One email feature that can give you back an hour a day

Ever have an email that won't go away?  I'm not talking about a technical problem.  I'm talking about a sender that is uninvited, unresponsive, and their messages keep showing up in your inbox.  Those messages clutter up your inbox, and just the process of unsubscribing and deleting them takes your attention away from the things you want to do.  10 minutes a day of unwanted, unsolicited email spam is 60 hours per year, or four full waking days of your life, wasted on stuff you don't want.

I have the answer to this problem.  I've largely given up on unsubscribe, which depends on a lot of factors, most of which don't apply when you've been added to a list without your permission.  I use Google Apps for Business filters.   

As a quick intro, I don't use the Gmail interface. I don't care for it, and I prefer using my Mac.  Apple's looks like my iPhone and iPad interface, and I'm comfortable with it.  Google Apps is basically my email service, the back end that powers my email.  Apple's Mac and iOS products are basically my interface tools that I use to send and receive email.  I disable Apple's "Junk Mail" filter by default.  It's never been good, and actually creates a ton of false positives, which results in loosing important messages.  I use Google Apps anti-spam, which does a great job catching 99.9% of the junk, like pharmaceutical and adult ads, etc.

Now here's the awesome trick to waking up to an inbox with only mail you care about.  Log in to your Gmail interface, and select an message from a sender you don't want, or that you want to file away and skip your inbox.

Once you select the message, you can pull down the menu and select "Filter Messages Like These".  Then you're presented with the options you see in the picture above.  I typically do one of two things:  1) for messages from senders I never want to see again, I'll pick "skip the inbox" and "delete it", 2) for messages I don't need to see during the work day, but want to go back and reference when I need to, I'll select "skip the inbox", and "apply the label" and select a label (think folder) to have the messages go to.  

This is better than using rules in or Outlook in a lot of ways.  First, it's server-side.  It doesn't require your computer be on and processing email to work.  That means my iPhone, iPad and Mac (and anything else I use) all get the benefit of having the email filtered before I check it.   It also allows me to organize proactively the various emails I do want to check on my schedule, but consider lower priority.  For example, all my email from the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage Business school, including Alumni message, LinkedIn emails, etc. go into a folder called "Social Networking Low Priority" where I can go to browse on a Sunday morning over a cup of coffee before everyone at home wakes up.  

When I first discovered filters, I went from an average 100 messages in my inbox at 6:00AM to less than 5.   Just today I filtered a few more, including one person who kept apologizing for not taking me off her list.  

What would you do with 60 hours per year of time back to your life?  I'm planning on spending more time in the backyard with my little boy.

Note: I originally published this article on the TechRoom blog (link to original here).  On this post I changed the title, but all content is still relevant, four years later.