Using email filters to reduce distractions

I use gmail as my main email provider, and have been checking it using both Gmail Notifier and IMAP on my Fuze mobile phone. I never realized how much ‘junk’ went into my main inbox until my phone started alerting me upon every received message. I’m not talking about actual spam, but newsletters and notifications that aren’t really important but which I still enjoy reading in my downtime. I could have just disabled the alert, but that would be admitting defeat and negating a potentially useful capability of the phone.

Instead, I wanted to only be alerted when a message I really cared about and possibly had some importance/urgency arrived. This means I needed a mechanism to separate out the ‘good’ messages from the rest of the cruft. Luckily, the phone (and Google’s Gmail Notifier) are only aware of new messages in the inbox. As long as only ‘important’ messages end up in the inbox, I won’t receive unwanted notifications.

This can easily be accomplished using Gmail’s filters. Some of the optional actions are to ‘Skip the inbox’ and ‘apply label’. Any message that I consider unimportant never goes to my inbox and is automatically given a ‘Junkish’ label. I’ve never explicitly notified of these messages, but I can easily see if there are any new ones once I’m in the main Gmail interface.

Of course the last step is to actually filter out the unimportant messages. This is definitely the most time-consuming part of the process, so I do it gradually as the new messages come in. The ‘simple’ solution for most newsletters/notifications etc is to just add the sender’s email address to the filter so that anything sent from that address will be caught.

For any new website signups/subscriptions, I’ve been taking advantage of Gmail’s ‘dot addressing’, which means that if your email is [email protected], an email sent to [email protected] will also reach you. When signing up for possibly spammy sites, I add an extra dot in my email address. Then I have one Gmail filter that automatically junks all emails sent to that specific address. This way you don’t need to update your filter for each new sender of junky email.

I know this system is rather simple and probably common sense, but it definitely cut down my distractions and I highly recommend that anyone else who receives email notifications try it out.