Use a Filter Strategy to Keep Your Inbox Clean, Find Important Mail

Last Updated Jun 5, 2011 11:41 PM EDT

Some subjects can be debated in good faith until the end of time. Beatles or Stones? Ice cream or frogurt? Mac or PC? One such subject is the question of whether you should use filters to automatically file certain types of e-mail into folders. Recently, I suggested that filtering your mail is a terrible idea -- it leads to huge quantities of messages that you forget about and never read. Instead, I offered a three pronged strategy for dealing with your e-mail more effectively:
  • Unsubscribe from stuff you never read
  • Touch e-mail just once -- delete, file, or act on it when you first read it
  • Make a library of canned responses you can use to semi-automate your replies
I know that a lot of you agree with this sort of strategy, but there are many others who think it's ineffective. After all, there are a lot of folks who love filters. The other day, in fact, I saw WebWorkerDaily's take on this question, with a half-dozen recommended filters to shunt off common types of incoming mail:
  • Status reports. Any mail with "status report" in the subject line gets filed for later review.
  • High volume subjects. Whenever something starts generating a lot of mail -- like a big project getting ready to cross the finish line -- deserves its own filter.
  • Twitter. All social networking messages automatically bypass the inbox.
  • Services. Mailing lists, bug trackers, you name it... anything that is somewhat automated gets its own folder.
  • People. Close associates get their own folder to make it easy to find messages related to their activities.
  • Low priority stuff. Anything else, like press releases and such, that you don't need to read right away go here.
What do you think? Do you favor the filter approach, or no filtering? If you filter your mail, are these buckets effective, or do you have your own suggestions? Sound off in the comments.

Photo courtesy Flickr user aslakr
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