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Google’s email service Gmail lets you organize your inbox as much or little as you want. You can let the emails pile up — or you can let them pile up, but in a more orderly fashion.
The easiest way to tackle inbox clutter is to slap labels onto emails. Other email platforms consider “labels” folders. But once you embrace labels, you’ll see why they’re even better than folders.
just discovered gmail category labels and my life is forever changed
— Rachel E. Greenspan (@rach_greenspan) May 26, 2021
Let the inbox organization begin.
There are two ways to make labels. You can either start from the settings menu, or you can make a label while in an email.
Open Gmail on a browser page
Click the gear icon on the top right next to the search box and open “See all settings.”
Click the “Labels” tab. It’s the second one, after “General.”
Scroll down to the “Labels” section and click “Create new label.”
Through an email:
Open an email.
At the top of the inbox, click the Labels icon, which looks like a tag with a right arrow.
At the bottom of the pulldown menu, click “Create new.”
Think of these as sub-folders if you’re still stuck on folder-based language. You don’t have to use sub-labels, but if it flows better, go for it! I use sub-labels under the generic “HR” label, so specific “dental” or “taxes” -related emails have their own sub-section.
You can create these when you’re making a new label (see above). Just check the “Nest label under” option. I made a nested “Tesla” category that falls under “EV.”
Pick colors for labels
Head to the left side of your inbox and you’ll see a column of all your labels in alphabetical order. Click the three dots on the right side and find “Label color.” That’ll pull up different color combinations for the background and letter color for the label. If you don’t want to reuse colors, click “Add custom color” to make your own combinations and color shades.
Automatically label emails
This is where the power of the label shines. Instead of manually adding a label (or two! or three!) whenever your boss or supervisor emails you, you can set it up to happen on its own.
The easiest way to get the auto-labeling going is to pull up an email from the sender. For example, I’m going to label every email that comes from Harry Campbell (aka the Rideshare Guy blog founder):
In the email, click the three dots.
Find “Filter messages like this.”
A form will pop up; you can customize it as much as you want. I usually just stick with an email address in the “from” field.
Once you’ve filled that out, hit “Create filter.” Do not click “search.”
Now you have a list of options of what you want to happen every time this person emails you. For labeling, select “Apply the label” and then pick whichever label.
To keep my inbox consistent, I also click on “Also apply filter to existing conversations.”
Press “Create filter.”
Now, when you look back at your inbox, that email has that label applied, and so will every email from that address going forward.
Search for and find labels
Gmail is run by Google, so you know search is a big part of the email platform. That’s why there’s a giant search box on the top of your inbox.
I often search through my inbox, and to make it even more precise, I’ll search through a few labels. You just need to put in your search term and then “label:” with the name of the label. For example, I searched “Tesla label:art” for any emails that mention Tesla in my “art” folder or label. You can search for emails that have two (or more) labels. I plugged in: “Tesla label:ev label: source” and any emails mentioning Tesla and with both an EV and source label showed up in the results.
You can also forgo the search term and just find all the emails under a certain label or combination of labels. I searched for “label:study label:ev” for all my emails with survey or research results and about electric vehicles.
You can scroll through the left side panel (it’s an alphabetical list of all your labels) and click on your desired label. That’ll pull up every email with that label attached.
If a label has served its purpose or is no longer helpful, you can remove it. You can either delete the entire label so that no emails will fall under it, or you can remove certain emails from a label.
For a massive label deletion:
Head back to “Settings” and find the “Labels” tab
Scroll down to your list of labels
Find the label you no longer want. Click “Remove”
When the pop-up window asks if you want to delete it, that’s your final chance to keep it.
If you do delete the label, it’ll be removed from any emails with that label attached
If you no longer want an email to be labeled as, say, “grad school,” but you want to keep the grad school label, you can simply click the “X” on the label at the top of the email.
You can always go to the side panel and click on the three dots on whichever label you’re done with. The menu that appears has the option to “Remove label.”
But for a more optimized, organized life, the more labels the better.