How To Organize Your Gmail Inbox for Ultimate Efficiency

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For many email – more than phone calls, text messages, or even face-to-face conversations – can be the primary mode of communication during the work week. Considering this a possibility, hopefully your inbox is well tended and organized. Right? Okay, if that’s not the case, here are some easy habits and helpful tools to keep in mind when it comes to maintaining an efficient inbox using Gmail's toolbox of email features...


Gmail’s Priority Inbox is highly recommended if you're not yet using the feature; the automatic feature can be very helpful, depending on the type and quantity of emails you receive, separating ‘important’ messages from the bulk of ‘not-so-important’ messages usually clogging our email efficiency. However, it is also easy to stay organized using the additional email inbox techniques below:

Efficient Gmail Inbox Habits

Sort as emails come: The best way to stay organized is to start from the get-go. Don’t let emails pile up throughout the week, believing you'll get to sorting and reviewing them "later". As emails start to flow in, at the least, organize them with designated labels ("followup", "family", "response needed", etc).

Labels: Back in 2011 Gmail began offering “smart labels”, a feature which automatically labels incoming bulk, notification, and forum messages for easy sorting and review. If you're the type who subscribes to regular email newsletters, store/sales notifications, or other group-wide correspondence, smart labels could be helpful in keeping the inbox trim and slim.

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Color Categorization: Color categorization with labels: use it. If you’re someone who has to keep tabs on multiple tasks (who doesn't?) or juggle different groups of friends, categorizing incoming email by color will greatly simplify inbox reviews, creating color associated connections between senders and their emails. Assigning a color for emails sent from close friends and family is practically a must for anyone with a busy inbox.

Filters: After you’ve created labels and assigned colors, using filters is your next line of defense in streamlining an email inbox. In the Settings menu, select Filters and click, Create a new filter. Here, you'll be able to assign search criteria used to scan incoming emails and assign specific actions, including, "Skip the Inbox" or "Mark as read”. 

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Tools
Gmail offers an additional wide range of tools to help users stay organized and efficient in regards to their email needs:

  • Drag and Drop files: Instead of manually clicking “Attach a file” simply drag and drop files directly into the message.
  • Apps search: By activating “Apps search” you can extend your searches beyond the inbox into Google Docs and Sites.
  • Offline Gmail: Compose emails even without internet connection.

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Tabs: the latest Gmail feature update takes something we're all ready used to while using browsers – tabs – and integrates them as a feature for easier viewing/sorting right from the Gmail inbox.

Users can turn on this new feature by clicking on the Configure icon (the little cog icon in the upper right), and choosing "Configure inbox". From there, optional tabs can be turned on or off, and once set, Gmail will automatically categorize the inbox by appropriate tab for segregated and tabbed viewing.

At launch, Google only offers five tabs categories:

  1. Primary (messages from friends and family)
  2. Promotions (sales and deals from retailers)
  3. Social (social network sites)
  4. Updates (online statements, verifications, receipts)
  5. Forums (mailing lists, discussion board exchanges)
Messages can be drag-and-drop between tabs, with specific senders set to always appear in a particular tab, and star messages so that they also appear in the Primary tab. Depending upon your workflow, this new tabbed view can help prioritize the process of viewing, responding, or archiving emails.



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How to Customize Your Gmail Background: This has nothing to do with email inbox organization, but this simple customization edit may make your Gmail inbox a little more friendly to visit each day. To add your own Gmail background, click the gear icon and select "Themes". At the bottom will be the option for "Custom Themes"; choose a "Light" or "Dark" theme, and then choose an image to upload from your computer, a designated URL, from "My photos" in Google+, or from an Android phone.

If you’re not a Gmail user, OtherInbox, taskforce, mailPro and xobni are other email efficiency tools worth checking out.

Originally posted on April 1, 2011

(Images: mtkang/Shutterstock; Google; Gregory Han)