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Vacation inbox zero.

June 10, 2017

First, a confession: I check my work email account on vacation.

Before I am chided for doing so, let's admit this is not unusual in 2017, and also let it be known that I take all of my vacation days (ahem, other millennial women). Also, I am of Camp Check But Do Not Respond, because keeping an eye on work is not actually “working,” per se. (Or is it?)

For years, I’d found it helpful for my personal sanity to spend a few precious PTO minutes to check in each day after having set my out-of-office response. Though over the past few months, my inbox volume has grown substantially, and this no longer works. Checking in to find 352 new messages awaiting my return after one (yes, one) singular day off does not impart a sense of calm.

When I did surmount that message mound, only about six of them were actually important: requests from my boss, questions from coworkers, or updates I’d been waiting on in ongoing conversations. As it turns out, there’s a button on my iPhone that could have determined this for me in seconds, saving a whole long weekend’s worth of stress as I watched that number proliferate at the bottom of my phone.

I discovered this feature entirely by accident. I was scrolling through my email while walking and, as one does, almost dropped my phone. It so happened that the angle of the catch activated a filter feature that I had hitherto not noticed and immediately emptied my inbox. After a few seconds of hot panic, I was thrilled to see I had not, in fact, deleted everything, I had just selected a filter to display only my Unread mail, which was none.

Upon further investigation, I found there are six delicious ways to sort your phone’s email inbox using said filter, most with no more effort than the touch of two buttons. You. Are. Welcome.

How to change your email filter settings

At the bottom left corner of your inbox, there is an icon that looks like a circle with three lines in it. Tapping it will automatically apply a filter for Unread, but tapping the text at the bottom center of the screen that says, “Filtered by: Unread,” will open a menu that provides several other options for displaying your mail. If you keep Unread checked, it will hide all opened messages, but turning it off will immediately bring them back. This functionality applies to all filters.

Checking “Flagged” will show only the messages that you have pegged as important, so if there is a specific conversation you’d like to watch or follow up on, you can flag it, and have it be the only thing that interrupts your holiday bliss. The “Addressed” category will let you determine if you want to see only messages are sent to you directly or only those that you are copied on. And you can also tell your inbox to let only mail with attachments come through.

The last option, “Only from VIP,” requires a bit more configuring, but I think this one’s the most helpful of the bunch. Before activating, you’ll need to go into your inbox or your contacts, whichever is easiest, and tap “Add to VIP” on the senders you’d like to see messages from. They’ll get a fancy star symbol next to their names in your inbox, and you’ll become the uncompromising bouncer of your inbox simply by turning on the VIP-only setting.

If you’d only like to receive the email sent from your boss directly to you, with attachments, as part of an important conversation, you can turn them all on at once, too. An empty inbox honestly sounds like a mini-vacation in and of itself.

If you’d really like to delight in oblivion, turn off all notification badges (formally, “red bubbles”). Even with the filters turned on, those pesky phone pimples will still include the full count of new messages coming into your inbox, because they’re technically still there, just hidden. To stop this nonsense, go into your Notifications settings, and under Mail, give that “Allow Notifications” button a good old fashioned left swipe.

You can also customize settings per each account, and if you do have those VIPs turned on, the settings in that category will override the top-level switch and you will see the bubble blow up for those messages.

Just be careful. Otherwise, you may start using your phone less and, ultimately, even break your email addiction, and I wouldn’t want to be to blame for that grand misfortune.

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