Keep your emails under control

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I do not know about you, but I’ve seen many people that have 100’s of unread emails in their inbox. Will they ever read them? No … Does it make sense to keep them unread? I don’t think so !

This blog is for those with lots and lots of unread emails in their inbox. I focus on specific technologies (Mac, iPad/iPhone, Gmail based account), but the principles can be applied to any email hosting service, and can be done without the tools I mention (it may simply be more time consuming without the tools I suggest).

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From what I have seen, most of the unread emails are for one of the following reasons:

  1. Potentially important emails that you still want to do something with.
  2. Junk emails that the spam filter did not catch, or newsletters that you registered to and are of no interest to you anymore.
  3. You actually want to get the email, but you usually ignore it because you look for it only when you need to (an example is groupon / social shopper / expedia deals etc).

Personally, I do not believe in the “unsubscribe” request. I think that some companies honor it, but others don’t, so I treat everyone the same … I do not generally use the unsubscribe link, I simply do the following:

For the first category (emails that are potentially important), you can do one of two things: Continue what you’ve done so far (not read them until you do), or you can embrace a GTD approach, and forward them to your GTD tool inbox (read more about this here). The reality is that once you implement the rest of what I propose, it should make little difference.

Regarding the second type, create a new contact on your computer (either in windows or Mac – I use mac). The first name of the contact is “Delete”, and the last name is “Me”. Scour through your inbox, and add the senders you do not like to that user. The easiest way I found to do this, is on an iPad or an iPhone using the mail program. click on the “from” address, and hit the “add to existing contact”, select the “Delete Me” contact.

Here is an example of how it looks on my system: image

Regarding the third type, create a new contact with the first name “Ignore”, and the last name “Me”, and repeat the same process. This time add all of the emails you would still like to get, but you don’t really care too much about.

It should be enough to go through emails from the the last 30 days, because newsletters and other repeating emails are usually sent on a monthly / bi weekly / weekly basis, so by the time you are done with a month you will cover the majority of the “offenders”.

Once you added all of the emails to the Delete Me, and Ignore Me accounts, you will need to generate a list of the emails. Each email separated with the string ” OR “. Example:

foo@domain.com OR bar@secondDomain.com OR other@junk.com … etc …

You can achieve this using one of two ways:

  • Copy and paste the emails into a new text document and manually edit the list
    OR
  • Use an iPad / iPhone app named “Workflow” App Store Link

If you use workflow, you can use this script to generate the list for you, and send it to you via email.

To install the workflow in the link, download the file onto your computer, unzip it, and send it to yourself via email. Open it on your iPad / iPhone after installing workflow.

Once you have those contacts setup as two lists, you will need to log in to your webmail account (Gmail / Yahoo / Hotmail or whatever works for you), and create new filters (one for “Delete Me” emails, and one for “Ignore Me” emails. The instructions below are for a Gmail based account, but I am sure that with little effort, you can adjust them to work for your email provider.

Follow the following simple steps (note: in this example I choose to DELETE the “delete me” emails. Please make sure you have the right emails in the list or else you may end up deleting important emails. You can choose not to delete them, but simply move them to another folder instead) :

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To completely remove the emails, select the following options (all of the “Delete Me” email accounts.

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Repeat the same process above but use the ignore emails (Ignore Me contact) – You can also choose to add those emails to another folder, and keep them unread (I prefer to mark them as read, and keep them in my inbox).

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Make sure to check the checkbox to apply the filter to existing emails, if you do this right, you should see a substantial reduction in unread emails in your inbox, and moving forward you will not need to worry about those emails.

After you are done with the above, remove all of the emails from the two contacts (Delete Me, and Ignore Me), and from time to time repeat the process. After a few times of repeating this process you will have way less distracting emails coming your way. I simply mark the emails during the week, and once in a while I create new filters in Gmail.

I hope that these instructions will allow you to get your inbox to zero, and increase your overall productivity.