Spam in the Bin, Bacon in the Fridge

23/9/2010 |

We all know what to do with email Spam – our anti-spam filters catch it and put it in the Bin where it belongs. If they’re working well we don’t even see it, never mind read it.

But there’s that big pile of other low-priority mail that’s still waiting for us every time we open our inboxes.
You know the sort of things we mean – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter notifications, group newsletters, bulletins, service updates etc.

There’s a name for this stuff too – “Bacon”.

It’s mail you have asked to be sent, but really it’s only a few steps up from Spam.
It’s swamping the really crucial and time critical mail we want to be able to spot easily, and give our proper attention to.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, where would you keep your Bacon at home – in the Fridge of course!
Somewhere it will be safe and tucked away so you can grab it when you want to, and then close the door on it again quickly.

OK, that might be stretching the metaphor a bit too far, but here’s how we think Bacon email should be handled:

• Use filters and rules to automatically identify as much of it as possible the moment it arrives.
• Get your email client (or web interface) to divert it away from your main inbox (which we’re keeping just for the good stuff), either to a labeled category (if you use Gmail) or a separate folder (e.g. if you’re an Outlook user).
• ONLY go and look in there at planned times – e.g. daily, twice weekly, weekly etc. whatever suits you best. You should be processing the Bacon when YOU choose, not as a reflex when it happens to come in (we advise turning off those new mail alerts too).

• (Advanced Ninja tip) Tweak your filters further so that the Bacon gets sorted into different ‘flavours’, so can choose which one you want and when. For instance my Gmail setup separates out Twitter and LinkedIn stuff and all the newsletters I’ve subscribed to into different catch areas, well away from my main inbox.

Even a handful of well chosen filters and rules will dramatically reduce the amount of low-priority mail you see in your main inbox.
It doesn’t take long either – if you add only one filter or rule a day (takes seconds when you’ve bothered to learn how for your email client), by the end of the week you’ll see a huge reduction in inbox “noise”.

It’ll also mean you can deal with the remaining important messages better too – and then get out of your email altogether, and back to doing some real work!


  1. Andy Britnell

    As a facilitator I need to filter out the ‘noise’ from the ‘signal’ to make sure I get a clean message unadulterated by generalisations and distortions that cloud the issue.

    So this is a useful analogy to help us clear out the ‘noise’ that drowns out the important stuff in our mail box.

    A clean inbox helps us to take action on the important activities. Too much spam and bacon clogs up the inbox and means the important stuff turns critical.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Josh

    Even better, if using Gmail – turn off those ‘bacon’ folders in your IMAP settings, so they don’t turn up in your desktop client at all. That way you eliminate the constant distraction of an unread count, and have to go to the website to view them at all, making it easier to restrict when you do so.

  3. Kyla Cromer

    Hi Graham, across the pond here, you’ll see the spelling bacn. It’s a great distinction, I find it really useful to filter that stuff right into my bacn folder (or shopping!)

  4. Robert

    Yup, I have eighty or ninety rules of this nature. What most mail programmes also have is an ‘unread messages’ featurwe which allows you to see all the bacon at once, your ‘true’ inbox.

    I have the reverse problem, though – losing e-mail below the ‘fold’. If it is not dealt with on the day, then by tomorrow its lost in the list and will likely be ignored forever.

  5. Robert

    Oh yeah, a quick question: Where should I file the ‘Think Productive UK Newsletter’ then?!

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