Paul Chiusano

Functional programming, UX, tech, econ

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Some simple email filters to help eliminate email overload

[   tech   ]            

On this blog I’ve mused about the problems with snail mail: anyone with knowledge of your address gets a lifetime ability to cause mail and packages to show up at your house, as many times as they want. Email has the same problem with virtual message delivery. The result is that our inboxes, both physical and virtual, are filled mostly with content whose delivery we never actually authorized. They are mostly noise, and we spend lots of time just processing that noise because there is some amount of signal that we do want to be aware of and respond to with higher fidelity.

What if it were different? What if every email in your inbox was either a reply to a message you’ve sent, or was sent by a person you’ve explicitly authorized to send you a message? And what if every other message sent to your email skipped your inbox and was assigned to a low priority bin that you could look at more infrequently? But wait, there’s more! Imagine if you had, at any time, the ability to revoke the ability of anyone to sent messages direct to your inbox, without needing to create a new email account.

This is all possible with a few simple email filters. Here’s what I did for a new email address I set up recently:

The workflow is now to check the “Main” label and the “Replies” label. Your inbox is always empty.

Here’s how it works: emails that are a reply to an email you’ve sent will contain your signature block and hence the reply authorization key, so they’ll be tagged with the “Replies” label that you check regularly. Emails sent to your main address get automatically archived, so you don’t see them unless you specifically search for them or you are searching for all unread messages (tip: set up a regular calendar appointment to check unread messages for anything important). You can treat these messages a bit like your Twitter feed… a river of mostly noise that you might want to scan occasionally for anything important or interesting. And emails sent to your “trusted” email address get delivered to your “Main” label. Only give the trusted email out to people you… trust.

You can now freely give away your paul@example.com email address - anything sent there which doesn’t have your reply authorization key is not an email you’ve asked to receive.

Some variations:

Let me know in the comments if you decide to adopt some variation of this and how it goes!

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