How Gmail filters can help organize your inbox

Gmail is full of hidden features and add-ons, but one of the service’s most powerful organizational tools sits right at the heart of its common settings.

As you may have guessed by now (especially if you’re reading the headline of this story, you clever little cat), I’m talking about filters – Gmail’s long-standing system for automating your inbox with a series of custom rules. At a glance, filters can seem complicated. They can seem overwhelming. They may even seem unnecessary.

But don’t be fooled by the feature’s strangely crusty exterior. Gmail filters have the potential to completely reshape your inbox and the way your incoming messages are handled. They can help you keep track of your email without any constant thought or effort. And all it takes is a little bit of one-time planning to make them work for you.

Follow the filter-centric Gmail tips in this guide, and your inbox will run like a well-oiled (but not greasy) machine in no time.

Part 1: Find out your Gmail filters

Let’s start by thinking through some Gmail filtering options to get an idea of ​​the kind of settings you might want to consider – then we’ll go through the process of creating them step by step.

Gmail filters allow you to:

  • Make sure messages from specific high-priority senders always go to your Inbox’s Primary tab, where you’re sure to see them
  • Make sure that specific kinds of lower-priority messages – like invoices, reports or updates from different services you use – are automatically sorted in a remote location and never even show up in your inbox
  • Keep messages from annoying people out of your hair (but still accessible if you need to find them) by automatically archiving them as soon as they arrive
  • Forward messages from a specific address or with a specific phrase in their topics to other members of your team or family
  • Reply instantly to messages to or from a specific address with a preset template
  • Mark certain types of messages from yourself as reminders by giving them a bright yellow “REMINDER” that makes them stand out in your inbox
  • Label messages sent to a specific variant of your Gmail address (such as your address+vip@gmail.com) or written with a specific word or phrase in the subject (such as “urgent”, “important” or “hello jerkwad”, please note this “) as” VIP “and then only receive messages for messages with this designation
  • Have a snickerdoodle delivered to your desk every time your boss sends you an email

Okay, so the latter is not really possible (not yet, at least) – just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. However, everything else on that list is absolutely feasible and actually quite easy to configure with Gmail filters.

Do you have any ideas of your own? Good deal. Time to make them happen.

Part 2: Creating your Gmail filters

The easiest way to start a new Gmail filter is to click on the control panel icon – the symbol that shows three horizontal lines stacked on top of each other – in the large search box at the top of the Gmail site.

It will bring up a form where you can fill in what you want to use as a basis for your filtering – a word or phase that may appear in an email subject or body text, an address from which a message could originate, or any other variable or combination of variables you like.

01 form for Gmail filters JR Raphael / IDG

The filter creation form is filled with e-mail automation management options. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Fill in the fields as needed and use as many variables as you want – even use quotation marks around multi-word expressions together with operators such as “AND” and “OR” between terms if you really want to get fancy – and then click “Create Filter” at the bottom of the box.

02 Gmail filters options JR Raphael / IDG

You can use any combination of variables, even using operators within a single field, to control when your filter should run. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

A quick warning: By default, your filter will apply to all incoming messages – hence the “All Mail” option that appears next to the “Search” option in the filter creation pop-up window. If you change this setting to “Inbox”, you will probably see an error message informing you that the parameters you selected are not recommended and may not work properly. Leave the “Search” option set to “All Emails” – which is probably what you want – and you will steer clear of any errors and let things work as they should.

Now is the time for the fun part – the part where you decide exactly what to do when a message arrives that meets your conditions. You can select any combination of actions from the list and then configure them as needed. You can even ask Gmail to apply your filter retroactively to messages already in your account (as opposed to using it only for new messages arriving from that point on) by checking “Also apply filter on matching conversations “at the bottom of the box.

03 gmail filtering actions JR Raphael / IDG

Gmail filters include a number of actions that can be taken when your conditions are met. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

When you’re done, click the blue “Create Filter” button – and here it is: Your new Gmail filter is officially in place and active. The next time a message arrives that meets the parameters you have outlined, the actions you have specified will automatically take place faster than you can say “I embrace Workspace in my workplace cyberspace.”

Part 3: Managing Your Gmail Filters

Last but not least, make yourself a mental note if you ever need to adjust your filters in the future: If you want to edit, delete or even just visit a filter you have created again, just click on the gear icon at the top – right corner of the Gmail site, click “Settings”, then click the “Filters and blocked addresses” tab at the top of the settings screen. You will see every single filter you have ever created there and you can adjust or remove them with a few quick clicks.

If only we could find a way to get the filters to deliver the blown snickerdoodles to us. Hey, Google: Do you have a chance to make it happen?

This article was originally published in October 2019 and updated in January 2022.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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