True Fact

Clean Out Your Gmail Inbox Fast (and Keep It That Way!)

Kristi-Lynn Jacovino
Kristi-Lynn Jacovino
Aug 8, 2019 • 7 min read
down arrow

We all want that sweet, sweet Inbox Zero, and this is one of my favorite bits of Gmail wizardry to help get you there FAST. I wish I could say this trick will work with any email, but alas, Google really seems to have nailed the whole 'search' thing.. I wonder where they learned that trick...

Inbox 3Mhgvrk4Tjm Photo by Web Hosting on Unsplash

Part I: Archiving and Labels

Before we get started, we must begin at the beginning. So, some 15 years ago when Google launched Gmail, the big selling point was that you'd never have to delete another email again. They basically gave everyone so much storage space that, at the time at least, they were right! It was more than any other email that had come before it by a LOT.

Rather than delete your messages, Google posited, you could simply archive them—thus saving every single Kohl's coupon you've ever received forever and ever.. and ever. In addition to this simple archiving system, they created essentially a tagging system to go along with it. Rather than organizing your hundreds of thousands of emails into dumb ol' FOLDERS where they could really only live in ONE at a TIME, they allowed you to "Label" your emails with as many "Labels" as you could dream up.

Once you'd applied all your labels, clicking the archive button would move the email out of your inbox, but still easily found in each of the Labels you'd tagged it with. Magic.

So, if you're not using Labels yet, well, we've got our work cut out for us (kinda, not really, it's super easy, you'll see). At the very least, now you know what they are and what they're for, which is a good start.

Part II: Searching Your Email

Ok, so we've got an understanding of labels, but the reason filtering your emails is easy is because your Gmail is highly searchable, and there are a few tricks that will make finding those messages faster.

Like any reasonable Google product, you can, of course, type basically anything into the search field and get results, but if your Gmail account is as full as mine, you know that you're going to surface a LOT of results even just entering, say, someone's email address. So let's talk about how to narrow your search.

First, maybe you only want to search the emails that are currently in your inbox. If you type 'in:inbox' in the search field before your search terms, you'll only find messages that are in the inbox.

Let's say you want to search for messages that were from a particular person. You can type in 'from:emailaddress@email.com' all by itself to see all the emails from that person, OR you can take it a step further and type in a keyword after that and see messages only from that person that contain that keyword (or phrase).

Maybe you want to see only emails that have an attachment.. well, type 'has:attachment' into that search box and whammo.. you've got a list of emails with attachments—and, like before, if you add a keyword on there you'll only find emails with attachments that have also have that keyword.

Oh, and did I mention you can combine them? Maybe try 'in:inbox from:emailaddress@email.com'. Is your head exploding yet?

There are sooooo many of these that I can't even list them all here—seriously, look at this list! But for now, let's move on.

Part III: Creating Filters

That's right, we made it. Now's the time to get to the magical part: filtering. It's time to combine everything we know and get that inbox cleared out!

So, let's give it a try. Go to the search box at the top of your Gmail account and maybe let's find all the messages from someone you really like.. maybe your best friend. Type in 'from:mybestfriend@email.com' and you know, replace the email with your friends email, unless that IS your friend's email, in which case, I apologize for this inadvertent doxxing.

Once you've typed that in, instead of completing the search by pressing Enter / Return, instead click the little down carat all the way on the right end of the search bar. This will open up the search options.

Gmail Search Options

Now that you've got the search options open, click the little gray link next to the search button that says "Create filter". Here's where the magic is...

Gmail Filter

So this is going to create a filter for all new (and we're going to make sure also existing) emails that match this search. Notice that you can do a LOT of different things. Let's break it down.

If you don't like your best friend, or you just think they email you way too much and they're just clogging up your inbox, click the top option that says "Skip the Inbox (Archive it)". My friend Amazon sends me WAAAAY too many emails so she skips the inbox.

I'm not sure what circumstance you have to use the Mark as read option, but you do you.

If you actually like your best friend and want to keep all of their emails as a sort of top priority, go ahead and Star them, but like, don't really. That would be a bad use of starring.

Now, Apply the label: _______, this one is gold. If you already use labels, pick one that you want all your best friend's messages to be labeled as! If you don't have any labels, make a new one! I personally keep all of mine in a sub-label of 'People' called 'Friends'.. and yes, you can have labels within labels, great for OCD organizers like me!

Ok, then we have more stuff, forwarding, deleting (I have a filter for is:spam that just automatically deletes them), blah blah, I like the mark it as important one, if you REALLY like this person.

Ok last one is important, 'Also apply filter to # matching conversations.' This is gonna be HUGE. We want to make sure that the existing messages get the label that way we can archive them and get them OUT of the inbox.

Creating Filters on the Fly

There's another quick way to create filters. If you open up any email you receive, on the side of the message, next to the little arrow 'reply' icon at the top right corner of the message, you'll see an icon with three dots stacked on top of each other. One of the options in there is to 'Filter messages like this'. This will open up that same filter panel we've seen before, but pre-populate it with something targeting this particular email. Now, there's a little catch here since sometimes the targeting is so specific that it will only target this exact email, but it's a quick way to get that panel up and make your own changes to the targeting.

Sometimes, when it comes to filtering marketing emails, for instance, I'll target based on the name of the company rather than their email address (think 'from:kohls' vs 'from:no-reply@kohls.com') to make sure I get all emails from that company since they might use more than one email address or even domain (e.g. marketing@kohls.com or even no-reply@kohls-customer-service.com) (but let's be honest, that last one is definitely spam).

Editing Your Filters for an Extra Good Time

Now that you've got a filter set up, you can go in and edit it anytime you want. If you go into your Gmail Settings panel, you'll see 'Filters and Blocked Addresses,' head on in there and you'll find your existing filters. If you click on edit next to the filter you want to, uhhh, edit, you'll get that same popup screen from the search panel.

Here's my favorite trick: in that From field, let's say, where we just added our best friend's email address.. if we want ALL of our friends' emails to act the same way (maybe the same label, maybe they're all important, whatever you had set), you can add more than one email address by putting OR between them. So literally, in the from field you can write 'mybestfriend@email.com OR mysecondbestfriend@email.com OR justanacquaintancereally@email.com OR idontthinkievenlikethispersonactually@email.com' and that filter will apply to each of those email addresses.

Now just make filters for literally everything that's in your inbox and archive everything that has a label (or two or three or whatever, go nuts). There's no limit to how many filters or labels you can have, so the sky's the limit.


And as always, if you need a hand getting the job done or want to train your team on Gmail's best practices for organizing emails, get in touch!

Gmail Organizing How To
Kristi-Lynn Jacovino

Kristi-Lynn Jacovino

I help organizations grow their impact through better use of technology. Also, I love cats and swing dancing and sleep.

Get tips like these delivered straight to your inbox.

Schedule a Chat

Ready to get started? Schedule a time for a 30-minute chat! It's quick and painless, I swear!