Dealing with email overload in Gmail

Is your inbox overflowing? Are emails getting lost in the system? Here are some ways we’ve found to use Gmail more effectively.

1. Archive everything!

The most important rule is to get everything out of your inbox as quickly as possible, so you don’t lose important messages. If this sounds counter-intuitive to you, take a look at why each email is still in your inbox:

There is some action you need to take

This turns your inbox into another to do list. This is how things get forgotten.

Instead, write the action on your main to do list, action list, or whatever system you use, and archive the email. If you prefer, at least create a To Do label and move these emails there.

You are waiting for a response

Then it definitely doesn’t belong in your inbox!

If you don’t already have one, start a “waiting for” list, where you write things like this, so you can quickly review everything you’re waiting for and chase anything you need to. (Again, you could create a label if you prefer.) Then archive the email.

You haven’t read it

If it’s important, read it and deal with it appropriately.

If, however, you’re ignoring it because it’s not important, either decide not to read it (yes, you can do that!), and archive it immediately, or at least label it To Read and archive it for now. (If it’s long, you may prefer to print it out and create a physical To Read folder.)

2. Star or label emails you will need again

If you know you will need to refer to an email again, the easiest thing to do is click the star icon before you archive it. This makes it easier to find emails when you need them – such as when you come to the relevant item on your to do list – just click the “Starred” link on the left.

If you end up with a lot of starred emails, you could instead create labels to categorise them – e.g. by project.

3. Let Google do the work

Say, for example, you’re subscribed to a newsletter. You want to read it, but it’s not important that you do so, so you always label it To Read until you have time to read it. Instead of doing this manually, go to Settings > Filters and create a filter to automatically (1) apply the label To Read, and (2) archive it.

You will notice that when you get emails like this, the label you applied is shown in bold and with a number next to it, so you don’t have to keep checking for messages.

You can also choose to Archive (or even Delete) those pesky automatic notification emails that you never read, or co-workers Out Of Office autoresponders, without labelling them at all!

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