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organize gmail inboxWe send and receive lots of emails daily. Many of the messages we receive are important ones requiring some further action or reply – but most of these emails are automatic notifications and updates from our social networks and subscriptions. How to make sense of all this clutter? How do we not miss something really important in that mess?

There are a lot of ways to. For example, you can use scheduled reminders Never Forget To Reply To An Email Again Using Scheduled Reminders Never Forget To Reply To An Email Again Using Scheduled Reminders Read More not to forget to get in touch with the person again. Or you can schedule emails and delay replies in Gmail How To Schedule Emails & Delay Replies in Gmail with Boomerang (400 Invites) How To Schedule Emails & Delay Replies in Gmail with Boomerang (400 Invites) Read More or use Gmail Priority inbox Gmail's Priority Inbox Solves The Bacn Problem Gmail's Priority Inbox Solves The Bacn Problem Read More to reduce the clutter. And of course don’t forget our Ultimate Guide To Gmail The Ultimate Guide To Gmail [PDF] The Ultimate Guide To Gmail [PDF] Read More for plenty of tips on how to make the most of Gmail.


This post looks at one such tool that helps you better organize your Gmail inbox (by taking the full advantage of Gmail labels). ActiveInbox, formally known as GTDInbox and GTDGmail, is a handy Gmail companion that makes the proper use of Gmail labels to help you get your inbox better organized.

Step 1: Install & Set Up ActiveInbox

The first thing you will need to do is to install the tool. It is installed as a regular browser addon and can run on FireFox and Google Chrome.

After installing the tool, you will need to create your first Status labels that help you turn emails into tasks. Status labels are regular labels in Gmail – you can add or remove them later to suit your needs as you start using ActiveInbox.

After this is done, you will see the following taskbar on top of each of your emails:

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organize gmail inbox

Playing With New Label Types

Basically, what the tool does is rearrange your existing labels to make your inbox easier to manage. You can see it in action in this video :

Status Labels

With the tool you’ll be encouraged to mark every message using the main three status labels:

  • Action: Track important emails until the tasks are completed;
  • Some day: Track email you don’t know how to deal with but feel they are too important to be deleted or ignored completely;
  • Waiting on: Track emails that you plan to reply in the nearest future.

Once you choose any of the statuses, the message becomes trackable via ActiveInbox’s sidebar.

This is the key to safely emptying your inbox: give your actionable emails Status, archive them and use your sidebar to track them until they’re complete.

You can now quickly load the list of messages which, for example, are waiting for a reply and even preview them in the pop-up screen:

organize gmail

From there you can also change the status label or archive the email as done or skipped.

Projects & References

While status labels categorize the emails as tasks based on which action they require, projects are meant to organize your messages thematically. You can turn your existing labels into projects or create new ones:

organize gmail

Reference labels are meant to make your messages easy to retrieve later, e.g. R/MeetingNotes, R/Invoices, R/Receipts.

Browse Emails More Efficiently

Apart from helping you to organize your inbox, the tool also adds a few nice features that let you quicker dig into each specific email conversation:

  • See ‘previous emails‘ for compose/reply view
  • Browse related emails in conversation view
  • See ‘Contact History‘ popup on right-click on a contact
  • Preview emails in the inbox and search results on right-click

organize gmail

Preferences

The best thing about the tool is that you can use it “as much as you want of it”. ActiveInbox’s preferences hiding behind the About & Help link in the sidebar let you set every bit of the tool feature range:

organize gmail inbox

Tips and Tricks

All in all, the tool does a great job helping you make sense of your Gmail (or Google Apps) inbox. Here are a few helpful tips to make the most of it (note: you can do most of these with Gmail even without the tool but with ActiveInbox it seems just so much more fun):

  • Don’t check your inbox multiple times a day and reply to each new one – it is so inefficient. Better set up status and project labels to let your inbox get sorted by itself.
  • Never forget to follow-up: let your emails hang in the “Waiting on” folder until you hear back.
  • Set up Gmail filters for all “service announcement” emails (Facebook notifications, Twitter updates, etc.) to put them into a special label and archive automatically. That way you can read them when you want to, but they don’t clog your inbox.

Do you think this tool might help you organize your inbox? Please share your thoughts!

  1. Will Radie
    December 7, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    You are pretty much spot on. It doesnt really do much (aside from some nice little bells and whistles... previews, Archive/Next, etc.) that isnt already available to a savvy user, but it does add a nice GUI to the whole flow of things and it does make a decent impact on speed, like others have mentioned.

    The other thing that I liked about it, was that you can still use it with most systems that the aforementioned savvy user is already employing. It's pretty easy to give it a try without ruining what you have... That wasnt something I found when I couldnt decide between Priority Inbox or Multiple Inboxes.

    Every need is unique, but I like the flexibility of the fact that they are just using stuff that is already available.

  2. MikeVertx
    December 1, 2010 at 6:01 am

    This seems nice but how does it differ from the following:

    gmail labels, nested labels, filters, preview feature, and last but not least search.

    It seems all of these capabilities currently exist within gmail all-ready.

    will give credit that the program makes things nice and neat and seems very nice, I'm just unsure of how this is different from not using it?

    It's like saying, I made the color of this text red by selectign the text and clicking 'red', now instead I downloaded this program and when I select the text I click on the program's option to make it red. ... same thing as is all-ready there no?

    like I mentioned, it's a nice program, I do all of these things all-ready.

    filter messages from sender, label them, nest projects in labels, color code...

    Respectfully if there is something I'm missing please advise

    • Ann Smarty
      December 1, 2010 at 7:34 am

      I guess, to see the difference, you just need to give it a try. You will easily see the point then (if you are an active user of labels already). The tool makes things easier, better organized and easier to track!

    • David Edelman
      December 1, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      ActiveInbox makes this process extremely fast. If you are using a 43 Folders concept and GTD, then you will quickly fall in love. When I use a computer without it installed, I marvel at how much longer it takes to process my inbox. It's quite painful.

    • Will Radie
      December 7, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      You are pretty much spot on. It doesnt really do much (aside from some nice little bells and whistles... previews, Archive/Next, etc.) that isnt already available to a savvy user, but it does add a nice GUI to the whole flow of things and it does make a decent impact on speed, like others have mentioned.

      The other thing that I liked about it, was that you can still use it with most systems that the aforementioned savvy user is already employing. It's pretty easy to give it a try without ruining what you have... That wasnt something I found when I couldnt decide between Priority Inbox or Multiple Inboxes.

      Every need is unique, but I like the flexibility of the fact that they are just using stuff that is already available.

  3. MikeVertx
    December 1, 2010 at 7:01 am

    This seems nice but how does it differ from the following:

    gmail labels, nested labels, filters, preview feature, and last but not least search.

    It seems all of these capabilities currently exist within gmail all-ready.

    will give credit that the program makes things nice and neat and seems very nice, I'm just unsure of how this is different from not using it?

    It's like saying, I made the color of this text red by selectign the text and clicking 'red', now instead I downloaded this program and when I select the text I click on the program's option to make it red. ... same thing as is all-ready there no?

    like I mentioned, it's a nice program, I do all of these things all-ready.

    filter messages from sender, label them, nest projects in labels, color code...

    Respectfully if there is something I'm missing please advise

  4. niiloa
    November 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I've been using ActiveInbox for quite some time now and I would really hate to go back to 'plain vanilla' Gmail. ActiveInbox really works - and it works great.

    • Ann Smarty
      November 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

      Thanks! Hopefully you won't have to ;)

  5. Andy Mitchell
    November 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks guys, this is a wonderful write up! If I can share our thoughts on one specific area...

    The real power in ActiveInbox is transforming how you think about, and work with, email.

    For modern workers, especially on the Web, your email inbox is where tasks originate. Emails are just badly formatted tasks. Why? Because however you store *your* projects and tasks, we generally resort to email - the lowest common denominator & ultimate connector - to discuss them with other people.

    That's where ActiveInbox fills a gap in your workflow: it lets you manage emails as prioritized tasks, within your email client. There's no need to waste effort duplicating your email into a separate task, the email itself simply is the task.

    There is, of course, still a need for existing task/project managers, especially for focused collaboration. The good news is that ActiveInbox works well alongside them.

    Think of ActiveInbox as your first line of defense against incoming tasks, where you manage them until they're complete, or you have evolved the task well enough (through conversation) to escalate to another tool.

    • Ann Smarty
      November 29, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Andy, and your great explanation!

  6. Andy Mitchell
    November 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks guys, this is a wonderful write up! If I can share our thoughts on one specific area...

    The real power in ActiveInbox is transforming how you think about, and work with, email.

    For modern workers, especially on the Web, your email inbox is where tasks originate. Emails are just badly formatted tasks. Why? Because however you store *your* projects and tasks, we generally resort to email - the lowest common denominator & ultimate connector - to discuss them with other people.

    That's where ActiveInbox fills a gap in your workflow: it lets you manage emails as prioritized tasks, within your email client. There's no need to waste effort duplicating your email into a separate task, the email itself simply is the task.

    There is, of course, still a need for existing task/project managers, especially for focused collaboration. The good news is that ActiveInbox works well alongside them.

    Think of ActiveInbox as your first line of defense against incoming tasks, where you manage them until they're complete, or you have evolved the task well enough (through conversation) to escalate to another tool.

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