TSA #10 – Organize your life: Inbox edition

Jan 23, 2012 by

Part of the aim of these Truly Simple Actions is to make your life better.  I’m going to throw a sub-section into these around organizing your life.   There are many simple things we could do each week to help organize the space we inhabit and there in turn make our lives a little better.  Here is a big one.

Not big in the amount of time it takes to do, but big in the impact it will have on your life.  Everyday we are bombarded with advertising, messaging, memes, and actual letters from friends.  Unless your recently new to email, you probably receive too much of it.  If you are spending any amount of time deleting unwanted email, you are doing it wrong.

The Truly Simple Action of the week is to organize your inbox.

Your inbox should only be filled with messages you want to receive from people you know.  Period.  Full stop.

If you are spending time removing unwanted messages, then its time to fix that.  The good news is that email systems today have incredibly easy tools built in to help you achieve this goal.  I’m going to use Gmail as my reference.  I believe they are the best email out there today and if you are frustrated with yours, it may be time to switch.

This is a simple 2 step process.
Step 1: Remove everything you don’t want
Step 2: Filter everything else

Lets jump right in and get started with step 1.

Step one is to remove everything that you don’t want.  You need to go through your inbox and find every message that you just don’t care about.  You want to start with all of the reoccurring messages you get that you never read.  Go through all of the newsletters you signed up for.  Go through all of the advertisements you signed up for.  Anything that you regularly receive that you never read, just unsubscribe from it.   Now you don’t have to unsubscribe from every advertisement, although I would try it and see if you miss it.

Every email you sign up for is required, by law, to have a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email they send you.  Some hide this link and make it a little tricky to find, but it’s there.  Simply go through all of those emails that you never read and unsubscribe from them.  Even if you get my TrulySimple Newsletter each month and never read it, just unsubscribe.  It won’t hurt my feelings…too much.

Go through all of your email and unsubscribe.  Do this in one big chunk and then follow up and do this as the messages come in this week.  This will cut down on all the time wasted removing unread and unwanted messages.

Ok onto step 2.  Filter everything else

After you have unsubscribed out all the unwanted mail its time to sort the mail you do want.  We are going to do this with filters.  You are going to want to create a few filters that your emails fit into.  Here are the filters I created for myself.

  • Stuff to by
  • Stuff to do
  • Travel
  • Social
  • Bills

I have a few other miscellaneous ones, but those cover a large majority of the emails.  Now I recommend that as part of step1 you unsubscribe from any and all advertisements possible.  There may be some advertisments that you do still want to receive.  I’m all for saving money and there are a few places that I like to shop at so I stil receive those emails, but they never get to my inbox.  I setup a filter for all of my email for sales, deals, etc and they all get labled with “stuff to by” and then they all skip my inbox.  This way when I am ready to buy something I can quickly scan my stuff to buy folder and see if there are any deals, but I am no longer spending my time reading these emails.

Here is how you create a filter in Gmail:

Open the message that you want to filter.  So in this example I want to filter all messages from Woot.

Click on the “More” options in Gmail and select “filter messages like these”

Gmail will now set the filter.  It will usually set it to filter by from address first and that is what we want.  So now all emails that come from “no-reply@woot.com” will get filtered for me.









Next click on “Create filter with this search”

Now we are going to put a check mark in the boxes for “Skip the inbox” so all of these emails will get filtered and will not come into the inbox.  Next check the box for “Apply the label” and select the appropriate filter label or create a new one.  For this example we will choose the “Stuff to buy” label.  You can also select the box to apply these settings to all those that the filter found.

Click “Create Filter” to finish.

Now all of my advertisements and daily deals etc go into a box where I can scan through them if I want to.  Instead of being bombarded by advertisements, I go looking for deals when I’m ready to shop.

Repeat this step for all of those ads that you still want to receive and unsubscribe from all the ones that you no longer want to get.

Now create filters for the rest of your inbox.  The “stuff to buy” filter is my biggest one.  Next up is my “stuff to do” filter.  I filter in all the latest concerts, movies, and things happening around me.  So all the emails from Fandango, Ticketmaster, local events etc go into that category.  My travel filter is for all the travel sites and frequent flyer emails I get.  Again, when I’m ready to book a ticket, I dig into the travel folder and see what deals are there.   I’ve setup all of my bills to be paid online automatically and I’ve elected for paperless billing so I don’t have to go through and recycle any paper at home.  I set up the bills filter so I never have to read these emails, but I like to keep them for reference.  And finally I have the social filter to capture all the Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Anybeat, etc messages I get.  Actually somehow in some upgrade Facebook stopped sending me mail altogether and its quite nice.  You don’t need to know when someone new is following you on Twitter that very instant.  You don’t need to know that your aunt on your mother’s side likes your status update.  Filter all that noise out.  Put it all in one place where you can scan over the messages you do want and you can skip the rest.

Now you can create whatever filters that work for you.  I would suggest creating a few big bucket filters that can catch a lot of the email and then go nuts and create some smaller ones to help you keep things organized.  What you should end up with is an inbox that only has messages that you want to read.  These should be from friends, family, co-workers etc.  That is what your time should be spent on.  You shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to find a real email amidst the noise of all the advertising.

Take some time today and clean up your inbox.  And then spend the rest of the week refining it.  As you get a new message in your box that you will never read, instead of just skipping over it or deleting it, simply unsubscribe.  And for all those messages that you want, but maybe aren’t that important, filter those out of your inbox.  Keep the inbox for you.  Let that be where you spend time interacting with real people.  Let your email work for you


TSA = Truly Simple Actions
The goal of the TSA project is to improve your life and help make this world a better place, one simple action at a time.  Take time this week to do this one simple thing.

Previous TSA’s:
TSA#1 – Buy a meal for someone who needs it
TSA#2 – Go do something fun
TSA#3 – Enough with the plastic bottles
TSA#4 – Learn something new
TSA#5 – Celebrate Christmas
TSA#6 – Start off the new year with a clean room
TSA#7 – Improve
TSA#8 – Tell someone you love them
TSA#9 – Adopt some grandparents 

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