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Preemptive Inbox Zero

Many people struggle with a towering email inbox full of unread mail. Here's how I keep mine preemptively pristine.

I've been gardening this approach for over 15 years, and these days anything that reaches my inbox is almost certain to be important.

I use procmail to filter my mail, but you can also achieve this with the mail filters of your reader. If you're using gmail, use their filter settings. If you're using MacOS, see Apple Mail's rules. If you're using Windows, go fuck yourself. (ht jwz)


  1. Use a good spam filter. I used to maintain my own, but I gave it up. I pay for pobox.com for their redirection and excellent spam filtering. Gmail is good too.

  2. If you join any mailing list, create a folder for it, and use the first message you get from the list to create a rule that sends all subsequent messages to that folder.

  3. People on your whitelist go straight to inbox (boss, spouse, friends)

  4. Any other automated email you receive goes to subfolders (I have folders 'alerts', 'bulletins', 'housekeeping', 'reports')
    If something like this finds its way through to your inbox, rule it out. You could also give 'you+them@yourdomain.net' type addresses to each service you subscribe to, and filter on that.

  5. [optional] Anything from co-workers (mail from your domain, but not matching above 3 rules) to a folder named 'intray'

  6. If you have multiple addresses that all go to one mail server (e.g. catchall addresses for personal domains), create a subfolder for each. Anything not matching above rules, but to (or CC) a secondary address, goes into appropriate folder.

  7. Anything remaining goes to 'slopbucket'. This is mostly spam, and occasional true blind-CC
    (Whitelist anyone who frequently blind-CCs you). This is also where new bulletins and alerts that you forgot to filter will land, and actual people who've never emailed you before.



A complete copy of my procmail rule file (~150 rules) is available courtesy of a procmail rule auto responder (email procmail at unixbigot.id.au with subject 'sendprocmail').

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