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gmail_logoIn today’s world, efficiently processing large quantities of information is a must-have skill for anyone who needs to keep track of more than one thing at a time – that is, everyone. Because e-mail is the most mainstream form of communication, it is the channel through which all aspects of our lives pass through. That is why learning how to sort through volumes of emails with minimal effort, separating must-read from can-be-skipped, and integrating emails into your to-do list or calendar, is so critical to boosting productivity.

In the following tips, I will show you a couple methods to streamline your email browsing, organize emails in Gmail and turn Gmail into a multitasking machine. Mind you, my method of organization takes a whole lot of setting up, and a bit of getting used to, but considering how much more integrated your email will be with your life, the time spent will be worth it.

First Things First

The first and most important aspect of revamping your inbox is stopping the inflow of junk. Start by unsubscribing from any newsletters that you do not read on a daily basis, and filter out the stubborn ones (for which you can’t find an unsubscribe link) for automatic deletion (I’ll cover this more in Part 2). Then, you can start clearing out your inbox.

If you have a pile of unread messages that you never plan on reading, Gmail’s search has a useful function that can isolate all of your unread messages. Simply go up to the search box and type in ” is:unread ” and click Search Mail, and you should be seeing all of your unread emails.  Then, you can either delete all of them, or then selectively isolate each sender and deal with the associated emails you see fit.

Before we start configuring your revamped inbox, you’ll need the Better Gmail 2 Extension written by Gina Trapani over at Lifehacker.

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1. Better Gmail 2 Configuration

organize emails in gmail

This is how I set up my Better Gmail 2 options. Of course, yours may not be exactly the same as mine, but this setup works with the rest of my configuration just fine. I have “Support This Add On via Amazon” enabled because it helps donate a bit of money to keep this app in development each time you make a purchase on Amazon. Make sure you have Hide Labels in Message Row checked, unless you like to see your labels before the subject line of every single email. It’s very important to have Folders4Gmail checked, as you will see in point 3.

Now, we will go over Gmail Labs settings, which is the tiny green beaker that should be to the left of your Settings link in the upper right corner of your Gmail page. In Labs, make sure you enable Quick Links, the Mark as Read Button, Multiple Inboxes, Search Autocomplete, Google Calendar Gadget, and Add Any Gadget by URL. I will cover what you will do with each of these later.

2. Consolidating Your Email

An important part about streamlining your email process is making sure all of your emails come through a single  stream. For some, that means using Thunderbird or Outlook, and for this particular writer, it means channeling all of my email into Gmail. Jack Cola wrote a great article about importing mail from Hotmail here How To Access Hotmail Email Messages from Your Gmail Account How To Access Hotmail Email Messages from Your Gmail Account Read More , and you can find directions for importing from Yahoo (the procedure for other services is the same) here, although right now it seems as if YMMV with Gmail’s Import Emails function.

Now that you have all of your internet accounts set up to import to Gmail, it’s time to set Gmail as your default mailto: handler. Tina wrote a very useful tip in her article, Make Gmail Your Default Desktop Client Make Gmail your Default Desktop Email Client (Windows) Make Gmail your Default Desktop Email Client (Windows) Read More , to set mailto: links to open with Gmail in Firefox. Go to >Tools >Options >Applications tab and type >mailto into the >Search field. Do NOT hit enter, the matching selection will appear automatically. You can select an action for mailto links in the >Action drop-down menu. You can set it to open Gmail.”

3.  Setting Up Labels

organize emails in gmail

First of all, make sure that Folders4Gmail is checked in Better Gmail 2. This allows you to use the ‘ / ‘ symbol to denote nested labels in Gmail. I use a modified GTD approach to my labeling: I have a [Gmail]/Action label and a [Gmail]/Hold label that I assign to emails that I need to respond to or enter into my schedule, and emails that I am waiting for a response on, respectively.

Then, you could either go further into GTD and set up context subfolders for your Action label, or you can do what I do and leave the rest of your labels as categories that your emails may pertain to (I have Financial Aid, Classes, etc).

organize emails in gmail

Now, what you can do is go into the Labels tab under Settings, and there, you’ll be able to set up which labels you want to be displayed on the sidebar. If you feel hesitant to disable anything on the off chance you may want to access All Mail or Starred messages, again, have no fear! This is where the Auto Complete feature we turned on earlier comes in. Type “Starred” into the Search box, and you should see a drop down list that includes the entry “is: Starred.” If you search for that, you’ll see all of your starred messages. You can do this with any of the other system labels.

Now you’ve learned a bit about how I configure my Gmail to multitask. We learned a bit about labels, Lab features, using Firefox extensions in conjunction with Gmail, and importing email from other services into Gmail. In Part 2, I’ll cover a bit more about labels, but in relation to setting up filters for specific labels. I’ll also be talking about setting up your sidebar with your favorite To Do list manager, Quick Links, and Google Calendar, and using Multiple Inboxes to keep track of what you’ll need to respond to.

How do you keep track of your inbox influx? Any tips of your own to help other readers organize all their emails? Let us know in the comments!

  1. sandyspider
    September 22, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Great information. I need to streamline my email.

  2. Hector
    September 9, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Firefox crashed for me too, but after restarting FF for about 3 times, it got stable.

  3. shiva
    September 7, 2009 at 10:43 am

    hey spelt it wrong/thoughtful/. where is the sec
    ond part.waiting !

  4. shiva
    September 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

    wonderful and toughtful compilation..keep it up

  5. IQJava
    September 7, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Nice post...

  6. Mark O'Neill
    September 2, 2009 at 9:16 am

    It's coming. Slightly delayed but it's coming :-)

  7. Jojo
    September 2, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Where's Part 2? I love all your tips.

  8. yaya
    August 27, 2009 at 6:40 am

    soory but the "better gmail" add on caused me a gmail crush!

    all sites are working perfect in my browser BESIDE gmail...

    i had to disable the add on and re-setting it from a different computer.

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