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Ask LH: Can I Automatically Delete Deal Emails After A Fixed Period Of Time?

Dear Lifehacker, Like many people I suffer from a swamped inbox. I receive many newsletters and daily deal offers which are often only on interest on the day they’re sent. What I’d love to do is to take those kinds of emails and automatically delete them if they’re unread after 24 or 48 hours. I don’t want to unsubscribe, but I’d love them to disappear after that time. Any ideas? I use Gmail, and there’s usually a solution! Thanks, Mail Manager

Dear MM,

It’s very easy to get Gmail to automatically label emails from a given sender and shift them from your inbox. For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know how to do this, here’s a quick reminder:

  1. In Gmail, perform a search that will find the relevant message (using a term such as ‘Groupon’).
  2. From the ‘More’ dropdown, select ‘Filter messages like these’.
  3. Select ‘Create a filter from this search’ on the screen that appears.
  4. On the next screen, choose the label you want to apply to these messages (you can create a new one if needed). Make sure to tick ‘Skip the Inbox (Archive it)’ to keep the message out of your main inbox.
  5. Click ‘Create filter’ and you’re done.

However, I haven’t been able to find a way of getting Gmail to take the next step: automatically deleting emails with a given label after a fixed period of time. It’s not an option in Google’s standard management tools, there don’t seem to be any extensions that perform that role, and I couldn’t get our old favourite ifttt to do it either. It’s a popular request as a feature on Gmail support forums, but no-one seems to have cracked it yet. (If you know different, please tell us in the comments.)

Outside of Gmail, it’s definitely doable. If you use the desktop Outlook client, you can have emails in any given folder delete themselves after a set period of time. Set up an Outlook rule to move all messages with a given subject or sender to that folder, then right-click on the folder, choose Properties, go to the Auto Archive tab, choose the ‘Archive this folder using these settings’ option, set the time period you want, and choose the ‘Permanently delete old items’ option.

The same option is built into the newly-launched Outlook.com. Right-click on a message, choose ‘For this sender’ and then ‘Schedule clean up’. The most useful option is probably ‘Only keep the latest mail from this sender’, but you can also choose to delete all messages older than 3 days or to archive to a different folder. It’s the cleanest solution to the problem I’ve seen so far.

Cheers
Lifehacker

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