How to keep your Gmail inbox clean

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September 5, 2018

There are two kinds of people in this world:

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I’m the first kind. I can’t leave my emails or messages unread. That implies that I check my inbox at least 10 times per day. By spending so much time looking at my emails, you would suspect that my inbox would be sparkly clean. … It’s not.

So I gathered some tips on how to keep my inbox clean and I’d love to share them with you. Best thing: most of them are the ‘set and forget’ kind. So you only need to do them once to keep a clean inbox.

Start unsubscribing

Let’s face it, you are getting a lot of newsletters you never ever open. And I bet you don’t even remember why you ever subscribed to them in the first place. (Well … maybe you really wanted that coupon code.) Deleting these newsletters seems to be faster then to go look for the unsubscribe button. But it won’t declutter your inbox on a long term basis.

Start by unsubscribing from newsletters you never open. Many companies offer the possibility to choose the frequency with which you receive their emailings. Make use of these options if you don’t want to say goodbye forever, or start following the company on social media to keep up to date.

Use labels

What kind of emails do you receive regularly? Are they related to a project, news media or maybe personal planning? Make a label for each type of email you receive on a regular basis. It will make your inbox look more structured and it will be easier to find each conversation linked to an important project!

Labels are not the same as folders. They may look like folders in Gmail, but they are not the same. They are just a way of structuring your incoming emails. You can add a label to an email by dragging it to the name of the label on the left, or by clicking on the ‘label as’ or ‘move to’ icon in the top menu of Gmail. You can create as many labels as you want but please don’t over do it. Having 2543 labels will not give your inbox a cleaner look. I like to use labels for ongoing long term projects or registration emails and such I want to able to find easily.

In your Gmail settings you can hide labels you no longer need but still wish to keep.

Using labels requires some manual work. But like I said, most of these tips are the ‘set and forget’ kind. So this is where the next paragraph comes in: filters, your new friend!

Go wild with filters

Time to let Gmail work for you. Using labels is fine and all but if you receive over a 100 emails every day, labeling each of them manually becomes very time consuming. Here’s where filters come in.

Setting up filters can take up some of your time but it will save you a lot a hassle in the long run. Your inbox will auto-sort itself so you can focus on the most important emails first.

How can you set up a filter?

If you get a lot of emails from your favorite news outlets, restaurants or other services you can create a filter by opening one of these emails and click on “Filter messages like these” in the top menu. You can add a few extra filter options and choose to filter older messages too.

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There are a lot of rules you can set in a filter. Here’s a complete list. You can go as wild as you want with these. I created a filter for each label. Are you using different email addresses for each sign up? Set up a filter that detects ‘to’ instead of ‘from’. If you don’t want certain emails in your inbox, you can check ‘skip the inbox’. Don’t worry, you won’t miss any messages. They will just show up under your selected label instead.

Automatically delete your emails after a certain period of time

Sometimes there is no reason to keep old emails. Gmail can automatically delete these with one filter.

Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Filters’ > ‘Create a new filter’. In the field ‘Has the words’ you fill out: ‘older_than:2d2m2y’ (2 days, 2 months, 2 years). You can exclude certain emails by adding more search rules.

Click ‘Create filter with this search’ and check the box ‘Delete it’. Don’t forget to check the box labeled ‘Also apply filter to X matching conversations’ below. All your old messages will be transferred to the Trash folder.

About Ellen

Ellen loves digital marketing and storytelling. As content marketer she makes sure our blog is full of interesting stories, tips and case-studies. When offline, she likes to climb, surf, take pictures and discover the hidden parts of Ghent. Gets a bit annoyed when hungry but we’re working on that.