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Gmail Tips to Tame Your Inbox

Managing Inbox Overload

Managing my inbox is a useful productivity hack that I learned years ago from a blog post written by Scott Hanselman. As Scott points out in his post, just because an email comes to your inbox doesn't necessarily mean that it needs your immediate attention. One of the best ways to manage this is by creating rules to automatically sort your email for you. This inbox triage is a great way to easily identify emails that need your attention vs the emails that can wait till later.

The problem is that this post was written primarily for Outlook users. Outlook gives users the ability to create complex rules and even have those rules processed in a specific order which is great for filtering incoming mail and organizing it into specific folders. However, Gmail doesn't have a notion of subfolders or rules. Gmail uses labels and filters. So how can we utilize these labels and filters to accomplish the same goal?

Gmail Filters

How To Create A Filter

Gmail offers a page showing how to create filters that are fairly basic. There are also some helpful pages that help you organize your inbox. My issue is that these basic guides do not get me quite to where I want to be. 

Common Filters

There is also a document that offers a few common Gmail filters. I decided to use a few of these, but there are some categories that I felt were missing from this list. The filters that I decided to use from this list are below. 

To use these filters you can simply copy and paste this into the search box in Gmail.

creating filters step 1

Configure and save this filter by clicking on the Show Search Options button on the right hand side of the cancel button.

creating gmail filters step 2

Select Create Filter to create a new filter for your inbox. We also want to create a label to associate these emails with. So we will create a new label called External. Select the Apply the label checkbox. Then using the drop down select New label… Enter the name External and click Create.

creating gmail filters step 3

Now all emails that match this filter will be associated with the External label. Choose the option Skip the Inbox (Archive It) if you would like emails that match this filter to skip your inbox and be categorized using the filter.

creating gmail filters step 4

Click Create filter

This process can be followed for each of these filters


Filters email that doesn’t match the entered domain. I use this to identify any emails that are coming from outside the company.


Notice the - before the @ symbol. This operator removes those results so it will remove anything that matches @domain.com


Filters all calendar invites



Filters emails that come from a specific address. In this case it is being used to filter emails coming from managers or bosses.


In order to have the VIP tag apply to multiple emails you can use the OR operator (ex. from:(vip1@domain.com OR vip2@domain.com))

Drive Share

Filters emails that are Google Drive share notifications



Filters emails that have an urgent flag.


I have also added a few rules that I felt were important but were missing from the common items listed in the Google link above.


Filters any email where the address is in the CC



Filters any email where the address is included in the list

from:(teammate1@domain.com OR teammate2@domain.com OR teammate3@domain.com)

I also have specific filters for emails that come from automated systems such as our helpdesk system or other automated emails that are common.

Things to Look Out For

Gmail filters are simply applied to your inbox and showing you the resulting messages that match the search. In order to properly filter your inbox you will most likely want to make sure that your rules exclude items that match other filters.

For example, if you have a VIP filter and a Calendar filter, any new calendar invite from a VIP will show under both filters. This is not the desired behavior.In order to make sure that VIP calendar invites don't show in both labels, we need to update to the VIP rule to exclude calendar items. To do this we have to add to the filter to exclude calendar invites.

from:vip@domain.com -invite.ics

This update will include items from the vip email while excluding items that are calendar invites. 

Getting all of these filters ironed out may take some tweaking here and there, but having filters that will do some preliminary filtering will hopefully help save you valuable time and effort.


Hi there. I'm Chris 👋🏻 Husband | Father | Developer Evangelist @ Twilio | Opinions are my own • Build. Learn. Share. Repeat.