Looking for automated methods of taming my inbox
December 10, 2012 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I have just shy of 24k emails in my gmail. Looking for automated methods to organize and delete all the junk.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to manage it manually. I would love it if there's a web app or browser addon that could group all emails from the same sender under the same label. I think if I could just manage to group all emails under the senders, I could determine what needs to be saved and what can be deleted.

I realize this might mean that I would end up with labels where there's only one or two emails, and I am okay with that. I am also okay with having a bajillion labels to have to go through.

I just don't want to have to create all those labels by hand.

Anyone know of a tool that can help me do this? Also happy to take other suggestions or ideas.

I have already used unroll.me and unsubsciber. Helps with preventing new emails, doesn't help the ones that I already have or aren't promotional in nature.
posted by royalsong to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
This is perhaps a naive question, but by 'junk' do you mean actual, literal junk mail, a la "30% OFF YOUR PURCHASE TODAY ONLY" or do you mean an email from a friend that is not something you need to hold on to anymore (ex: here's my address from 6 apartments ago). Your answer might help shape the usefulness of the responses.
posted by Flamingo at 7:06 AM on December 10, 2012

Sanebox works really well. It's free to try for a few weeks and it's very useful. Even if you just use the free trial, it lets you see what is basically garbage very easily for you to delete the old crap.
posted by inturnaround at 7:06 AM on December 10, 2012

Use Thunderbird with imap.
This lets you sort by name or other criteria.
Check gmail help for settings.
posted by Sophont at 7:08 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a thought -- why delete anything? I have 24000 unread emails in my gmail inbox. I have thousands more that I've read that are just sitting in there. The search works really well if you ever need to find something.

You can also just search for 'sent by' if you need to browse through individual people's mail, etc.
posted by empath at 7:14 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

The extreme route is that you run between 25 and 50 (or however many) searches for stuff you know is important - emails from service providers or long lost friends. You then aggressively filter your recent emails. Then you delete everything that is more than x months old.

The reason for the mass delete is that if you haven't actually looked at it in the past few months, and don't know what it is, then it isn't important. Those friends or contacts that need to contact you can still do so if they need to. You'll still be on record for those companies who need to contact you.

I once worked with someone who was quite high up in the company and, pre Blackberry, came back off holiday to 2,000+ emails. He deleted them all, and reasoned correctly than anything important would be re-emailed to him.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2012

Response by poster: Flamingo: By junk, I mean promotional emails, mostly.

empath: Because it feels out of control and chaotic for me.

Thanks for the suggestions thus far!
posted by royalsong at 7:26 AM on December 10, 2012

I've been using Otherinbox Organizer for a year or two: point it at your gmail and it will organize what you've got into subfolders based upon the types that it's aware of, and that's quite a lot.

If it notices a new source of mails that it's aware of , it'll let you know via mail: "Hey - I see you're getting mails from XYZ Corp, and I think that should belong in Financial. Click here to adjust."

You get a daily digest of mails that it's handled, just so you know what it's doing. All of this is configurable.

Free, works well, minimal cruft.
posted by HannoverFist at 7:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Purging a bloated inbox can be done, is very effective and satisfying. You just have to be prepared for it not being a straight through line from original idea to nice, pretty inbox with everything in the right place.

I have done this for people before as a freelancer. The reason I don't do it anymore for people as a freelancer is due to issues like annoying hidden characters that throw off any automated process and the ever changing Gmail clean-up rules and settings. In short, I got tired of trying to keep up with Google. Great product. I just wish they would stop mucking with it.

Regarding junk characters, you can get any number of packages that will do the bulk of the work but they almost all will be stymied by emails that include text that may be part of super long URLS or just about anything for that matter. It is a really frustrating thing to be constantly starting over because the processing crapped out and you cannot really figure out where it actually happened.

Now this does not mean that you cannot do what you have noted in your question. It is just that you want to pre-process and clean out as much junk as possible before getting into an automated process. While this will have to be done manually, there are methods that can help like sorting for specific character strings that may be present in email types that you have no desire to retain. If you do things systematically, you can just move out possible offending emails to an area that you can check back on later. That way, you are assured that that one very important message did not get swept away in the purge.

BitDaddys software is one that I have used in the past, but those apps tend to focus on Outlook issues although there are some Gmail utils.

Google is constantly changing their Gmail setup, so what I dealt with this time last year probably will not apply. While you are not looking for migrate your email, a check-up of some of the issues on the following pages can be useful......
Google Migration Page
Gmail Tips page is a good starting point for this type of operation.
Google Apps Main Support page is a good reference
Google Apps for Business may be needed to get full functionality when cleaning up your Gmail. While you can do most things with a free account, there are also some very convenient tools that are not available unless you open your wallet. (but the cost is not all that bad)

Finally, as noted above, if you get advice online anywhere, check the publishing date of the help article. Something written in 2011 may be a false lead today. And whatever you do, run tests first even if it means creating a new Gmail account and putting some dummy emails in there as opposed to taking a chance with your actual messages.

posted by lampshade at 7:34 AM on December 10, 2012

Protip that helped me find and nuke old promotional emails: search in Gmail with the term Facebook (I did a second search where search = Pinterest). You will find every stinking Gap coupon/Sundance catalog/Best Buy email you've ever gotten, and can delete them.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:39 AM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I just cleaned up my similarly sized inbox last week. I searched for all read mail, selected it all, and then archived it. I then switched to the "unread first" view, and went through all my unread mail, marking as read and archiving all the stuff I did not need to pay attention to. Now I've got 10 items in my inbox, one unread, the rest pending tasks. I "mark as read" and archive all emails that come in at least once a day. I have also started labeling new emails more assiduously so that I can have a better organization schema.

This does not do exactly what you want, but let me commend it to you as a solution. It basically gets you a clean slate with which to work, and you need not spend time and attention on deleting a bunch of messages. That cruft might still come up in searches, but I'm prepared to deal with that.

The other thing, of course, is to make sure you have a separate, unlinked, email address for shopping and general internet use. I almost never receive promotional emails to my primary address that I don't want to see.
posted by OmieWise at 7:45 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might take a look at Alto Mail. It is a new project by AOL (don't judge me!) that works with your existing Gmail account to automatically sort your mail into "stacks" to help make organizing and deleting a snap.

More info from Engadget.
posted by davidvanb at 7:55 AM on December 10, 2012

With Gmail, I "Archive" everything as soon as I'm done with it (replying, acting on it, whatever).

It's the perfect form of deletion; the email is no longer visible and therefor not cluttering my inbox; it's effectively deleted. UNLESS I need it. Then I use Gmail's otherworldly search features and the emails that I need are there in front of me in search results.

I spent a good period of time trying to keep my inbox organized and sorted before I realized that the organization and neatness that I was working so hard to maintain was actually a net drain on my productivity.

Every minute spent sorting and organizing email is a minute not spent doing productive or interesting work. For me, it's a no-brainer.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was going to say mostly what DWRoselands said: simply "select all" and hit "archive."


If you need something, Gmail's search feature is so amazing that you can find it faster than finding your label and having to go through that.

If that fails (which it won't), you can always click on "All mail" and see everything again, chronologically with newest on top.

I honestly don't see how there can be any more to it than this. But, I am a super-organized neat freak, so at one time I couldn't fathom the "archive" idea without sorting something five different ways, first. Then once I let go of that, it's been an easy life.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:17 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flamingo: By junk, I mean promotional emails, mostly.

In Gmail, do a search for "Unsubscribe". That should bring up all the promotional emails you don't want, and then you have the added bonus that you can unsubscribe yourself from them (assuming you don't actually want them)...
posted by guy72277 at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Do you mean "archive", as in "make this go away but let me find it again if I search"? Or do you mean "delete", as in "make it go away forever and be unretrievable"? Gmail is meant to be used where you don't really delete stuff but you archive almost all of it soon after reading it. "Inbox Zero" in the Gmail context means "everything archived".

Either way, GMail by itself is quite good at giving you the tools to manage a huge amount of mail. Do a search for the criterion you are interested in. One of the three grey buttons on the toolbar is an empty box. Check it, to select all messages on the screen. A new item will show up: "All 20 conversations on this page are selected. Select all conversations that match this search". Click the "select all". Then choose the action you want to apply to every single message you've ever received that matches that search. I suggest "Archive", but if you really want to delete them forever you can "Delete".

You mentioned specifically wanting to process mail from a specific person. That's easy; just search "from:nelson". This selects all message threads that include an email from Nelson. (There are other search keywords, too.) You can do the same select all / archive operation as above. You can also automatically process new incoming mails that meet certain criteria via filters; you can automatically label all mail from a specific person that way, for instance.

If you truly have 24,000 emails in your inbox all this filtering will drive you crazy. Declare email bankruptcy. Select every single email you have and archive it. Then going forward, every day manage your Inbox so it stays small and doesn't overwhelm you. It sounds scary but sometimes a cleansing fire is the best thing. The Christmas/New Year holday is a great time to do that.
posted by Nelson at 8:22 AM on December 10, 2012

Use the smart labels labs feature, which can be found under "Labs" in your settings tab. It automagically labels bulk, notifications, forum messages, etc. and removes them from your inbox.
posted by xyzzy at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2012

Response by poster: guy72277, thanks for the tip but I have done this already. It still doesn't catch everything.

Or do you mean "delete", as in "make it go away forever and be unretrievable"?

This is exactly what I mean. The 24k number is the "all mail" number, including the archive. Not interested in just archiving everything, I don't want stuff I don't need. I don't want it cluttering up my search results nor do I want old attachments counting toward my space available.

Nelson: that's exactly what I've been doing thus far, and it takes too long. That's why I am looking for an automated method.
posted by royalsong at 8:35 AM on December 10, 2012

Search for "unsubscribe" and you'll get almost all of the promo / newsletter emails.
posted by barnone at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

going forward, start using labels on your mail. all of my promotional type of mail gets a TBD (to be deleted) label applied automatically after having setup the google rule for that address. This way when I feel the need to clean, everything I've already made a rule for gets deleted in one fell swoop. Anything that's left then gets new rules made for them. Occasionally I remember to unsubcribe from TBD labeled emails that I never read as well, which helps.
posted by garlic at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2012

I want old attachments counting toward my space available.

I delete all emails with attachments older than a certain date once or twice a year, you can use the google search tools to do this.
posted by empath at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2012

I am not sure this is the most efficient way, but here is what I would do and have done. First, I would open two new gmail accounts. I would then set all three up in Thunderbird or some such email client that uses imap and can copy from one account to the other. I would then copy EVERY email from my primary account to my storage account. I would then set up a forwarding rule in mt primary account to forward every email to storage account. This way you will have a backup of every email.

Then, I would run sanebox on my inbox on my primary account. (sanebox.com). This does exactly what you are asking.

Finally, I would unsubscribe to as many as practical and start using the third account as your place to get the 20% off from Target type emails. I would then forward them to my primary so I can see them, but set up a filter that labels them all from third account so they remain separate and distinct from your inbox.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:24 PM on December 10, 2012

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