How to Manage Your Email Inbox Like a Pro: Organize Gmail

Do you have that dreaded moment at the start of each day when you look at your email app and see you have 30 notifications? You open your inbox to find ALL of your new messages are marked important? You proceed to spend the next hour sifting through the meeting requests, payment confirmations, newsletters and of course, spam. Only two of your emails were actually urgent.

With email being the primary form of communication in the workplace, it's obvious that in order to succeed, you need an organized approach to managing your inbox. A 2016 poll reported that the average American devotes over 4 hours per day to checking work-related emails. If you spend half of your time checking email, then you should make sure you're doing so efficiently right? In this four-part series, you can learn to manage your inbox like a pro. We'll cover how to use Gmail this week.


Understand Gmail

Google's free webmail service is the most commonly used email provider across the globe. Most people choose Gmail, for the sole purpose of it being free and super easy to use. When you create a Gmail account you're automatically provided with 15GB of free storage and access to the full suite including GoogleDrive, GoogleDocs, GoogleWallet, Google Calendar, Google+, YouTube and more.

If you take advantage of the full range of services, you can streamline digital communication and optimize project management. With the mobile app and a variety of third-party integrations, the possibilities are endless.

*While many of the settings we'll explore are available on the Gmail mobile app, it's easier to start making changes on the desktop web portal. Most instructions and diagrams will reflect the desktop view with the "Light" theme.


Prioritize Your Inbox

Gmail organizes your emails into five basic categories. The categories are displayed as tabs at the top of your inbox. 

  • Primary: Direct Person-to-Person Conversations
  • Social: Social media requests and notifications
  • Promotions: Newsletters and marketing campaigns
  • Updates: Bills and personal confirmations
  • Forums: Online groups and discussion board updates

You can customize how certain messages are sorted into these categories, but you can't create additional categories. If you don't want to see certain tabs, you can hide them by clicking the (+) plus sign near the tabs.

Since the most important messages will most likely be displayed under the Primary category, that's the tab that will need the most organization. The default function, sorts your messages based on date with the newest appearing at the top of the list. If you only get a few emails per day from a small team, this setup could suffice.

However, if you're managing multiple groups and projects, time might not be your highest priority. If you go to Settings> (The sprocket in the top, right corner) Inbox> Inbox Type and choose "Priority Inbox," you can enable the "Priority" display.  Gmail will create sub-categories that will sort your message by Important, Unread, or Starred, or you can create sections of your own.  

Importance Markers

If you go to Settings> Inbox> Importance Markers and choose "Show Markers," you can allow Gmail to automatically do the prioritizing for you. It bases its decisions on the following factors: 

  • Who you email, and how often you email them
  • Which emails you open
  • Which emails you reply to
  • Keywords that are in emails you usually read
  • Which emails you star, archive, or delete

If you're curious why a certain email was marked as important, hover over the importance marker and Gmail will explain. If Gmail was wrong, click the importance marker to change it. Gmail will learn and adapt to your preferences.

You can take Importance Markers to another level by turning on "Personal Level Indicators." Gmail will add tiny arrows inside the yellow makers to alert you if the sender sent the email to only you or a large group. If you notice that a message is only for you, then it might take priority over group email chains.  Go to Settings> Personal Level Indicators to enable this feature.


Label Everything

You may have multiple emails from different people all directed solely tp you. If you have a lot of messages that require your individual response, then you'll need anothor level of organization. Gmail offers several customizable methods to create sorting preferences.

The top-level sorting system is called "Labels." Labels can act like folders to classify and group similar messages. If you go to Settings> Labels and scroll down the bottom, you can create as many custom labels you like. 

For instance, if your team is working on multiple projects, you can label messages based on the relevant project. For example "Project 1" and "Project 2." Or if you work with different clients or vendors, each client can have their own label.

To change a label for a particular email, you can click the tag button at the top of the message in composition view. If you're proactive, you can even label messages before you send them, that way the recipient's reply is already automatically classified. Color-code labels if you're a visual person and you can choose to show or hide labels in the left column of the inbox dashboard.

Get Specific

If you really want to go deep, you can use hashtags and stars for a third level of organization. If you're a visual learner, you can add color-coded stars on top of color-coded labels to show contrast and sub-categories. You can enable stars by going to Settings> General> Stars.

You can also use hashtags to mark individual messages from within the body of the email. Use them the same way you do on social media to tag certain phrases or content that you'll want to refer to later. They are particularly helpful when using the search function.

For instance, if you include #Budget in your messages about finances, you can search Gmail for all emails that include that hashtag regardless of their labels. You may need to present a budget report based on the financial status of all your projects and hashtags can make gathering information much easier.

Label in Bulk

If you have thousands of emails to sift through, labeling one-by-one isn't practical. Gmail offers the option to label multiple emails at once. Follow these steps to label in bulk efficiently. 

  • Search for a subject line, word, phrase, contact, date, etc. and Gmail will generate a list of results. 
  • Check the box to the left of each email to select it
  • If you want to select every message within the results, check the "master checkbox" at the top of the list. A pop-up will appear confirming to "select all conversations that match this search."
  • Click on the label icon at the top and select the desired label from the drop-down menu.

This feature is also very helpful for mass deletion to free up space. If you have a lot of attachments, you can target these messages and trash them.

Use Filters

If for some reason you forgot to add a label or want to add them later, use the advanced search function to pinpoint exactly what message you're looking for. Click on the small grey arrow at the side of the search box at the top. Use the additional variables to make searching more efficient.

  • Folders
  • Labels
  • Senders and receivers
  • Subject lines
  • Body Text
  • Messages that include attachments (plus the size of those attachments)
  • Date Range


Gmail, and the Google Suite overall, has a vast supply of options and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. Stay tuned next week when we'll explore how to cut down on tons of emails in the first place.


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