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I have to admit that when it comes to organizing email, I’m a bit lazy. When I get an email from someone, I usually just fire off a quick reply and leave the email sitting in my inbox. When I used to use Yahoo Mail a lot, this resulted in my inbox growing to about 3000 to 4000 messages. Now, how exactly do you go about fixing a nightmare scenario like that?

The situation becomes even more critical when you start working remotely. Your job tasks and team discussions all occur via email. This makes email organization and streamlining even more important, because it can impact the quality of your work and whether you come across as a well-organized and highly functional person or not.

First of all, MakeUseOf is clearly the place to turn when you need help with your Gmail account. Two of my favorite MUO articles that focus on streamlining Gmail are Angelina’s awesome list of ways to use Gmail as a multitasking tool How To Turn Gmail Into A Multitasking Machine (Part 1) How To Turn Gmail Into A Multitasking Machine (Part 1) Read More ; and I also really enjoyed Ann Smarty’s article with some examples of how to use Gmail filters to improve your productivity 3 Great Examples of Using Gmail Filters for Productivity 3 Great Examples of Using Gmail Filters for Productivity Read More . In this article, I’m going to share three powerful ways that you can get your Inbox to organize itself, rather than spending hours trying to repair the effects of your laziness in one sitting.

Cleaning Up Your Inbox as an Evolutionary Process

Organizing and cleaning up my Gmail inbox is about as appealing to me as doing the laundry or washing the dishes. However, instead of organizing your entire inbox and the entire pile of messages accumulated there, you can make a habit of doing just a few things differently moving forward. These “few things” will eventually cause your Inbox to clean itself up. Sound impossible? It’s not – it’s just a matter training your Gmail inbox to act more intelligently and to sort out your messages for you.

The first step making a promise to yourself to handle incoming emails by telling Gmail how to sort or organize them. By redirecting common incoming emails, you’ll discover that your Inbox cleans itself up very quickly.

For example, I recently set up Google Calendar to issue me reminder emails for the tasks that I’ve planned to do for the day. While this is a nice way to get things done, it’s also a great way to muddy up an inbox in very short order. I’ve let these messages pile up, but now I’m dealing with the notification emails that I’ve just received today and use it to retroactively go back and reorganize all of the ones currently cluttering my Inbox. While you have the message open, all you have to do is click on “More Actions” and then select “Filter messages like these.


This way, you don’t have to figure out what filter criteria you should use to apply to this group of images, the email system already knows the email address that the email came from, and it automatically fills out the “From” field for you.

Remember, in dealing with such emails as they come into your inbox today, you’ll be teaching your email account how to organize your inbox for you. This may take extra time today or tomorrow, but after a while you’ll realize that your Gmail account is keeping itself clean and organized! The real secret to “teaching” your Gmail account what to do with the message comes in the next step of setting up the filter.

If you’ve just started doing this, then you probably don’t have any labels ready for the messages that you hope to organize. Have no fear – just use the dropdown box next to “Apply the label” to select “New label…”  This will allow you to assign a label that well describes this type of email. For example, in this case I called the email type “Calendar_Notifications,” and then told Gmail to apply this new rule to past messages.

This is what streamlines your efforts. Rather than going back and reorganizing your thousands of old emails, you can let your efforts with the new emails that come in result in a cleanup of the existing pile of assorted mail cluttering up your inbox.

Use Superstars to Quickly Flag Emails

If you’re anything like me, you may get emails coming in from all over the place – informational emails from your bank or other organizations you do business with, emails from coworkers or people you manage, or important messages from team members that you’re working with. If you are dealing with a massive influx of email, then it’s a very smart idea to start “flagging” your email messages with stars.

Usually, starring a message means that the message is very important, but it is also a great way to break those “important” emails into subcategories for fast and easy searching later on. You can do this by enabling the “Superstars” Gmail Labs feature.

This feature lets you use up to 12 unique star icons so that you can not only separate important messages from the rest of the inbox pile, but you can sort those important messages into their own special type. You’ll need to know the name of the icon for searching, so in your Gmail settings page, just hover the mouse over the icon for the icon name.  When you’re reading a new email and you want to mark it as important and sort it – you can click on the “star” option and then click multiple times to change star type. In this case, I clicked five times to mark the message as an important informational email about my Orbitz travel plans.

Later, when you want to recall those important messages from within your inbox pile of emails, just conduct a search for the type by typing “has:blue-info” or whatever the name of the icon type is – and only those messages that you’ve flagged will get returned. For example, here are all of the messages that I flagged as important informational emails.

This makes it very easy to quickly find those messages that you used to have to hunt through your inbox for – saving time and avoiding a major headache.

Flag Critical Emails With Quick Links

Another important way to organize and keep track of those critical emails that you know you’ll need to deal with the first moment you can is by enabling the Quick Links feature in Gmail Labs. This sets up a simple Quick Links feature in the left menu pane of your Gmail account.

When you receive an email that you know you’re going to have to come back and find later, just click on “Add Quick Link” and Gmail will automatically record the URL for that image and add it to the left menu listing. You can give the link text any title you like.

This lists the email links in the left menu bar with the titles you chose. This is a very useful way to avoid the need to dig for those emails that have important information like someone’s phone number that they’ve emailed you. When it’s time to call them, all you have to do is click on the link – no need to sift through all of your other emails to find that important information.

Notice that there are “x” options next to each Quick Link. This is because this feature is meant for quickly saving information that you’re going to need in short order. Once you’ve used the information, it’s a very good idea to delete the quick link so that you can keep your list of Quick Links as short as possible. It’s basically a quick scratch pad to keep track of those critical emails that you know you’ll need to go back to again soon.

Do you know of any other useful tips to help organize and streamline your Inbox? Share your own ideas and tips in the comments section below.

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  1. A koookie monster
    June 26, 2010 at 3:37 am

    This is what I use, "Inbox Zero":

  2. A koookie monster
    June 26, 2010 at 1:37 am

    This is what I use, "Inbox Zero":

  3. Hyjk
    June 25, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    i use hitmelater instead of calender reminds me thing.

  4. ASR
    June 25, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    What are the names of the other superstars besides "blue-info" to search for?

  5. ASR
    June 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    What are the names of the other superstars besides "blue-info" to search for?

    • Ryan Dube
      July 7, 2010 at 8:12 pm

      ASR - I don't have them memorized - usually I just hover my mouse over the icon as a refresher. :) If you enable the feature, just hover your mouse over each one to see the names.

  6. M.S. Smith
    June 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Very useful stuff. I have 2278 messages in my Inbox that could use cleaning up!

  7. rhyslittle
    June 25, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Nice article, I did this a while back and always advise clients to get on it - it really does save so much time! I love filtering, it makes my day so much easier, and archiving finished emails works brilliantly, its good for your head to look at an 'empty' inbox at the end of the day! https://www.plugandplaydesign....

  8. Trux
    June 25, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    For all of the experimental Labs features that Gmail offers, I just want a simple 'Sort' button so I can sort by name and be able to mass delete (or manage) that way. Why won't they offer such a simple feature?

    • zman
      June 25, 2010 at 6:35 pm


      • Barr
        July 3, 2010 at 6:33 pm

        Can't you do that by "Searching" your gmail? Then you could select ALL and delete, or label etc.

    • Ryan Dube
      July 7, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      Trux - I's "sort" is sorely lacking. :) Barr is right though, you can do mass deletes in Gmail - but I do see that your point is to be able to sort by name and delete that block of emails. Not easy in Gmail at the moment.

  9. Anonymous
    June 25, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Maan, can't wait to apply these tips! I know I'm not alone!