Part two of a two-part focus on Gmail.
It’s said that disorganization is a sign of genius. I guess I’m not a genius—not when it comes to work spaces. If it’s a place where information is stored, I generally keep it organized, whether it’s my desk, my hard drive, or my email inbox. And thankfully, with a Gmail account, it’s ridiculously simple to keep order in what can otherwise be a chaotic stack of virtual correspondence.
The following is by no means the be-all, end-all method to organize your mail. It’s just how I use some of the available tools to make my mail-checking quick and efficient.
Here’s a basic inbox setup. A few messages—some read, some unread—from various senders. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be sticking to the Classic inbox style.
Inbox, before filtering (click to view full)
It’s not incredibly messy, but there’s enough here to demonstrate how I use filters, labels, and label settings as a sort of ad hoc filing system to split up and organize my mail. I also eschew email hoarding, making sure instead to delete and archive. Old mail that will serve no future purpose gets cleared out, and mail that needs to be kept goes into the archive, leaving behind a clean inbox—the goal.
The first thing to do is determine how specifically you want your mail sorted. You may want some messages filtered at the domain level, such as twitter.com for all your Twitter notifications. Alternatively, you might want something more specific, like email@example.com for only messages from your friend David Webb at the pseudomail.com domain.
Once you’ve chosen how you want your mail filtered, you can create a label that will be applied to all the messages that meet your chosen criteria. In this example, I’m going to filter emails that come from Google, so I’ll create a label called Google.
Note: Remember that although labels are similar to folders, they don’t work exactly the same way. In many other email services, a single message can only be in one folder at any given time, whereas in Gmail, a message can have multiple labels applied to it. You can also think of Gmail’s Inbox as a permanent label, i.e., one that can’t be deleted, that gets applied to all your mail by default.
Click on the settings gear at the top right corner of the inbox and select the Settings option.
Settings (click to view full)
In the Settings screen, select Labels. You’ll be presented with an overview of your current label configurations. Click the Create new label button, and in the popup that appears, enter the name for your new label.
Label creation (click to view full)
There is an option that allows you to nest your labels, but again, for simplicity, we’ll leave that option alone for now.
Note: There are several other ways to create the exact same label. You can even do it on the fly when creating a filter. I’ve just done it through the basic Labels screen to show you where you can go to view and manage all your labels at once.
Once your label is created, you’ll see it in the list on the left side of the screen, under the Compose button. Now you can set up your filter. While still in the Settings screen, select Filters. Click on Create a new filter. The search bar will drop down to allow you to specify your criteria. Since I want to filter mail from Google, I’ll put the domain google.com in the From field. I could specify criteria for the other fields as well, but because I want to target all Google messages, I’ll leave those fields blank. Click Create a filter with this search.
Note: If you’re unsure of the domain that you need to enter, open an existing email that you’d like to filter, find the sender’s address, and look at what’s after the @ symbol. Occasionally, you’ll find emails coming from subdomains as well, such as mail.pseudomail.com, but for the purpose of filtering, subdomains can be used the same way as domains.
Now you can choose what happens to the emails that match your criteria. This is where you’ll use the label that you just created. From the Apply the label drop-down list, select your label. The check box should check itself off automatically.
Filter creation (click to view full)
There are also a few other options available, such as marking the mail as important, or making it immune to the spam filter. An option I like is Skip the Inbox (Archive it). With this checked, the filtered emails will only show up under the new label, and not under the inbox. I use this on my filters because it keeps my inbox that much cleaner, and since I recommend archiving emails that you intend to keep anyway, this option saves you a step when reading your mail. Check off the option to apply the filter to any matching emails that it has already found, then click the Create filter button, and you’re pretty much done. The inbox now looks like this:
Inbox, after one filter (click to view full)
The email that was filtered remains in an unread state, but no longer appears in the inbox. Instead, the new label is displayed in boldface and indicates the number of unread messages (1) to which it has been applied. If I hadn’t checked off Skip the Inbox, I’d see this:
Without skipping the inbox (click to view full)
The email is displayed in the inbox with its label visible, but the corresponding label in the list also indicates that there is an unread message. This can be a bit confusing, because at first glance it looks as though there are three new messages when, in fact, there are only two. That’s one reason I prefer to skip the inbox. You can also color code your label, or choose to have it hidden from view if it has no unread messages. To view these options, click the down arrow that appears when you place the cursor over the label. I encourage you to play around with the label settings to find the setup that looks and works best for you.
A few filters and labels can dramatically clean up your email workspace. That, combined with more liberal deletion of messages, can even leave you with an empty inbox, at which time you’ll see a little cheerful word from Google.
Empty inbox (click to view full)
As I said earlier, there are many other options available to promote inbox cleanliness. To find out how to use things like stars, importance markers, inbox styles, nested labelling, etc., you can either check out Gmail Help, or just experiment with your settings.
If you missed part one (A Brief Overview of the New Gmail Interface), it can be found here.
Read Full Post »