters — set up properly, filters can add loads of functionality to your already-powerful Gmail account. Save time and space, rid your inbox of unwanted emails, and turn your Gmail into a multi-functional tool with simple filters.

There are some limitations to Gmail’s filters that I’d like to see improved in the future, including:

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  • the inability to mark a post as read
  • the inability to create live “smart folders”
  • difficulty in adding a large number of email addresses to a filter

But all in all, the filter function is very cool. Here are some ideas for how to use it:

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  • Killfile. If people send me too much junk mail (jokes, chain mail, etc.), they get added to my killfile. It’s a simple filter that looks at the “from” field and deletes the message if it’s one of the addresses I’ve added to the filter. Every now and then I’ll decide to add someone to my killfile, and I’ll just open up the filter and add their address.
  • Booleans. The filter works much like Gmail’s search function, in that you can add search terms such as AND or OR or NOT. So I can look for addresses that are from a number of people (using OR), or emails that must include all of the words on a list (using AND). Use search operator symbols to make it even easier: “|” for OR, space for AND, “-” for NOT, and parentheses to group different terms in your search string.
  • Other search terms. Beyond the common terms above, your filters can use other terms such as “from:”, “to:”, “has:”, “is:”, “filename:”, and “label:”, among others. Using these terms, you can make your filters even more powerful.
  • Send reminders to someone. One of the things I wish Google would add to Gmail is the ability to send a delayed email. This would allow me to send reminders to someone at regular times. Instead, I sign up for a reminder email service to send reminders (meant for other people) to my gmail address, and then set up filters to forward the reminders to various people depending on the subject or content of the email. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to send reminders to different people on a regular basis.
  • Calendar and log. I set up Google Calendar to send me reminders of events. You can set up a label (“events”) so that your calendar reminders go straight to the label, star the message, and skip the inbox. Now not only are your events in one place, instead of scattered through your inbox, you can unstar the message when you complete the task or event, and now you also have a log of all the things you’ve done.
  • To-dos. This is a commonly used function, but you can email yourself tasks that you need to do, and then set up a filter that has your email address in both the “to” and “from” boxes, that applies the label “to-do” to the message. This will allow you to view all your to-dos in one filter. Or, if you’re a GTD fan, you could set up to-dos for each context (@work, @home, @errands, @phone, etc.), by creating different labels for each, and then setting up filters for different email addresses. Email yourself at yourname+work (you don’t need the @gmail.com part), and set up the filter to label that address “@work”, and so on for each context.
  • Follow up. Even if you’re not a GTD fan, having a follow-up label is a must. Simply set up a filter with an email address such as “youname+follow” and put it in the “has the words” filter field, and have this filter label it “@follow” and skip the inbox. Now when you send out an email that needs to be followed up on, put yourname+follow in the “bcc” field, and it’ll go into your “@follow” label. Be sure to check this label once a day so you can follow up on your emails.
  • Send spam to trash. Instead of having Gmail-filtered spam go into your Spam folder (and have the annoying count of unread spam by the folder’s name), set up a filter with “is:spam” in the “has the words” field (just click “OK” on Gmail’s warning dialog box when you click next step) and “Delete it” as the action. Now all spam messages will go in your trash.
  • Archived bookmarks. If you use del.icio.us and other bookmarking services, you can archive them all in a Gmail label (“bookmarks”). Get the feed urls for each of your bookmarking services, enter them in a forwarding service such as rssfwd.com, and then set up a filter to label them all “bookmarks”. Now all your bookmarks are in one place, with Gmail’s great search.
  • Attachments. If you’re like me, you like to go through your old emails and delete a bunch of them at a time. I do common searches during the cleanup process, such as “has:attachment”, so that I can look through all my bigger emails and delete them. Make this process quicker by making a label and filter for this search, and for any of your common searches, for that matter.
  • Media. If you get a lot of media sent to you, such as music files, videos and photos, set up filters (“filename:wmv | filename:mov” for videos, “filename:mp3″ for music, filename:jpg | filename:gif” for photos, or “filename:pdf | filename:doc” for documents). Now you can quickly find any media.
  • Backups. Create a second Gmail account for storage, and create a filter to automatically forward any emails with attachments (“has:attachments”) to this second address. Now you can delete your old emails without guilt or worry.
  • Newsgroups or feeds. You can set up filters for your newsgroups, so they don’t clog up your inbox. Or forward your favorite feeds to your Gmail, and automatically label and archive them for later reading. Now you can not only access them from anywhere, but you can search them too.
  • Bloggers. If you run a blog, you can have all your blog’s comments and pingbacks automatically archived and labeled (“blog”), so your inbox doesn’t get filled up fast. Also have your blog stat reports mailed to you and shunted to this label, so you can get a quick look at your blog’s success at a glance.
  • Delete old sent emails. There’s no reason, in most cases, to keep your really old sent emails. Delete them. Create a filter with “before:2006/06/01 label:sent” with “Delete it” as the action (you’ll need to click “OK” to Gmail’s warning dialog). Every month or so, update the date of this filter.
  • No delete. Some emails you don’t want to delete — those precious ones from your kids, for example, or maybe ones from your boss. Set up a label (“nodelete”) and a filter that puts the nodelete label on emails from (or to) the addresses you want. Now, some of the above filters, add the string “-nodelete” so that it doesn’t show these emails. Now you can delete your old sent emails, or your attachment emails, for example, without worry that your kids’ or boss’ emails will be trashed along with the rest of the riffraff.
  • Flickr. Forward your Flickr account’s feed to your Gmail, with a filter to automatically label it, and now your photos are searchable through Gmail. You can also set up filters to send notices that certain tags in your Flickr account has new photos to certain relatives.
  • Notes. Email yourself notes on web research, on meetings, on books you’re reading, on classes you’re taking. Set up a filter to archive and label them (if you send notes to yourname+notes, for example). Now they’re searchable and archived and accessible from anywhere.
  • Twitter. Use your mobile phone to send text messages or IM messages to Twitter, with a keyword at the beginning of each Twitter message (NOTE, TODO, BLOG, FOLLOW, etc.). Forward your Twitter account’s feed to your Gmail, and set up filters for each type of keyword (“note twitter” will be labeled “note” for example). Now you can use your mobile device to send notes, to-dos, follow-up reminders and more to your Gmail through Twitter.
  • Wildcard. Use the wildcard character (*) for companies that use multiple types of address from the same domain. One great use I’ve seen is to use the wildcard character for vendors such as Amazon or eBay to make it easier to track online purchases. Create a label (“online shopping”) and a filter with such email addresses as “*@amazon.com|*@ebay.com|*@paypal.com|*@barnesandnoble.com”.
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More by this author

Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

The Gentle Art of Saying No How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips

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Last Updated on April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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