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5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering

5 Types of Emails You Should be Automatically Filtering

    How many emails do you have in your inbox right now? Are you an inbox zero freak like me? Or do you have emails piled up and unread that you’re hoping you’ll get time to get to?

    I’m not judging – I used to have as messy an inbox as anyone. And even now, if I go on vacation or don’t check my email for too long, I can get in a heap of trouble: the email piles up, and it can be a real chore getting back to my empty inbox.

    I’ve got a few tips up my sleeve though to make dealing with email a little less painful – and I’ve found the best defense is a strong offense. In this article, I’m going to give you some concrete tips and examples to reduce the number of emails in your inbox instantly – and help you keep it that way long term with the use of filters.

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    What Are Email Filters?

    Email filter is like my own little army single purpose email virtual assistants. You tell each one to check each email for a specific set of things and then tell it a specific action to do with it. Some criteria you can check on include:

    • Who is it from?
    • Who is it to?
    • What words are in the subject?
    • What words are in the body?

    Some actions you can typically take are:

    • Delete it
    • Mark it as read
    • File it somewhere
    • Send an automated response

    I use GMail and I know Outlook (and most desktop program) have this capability, you’ll have to check with your webmail provider for how it’s done. With that brief introduction, here are the five types of emails I always filter.

    1. Email Newsletters

    Any blog I sign up for, any marketing email list – the very first thing I do after confirming my subscription is I set up a filter to automatically filter this into a “ToRead” bucket. I do this two ways:

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    1. Use the + symbol to make a unique email address. For example, if you are john@gmail.com, you also receive any email sent to john+newsletter@gmail.com. I use a similar strategy, so all my email newsletters are sent to a specific email account that is automatically filtered to a bucket to read later.
    2. Filter by sender. A little more tedious, but you can set up individual filters for each sender as well.

    2. Friends Forwarding Me Articles

    I have a friend who constantly sends me political articles from a handful of websites. In spite of anonymously emailing them from http://stopforwarding.com/ as well as telling them in person, they won’t stop. I don’t want to filter all their emails, since occasionally they email me with something legitimate (a non-forward).

    So I filter them based on sender and checking for a handful of websites in the body of their email.  I do this with a lot of people, and it helps separate the junk they want to send me from the real conversations we’re having.  Every week or so I’ll take a look at my “Review Weekly” and see these emails in there – and usually just delete them.

    3. Comment and Ping Notifications on my Blog

    I’ve got a full time job, and while I take my blog seriously, I don’t need to be seeing all the comments and trackbacks instantly. I try to get to them every day or every few days, but I don’t want them clogging my inbox.

    I filter these into a folder that I try to review nightly – but if I can’t get to it nightly, no big deal. When I do get to it, I try to batch process them for at least 30 minutes at a time, visit everyone who has linked to me, perhaps leave a comment – and reply to the people who have been gracious enough to comment on my blog.

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    4. Facebook/Twitter/Social Media Notifications

    I don’t need to know right away when someone follows me, friends me, directs messages me, etc.  I usually check social networking and media sites at least once a week anyway, and can process the notifications at that time.

    For a while, I filtered all these and then checked them at my convenience.    For the most part though, now if I check the site often enough (like I do with Twitter and Facebook) I just turn off the email notifications altogether.

    5. Store Promotions

    I like hearing about the latest deals and specials, but there is no reason this needs to interrupt my normal daily workflow.   I looked at it, and realizedI might purchase something from one of these newsletters once a year – if even that frequently!

    So I filter all of them into a “Review Optional” folder – and if I have time, I’ll browse them at my leisure. If not – no big deal, I just delete them every couple weeks.

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    OK, I Have My Filters – Now What?

    Once you’ve created some of these filters, GMail (what I use) has an option to immediately run them on whatever you’ve got in your inbox. Use this to instantly filter low priority items away so you can focus on what’s important.

    Going forward, your filters will be applied to any new email that comes in. This will keep your inbox clean so you can read the relevant, important emails first, before you head to your folders to deal with these low priority emails that may still be important to you – but don’t require as quick a response.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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