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Create Gmail Filters As You Go For Inbox Nirvana

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If you use Gmail as your day-to-day email system, chances are it's a little disorganized. Although Google provides some powerful filtering tools, does anyone have time to make use of them? Just keeping up with the tide of incoming emails is difficult enough, but there are ways to filter and categorize messages as they arrive. Use them right, and your inbox will go from overgrown fearhole to beautiful zen garden.

1. Filter messages like this

On any Gmail message, open up the drop-down menu to the right and choose Filter messages like this from the menu. Most often you'll find Gmail runs a search for messages from the same sender, but you can tweak the filter using the dialog that pops up. Create the filter, then decide what to do with emails from this contact: you could auto-archive messages if you don't want to see them, or mark them as important to make sure you do.


Sure, this isn't much different than simply creating a filter from scratch on the Settings page, but you can save yourself some clicks and some thinking time by tackling the job from inside your messages once you've read them. Put together a filter or two a week and you'll soon find your inbox is behaving much better.


2. Drag and drop

Gmail's new tabbed inbox system isn't to everyone's taste, but it introduces four new labels that can help organize your emails—Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. The mysterious algorithms that run Gmail will attempt to decide where messages should go automatically, but you can set these filters manually by dragging and dropping individual messages.


The next time an email hits your inbox, drag it into the tab where you want messages from this sender to appear in future. Gmail will ask you if you'd like to always apply this category, so choose Yes. The good news is that this doesn't appear as an official filter on the Settings page, so you can categorize as many messages as you like without clogging up your filters list.


3. Filters from searches

You can also easily create filters from searches as you use Gmail normally. With any search query in the box at the top of your inbox, click the drop-down arrow to the side then select Create filter with this search. You'll be warned if your search is one that won't match incoming messages (searches for labels, starred emails and so on).


Again, this is not too dissimilar from creating filters in the normal way, but the emphasis is on building these filters as you go—if you find yourself repeatedly running searches to find particular messages, set up a filter to sort these messages automatically. The ability to categorize messages using one of Gmail's built-in tabs is now available alongside the option to apply a label.


If you can view filtering as a quick job to do whenever you get two minutes as opposed to a mammoth undertaking that you'll never complete, it's a lot easier to get your inbox organized. Every filter that you add—even if it's just a couple a week—makes sifting through your messages less of a chore.

Any other tips about wrangling your inbox with filters? Share them below!