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How to set-up a filter in Gmail

Find out how to set-up a filter in Gmail and tame your inbox

Filtering emails in Gmail

Filtering is something I used to use loads but stopped. Lately, I’ve found novel ways to use it to help calm my anxiety and keep on top of my inbox.

Money has been a little tight lately, and the number of emails into my inbox telling me about sale items has increased. I’ve found that removing temptation (like not buying a bar of chocolate for ‘later) helps me manage this.

I do this by setting up a filter in Gmail to capture the emails as they come in. The emails are then marked as ‘read’ and moved to a folder away from my inbox. If I feel like giving myself a treat when I get paid, I can go back and see what bargains there are. It taps into the concept of JOMO.

How to set-up a filter in Gmail

I’m going to show you how to set-up a filter in Gmail to do this. If you don’t use Gmail or access your mail on your desktop, you can still set-up filters. The principle is the same, but the language and options might be slightly different. I will revisit other ways you can do this at a later date.

There are two places you can set-up a filter, but the way you set them up is identical. The first is from within an email, and the second is in settings.

I will show you how to get to the filter pages first, then show you how to set up a filter.

To set-up, a filter from within an email, click on the icon with the three dots (shown below). From the drop-down menu, you need to click on “Filter messages like these”.

Setting up a filter from an email in Gmail
settings drop down box options in an email to filter an email

To set-up, a filter via settings, click on the cog icon in the top right of Gmail (shown right). From the drop-down menu, you need to click on “Settings”. 

From the settings menu, click on “Filters and Blocked Addresses” (see below). 

Settings menu in Gmail
Settings menu options - filters and blocked addresses highlighted

If you don’t have any filters set up, you will be able to see the link “create new filters”. If you do have filters set up, you will need to scroll down the page until you see the link (see right).

create new filter option in gmail

Creating search rules

To start off with you will need to create the filter. You do this by searching your email. If you have followed the previous steps, you should now see a menu that says “search mail” with several options.

As this menu is used to find emails, it has a dual purpose. Firstly, you use it to search for emails in your inbox, and secondly, you use it to search for emails you want to filter. You probably won’t use all of these options to set-up a filter, but I will explain what each one is and how you might use it.

Gmail Search email filter

Search fields & what they mean


If you want to filter emails from a specific person or business, and you know their email address you should put it here. If you get emails from multiple people at an organisation and want to filter them into a single folder, remove anything before the “@”. If you have chosen to create a filter from in an email, this field will already be filled.


You might have access to multiple email addresses or alias via your Gmail account. If you want to filter email to a specific address, then you would put the address in this field.


If you have sent an email to a lot of people and want the responses to that email to go to a specific folder, you would put the subject line in here. You might also use this to filter emails from brands at certain times of the year, for example, I filter emails with the word ‘Christmas’ in the subject line.

Includes the words

Sometimes the subject line doesn’t contain the words you’d like to filter the body of the email does. In this instance, you would put the keywords here. For example, I have just set-up a filter containing the words “summer sale”.

Doesn’t have

This is the opposite. If I use this field, I will use it with one of the others to find an email. For example, if I want to find an email from a specific person that doesn’t contain a topic in the email. You might use it to find an email from a brand that doesn’t have the words “Fathers day” in it.


This is to search for emails of a specific size, for example, bytes, kilobytes or megabytes in size. I would use this option along with another field. For example, I might be looking for an email from a person with an attachment I know to be a specific size.


This will search for emails with an attachment. You might set-up a filter to file emails with e-tickets attached to them. This is really handy if you go to a lot of gigs or travel a lot.

Don’t include chats

As the search option will look through your entire inbox, it will also include ‘chats’ in the search results. If you use Google Chat and want to exclude these from your search, tick this box.

Creating your search rule

You can create a filter using a minimum of one item, or a combination of them. Try not to overcomplicate your search.

Fill in the fields listed above, that you would like to use, and click “Create Filter”. It will then search your emails and allow you to start setting up the filter rules.

If you click “Search” you will get a list of emails that meet the search rules you’ve entered. This isn’t wrong, but you’ll have to go back and start again.

Common Combinations of search filters

Here are some ideas of how you could use search filters.

From a person to a mailing list – this would filter emails to those two rules. Any emails from the person that falls outside that rule will go to your inbox.

From a business with specific words in the subject or body and an attachment – you can use this to filter tickets.

From an organisation – a simple filing system to keep your inbox tidy.

Containing a keyword in the subject and/or body of the email – if you find days like mothers day, fathers day or Christmas particularly stressful, filter emails containing these words.

Setting up the filter rules

Now you’re at the bit where you can set-up the actions that tell Google what to do with your emails.

Again, you will have a lot of options. I will break them down for you and show you the ones I most commonly use.

Picking your filters

Skip the inbox

By default, Gmail filters all your email into your inbox. It has a rule that says when new email arrives send it to your inbox. When this happens, it means Gmail can tell you that you have a new email. If you tell Gmail to skip your inbox, it means the email won’t show up in your inbox. It also means Gmail can’t tell you that you’ve received an email. When I’m setting up a filter, I always tick this option.

Mark as read

If you’ve set up a filter to “mute” emails from people or organisations, marking an email as read is essential. This means you won’t see that the email has arrived when browsing your folders. You can also use this if you have set-up a rule to filter email responses to a specific topic. There is no hard and fast rule here.

Star it

Staring something in Gmail is like flagging it. It means it will stand out and also appear in a specific folder called “stared”. I’ve used it in the past to save details of concerts I’ve been going to.

Apply the label

Just to confuse you, Gmail uses the term “label” to mean “folder”. If it helps, think of this as “move to folder”. You don’t need to have any labels set up, this step will let you do that. From the drop-down pick “create new label” and type the label name. Where it says “nest label”, this means you can add the label under an existing one. If these were folders, it would be folders and sub-folders.

Forward it

If you get an email to one account that needs to go somewhere else, you can set-up an auto-forward here. For example, an ex is emailing you, and you don’t trust yourself to reply. You could forward the email to a friend and delete this email, all without you ever seeing it. Or maybe you just get a business email in your personal account and need to forward it.

Delete it

This will move your email to your bin (or trash). If you get a series of receipt emails when you buy something, you might want to delete all but one of them. You will have specified the rules on the previous step. If you want to delete emails from a specific person, you can do that by clicking on “block” in the email itself.

Never send it to spam

When someone says “whitelist my email address” this is the tick box to pick. An email can sometimes get marked as spam by Gmail if it comes from an email service provider. To stop that happening, put their email address in the previous step and tick this box. Now you know how to whitelist email from Angels Playing Skittles.

Always mark it as important

Ticking this option will add the “important” filter to the email. Emails marked as “important” can be filtered into a pre-defined label (that you can enable). If you’re using a custom inbox view, it may also show the emails differently. This option applies to the inbox view settings.

Never mark it as important

This is the opposite of the previous option. This option also applies to your inbox view settings.


If you use Gmail’s inbox category view setting, you can change the settings using this option.

Also apply filter to X matching conversations

when you created search rules on the previous screen it will have searched your inbox for matching results. Tick this box to apply the rules on this screen to your search results. If you think your rules should have returned results, but haven’t, you will need to adjust your search rules. If you set up a new search rule and don’t have any emails that match, check when you expect one. In this case, you might want to leave “mark as read” unticked until you’ve tested the rule works.

Creating your rules

Pick the rules you would like to create, then click on the blue “create filter” button.  

The filter rules I use

These are the options I normally pick when I’m setting up a filter.  I have found it makes my inbox more manageable.  

  • Skip the inbox
  • Mark as read
  • Apply a label
  • Apply to the matching conversation


Inbox zero is something that is passed off as the holy grail. It was invented by a man. It has become a measuring tool for success, and it’s pointless.

I understand the number of unread emails in your inbox can be a cause of stress. I also understand that if you have a large number of unread emails, the task of filtering can seem unmanageable.

Here’s a suggested approach to maintenance I try to take.

Each day for a week 

The first five emails to arrive, I decide to unsubscribe or set-up a filter. 

Once a month 

Review the emails I’ve filtered for anything important. I also delete any emails that I’m unlikely to need. 

Once a quarter 

Search my inbox to find any receipts I haven’t yet expensed. I also delete any filters I don’t need any more. 

Once a year 

I do a mass delete of all old emails. If it doesn’t bring me joy, it goes in the bin.

Large volume of unread emails

For anyone who has more than 10,000 unread emails that are 12 months or older:

1. Search your inbox for personal emails.  These are emails that you might cherish at a later date.  Emails from parents or friends are on this list.  Move the emails out of your inbox. 

2. Create filters for anything that, legally, you might need to hold onto.  

3. Delete everything over 12 months old that you have not opened that don’t meet steps 1 or 2. If you haven’t opened it now, you never will. 



Getting on top of your inbox doesn’t have to be stressful. You can slice it up into little chunks to make it more manageable.

Ideally, your main inbox view should only have emails that you need to do something with. Everything else is noise that will distract you.


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