GMail Productivity: Automatically Find All Unsubscribable List, Notification, and Sales Messages

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Subscribed to mail­ing lists? How about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, and oth­er an­nounce­ments? Do you even know how many an­nounce­ment, list, and group sales e-mails you get? A sim­ple GMail or Google Apps Mail fil­ter can not on­ly show you ex­act­ly how many mes­sages you get that you can eas­i­ly un­sub­scribe from, but it can al­so make un­sub­scrib­ing a snap.

Nearly all the mail we’re talk­ing about–legitimate (e.g. not spam) but not al­ways necessary–mail of­fers a link at the bot­tom to let you un­sub­scribe or opt out of re­ceiv­ing fu­ture mail. Moreover, the lan­guage used to iden­ti­fy the­se links is in­vari­ably “un­sub­scribe,” “opt out,” or “be re­moved from”. That makes them easy to iden­ti­fy, group, and process us­ing a sim­ple mail fil­ter.

Below (Figure 1) you can see my Google Apps Mail in­box clear­ly iden­ti­fy­ing such mail–those marked with the pink “Unsubscribable” la­bel. (Yes, I know “un­sub­scrib­able” isn’t a word, but for the la­bel I need­ed some­thing short, if not gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect.) That mail is au­to­mat­i­cal­ly la­beled thus­ly for me, and, by vis­it­ing the “Unsubscribable” fold­er on the left (Figure 2), I can see all of my list mail grouped to­geth­er. From there, it’s a sim­ple mat­ter of open­ing each, click­ing the un­sub­scribe link at the bot­tom, and be­ing done with the list, no­ti­fi­ca­tions, or sales mes­sages forever. (Obviously some of those I want to re­ceive, so I’ll leave those alone)

Figure 1: [Click thumb­nail to zoom] My in­box with no­ti­fac­tion and list mail clear­ly la­beled.
Figure 2: [Click thumb­nail to zoom] All “un­sub­scrib­able” mail is al­so col­lect­ed in­to a sin­gle label-folder for even eas­ier ac­cess and ac­tion.

To cre­ate the same sys­tem with­in your GMail or Google Apps Mail in­box, fol­low the­se very sim­ple steps:

  1. In the top-right of your in­box click the gear icon and se­lect Settings.
  2. Select the Filters tab from the Settings screen.
  3. At the bot­tom of the Filters screen click the link for Create New Filter. Up will pop the Filter de­f­i­n­i­tion di­alog (Figure 3). 
    Figure 3: The Filter de­f­i­n­i­tion di­alog.
  4. The “Has the Words” field tells Gmail to search en­tire mes­sages for speci­fic key­words or phras­es. In this case, we want it to find those phras­es com­mon to mail from which you might want to unsubscribe–“unsubscribe,” “opt out,” or “be re­moved from”. In that field en­ter the fol­low­ing, in­clu­sive of quo­ta­tion marks.

    unsubscribe OR "opt out" OR "be removed from"

    The “OR” tells the fil­ter to trig­ger if it finds any one of the list­ed phras­es (see Figure 4).

    Figure 4: Setting the fil­ter con­di­tions to search mes­sages for the right phras­es.
  5. Now that we’ve set the con­di­tions by which the fil­ter will trig­ger, click Continue to get to the screen where we’ll de­fine the ac­tions that oc­cur when the fil­ter is trig­gered.
  6. There are many ac­tions you can choose from, but for this fil­ter, we sim­ply want to ap­ply a la­bel. Check the box beside “Apply the Label” and then click in the drop­down box to the right to se­lect the ap­pro­pri­ate la­bel (Figure 5). 
    Figure 5: Choosing the la­bel to ap­ply to match­ing mail. 
  7. If you don’t al­ready have an “Unsubscribable” or oth­er suit­able la­bel, as I didn’t, choose “New Label” from the top of the list and cre­ate the “Unsubscribable” la­bel, op­tion­al­ly as a child nest­ed un­der a par­ent la­bel (see Figure 6). 
    Figure 6: Adding the new “Unsubscribable” la­bel in the New Label di­alog.
  8. With the la­bel se­lect­ed Gmail will tell you how many con­ver­sa­tions (i.e. mail threads) al­ready re­ceived match the con­di­tions of the fil­ter (Figure 7). Check the “Also ap­ply fil­ter to…” op­tion to process those con­ver­sa­tions, and then click the Update Filter but­ton to ac­ti­vate and ap­ply the fil­ter.
    Figure 7: Not on­ly does the Filter Action screen en­able you to de­fine ac­tions to take on match­ing mail, it shows how many con­ver­sa­tions or threads al­ready match the con­di­tions of the fil­ter.
  9. Return to your in­box and you’ll see mail la­beled “Unsubscribable”. You’ll al­so see in the left column a label-folder with the same name. To most eas­i­ly dis­tin­guish list and no­ti­fi­ca­tion mail from any oth­er type, click the lit­tle box to the right of the “Unsubscribable” label-folder and choose a col­or.

From now on, all the mail con­tain­ing “un­sub­scribe,” “opt out,” or “be re­moved from” will be marked as “Unsubscribable”, in the col­or you chose. You can al­so vis­it the “Unsubscribable” label-folder to see all such mail. Unsubscribe from those you want by view­ing the mes­sage, click­ing the “un­sub­scribe” (or what­ev­er) link at the bot­tom, and fol­low­ing the in­di­vid­u­al un­sub­scribe or opt-out in­struc­tions.

You can, of course, leave the fil­ter ac­tive in­def­i­nite­ly. However, I used mine on­ly tem­porar­i­ly. Because it al­so tags no­ti­fi­ca­tion and list mail I want to re­ceive, and be­cause the mau­ve “Unsubscribable” tag can get dis­tract­ing in my in­box, I dis­abled the fil­ter af­ter un­sub­scrib­ing from every­thing I didn’t want.

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