Delete Your Email Rules

Today I removed all of my Rules in and Filters in Gmail, though only one had been active in the past year.

I challenge you to do the same: Take an active role in reducing the email you get, and then you won’t have to file it.

Why do you get so much email? Stop it. You’re doing it wrong. If you get too much junk snail mail, do you just file it away and get a storage unit if it gets too overwhelming? No.

Here are the types of email that typically get filed with rules:

Mailing Lists

If you don’t read it every day, don’t file it. Switch to digest or no delivery. Most lists let you view the archives, so why keep an unread copy around? I had 35,000+ unread emails from the public-html list in a folder this morning. Deleted.

Remove yourself from any list you’re not reading regularly. Don’t feel guilty; take back your inbox!

Deals & Retail Discounts

Retailers will email you every other day if you let them. Get off these lists. Just get off. If you really can’t, or won’t, the best trick I’ve heard came from Andy Keller who suggests putting them in a folder, marking them read, then checking them before you go shopping.

Daily deal sites are even worse. I signed up for Groupon & LivingSocial at one point, but I don’t need the clutter (or that many manicures) so I’m off. Do you regularly buy things? If not, get them out of your inbox.


If you’re a developer, you probably get exception notices from your apps (and you should, if you don’t). Do you file them away? If so, that’s really bad. First, it tells me that you don’t actually pay attention to them, meaning you don’t know when errors are happening. Second, it means you’re not responding quick enough. If you are truly responding and fixing these errors, they should be few and far between. Fix the issues as they happen and keep them coming to your inbox. That way, you’ll be quick to respond.

For teams that have lots of projects (like us), use a system that lets each person pick which project(s) they want email for. Alternately, setup an email group, like [email protected], with only the relevant people.

Automated Emails

I get lots of automated emails from different services, from Twitter, to payment processors, to analytic services. So many, and so varied. Some I look at each day (metrics) and some I don’t. I challenge you, let them come to your inbox, and for each one this week, decide “do I actually care about this?” If the answer is no, unsubscribe. Easy as that!

I get a lot more email than most people in the office, but I make sure that it is real. Do the same. Don’t file away email to read never. Delete it. You have to take an active role to unsubscribe, or ask people to remove you, but try it. I promise you’ll be happier.

Photo of Daniel Morrison

Daniel founded Collective Idea in 2005 to put a name to his growing and already full-time freelance work. He works hard writing code, teaching, and mentoring.


  1. June 04, 2012 at 13:43 PM

    Great points. I like Timothy Ferriss’ concept of the information diet from his book The 4-Hour Workweek. I try to limit my digital and paper subscriptions to those that are truly necessary, but I admit I use a few Gmail filters to label low-priority messages as “todo”.

  2. June 04, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Big +1 to this. I’ve found that turning off all notification emails from Twitter, Facebook, etc works well. I just check the sites whenever I want, so I’m never interrupted with a “new follower” email and I can look into things like that in bulk. 

  3. June 04, 2012 at 18:36 PM

    I think I would miss some of those automated emails. In addition to the Marketing rule you mentioned (which has about 50 addresses to match), I have a Social rule that matches against Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Turntable, Chill, etc.

    Only about 10 emails make it to my Inbox each day, but we don’t use email at work. We use TeamPage for everything.

  4. June 04, 2012 at 16:09 PM

    Daniel, I agree with you on nearly everything in this post– unsubscribing to stuff that doesn’t matter to you is a great approach.

    I think there are instances where having email rules are still useful, though. You mentioned deal emails, which are a great example of something you don’t want to read each time one gets sent, but you do want them available for search. (I know that if I see a good deal, I’m more likely to buy it even if I don’t need it) I filter anything sent to my deals@ address in gmail, and any time I’m looking for something specific, my deals label is the first place I look.

    Pedro Evangelista
    June 04, 2012 at 14:16 PM

    I find it easier to just archive and label the messages, but not mark them “read”, so that they still show up in your gmail. This way, I actually split my inbox into several smaller, more manageable inboxes.

    June 04, 2012 at 13:36 PM


    I just started this process with my personal email account; my business email is still okay.  I was thinking of using something like SaneBox, but preferred to go straight to the source.  Next up, my RSS feeds.

  7. June 04, 2012 at 20:49 PM

    I couldn’t agree more. To me, email rules are just an indicator that you have too much mail coming in.

    In my Gmail account I archive everything. Nothing is filed or tagged. Search is great at locating those messages I need every so often.

    With work email I have a “To respond”, “To act” and “Archive” folders. Staying on top of email means practicing “inbox zero” each day and moving only the messages that need action.

    Reduction is absolutely the first step in getting control. Thanks!

    June 04, 2012 at 19:27 PM

    Ridiculous – maybe some people use mail rules to over-filter things that they should just unsubscribe form or stop generating but there’s people out there doing stupid things with stupid tools everywhere. It doesn’t make the tools bad.

    Rules are incredibly useful. For example I use Calbire to send books to my Kindle, I therefore have a rule to delete the outbound email it generates as it’s a useless and just takes up space… I get DMARC email reports for my domain but I send them straight to trash as I don’t need to see them daily but if there’s ever a problem I can look in there to go back the last 30 days… I have rules that forward certain files that certain people may send me on to my dropbox – again I don’t need the emails once the files have been processed and so I delete them once they’ve been passed on.

    Rules, er, rule.

    Mino Magnus
    June 05, 2012 at 13:54 PM

    I am disagreeing with this post, most likely because I do not see my massive amount of filters as a bad thing.

    I get confirmations all the time from websites like paypal, amazon, ebay, etc. Do i want to unsubscribe from these confirmations? no! do i want to delete my filter and put them in my inbox? no, store them away.

    i also get an obscene amount of spam. i have no clue why, but for those messages that wont go away, i have filters that aid the native spam filter (which is not perfect, even on gmail).

    other services are nice to have, like i enjoy reading gamestop’s weekly catalog and stuff, and would rather them be in a folder i check every once and a while instead of my inbox that i like to keep empty.

    Also, i don’t trust spam messages that have a link for “click here to unsubscribe”. Why would i click on a link on an email from an email i never signed up for? not safe! ever!

    challenge to delete my filters? pass!

    Curtis B.
    June 06, 2012 at 17:43 PM

    You spelled “Mailing Lists” wrong.

  11. June 06, 2012 at 18:38 PM

    Curtis B: Thanks for the heads up!

  12. June 08, 2012 at 17:10 PM

    Great article @Daniel! I love the idea of completely removing the filters.  It does force you to evaluate every email that comes through.  One step close to email freedom ;)

  13. June 26, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    Remark: My mobile device alerts me for mails in my Inbox. Getting things sorted and preventing my mobile device from buzzing/bleeping every 5 seconds for things I don’t want to read immediately, seems like a good reason to keep some of my filters active.