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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 August 20, 2019

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. 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.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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