No matter what email system you use, it can become increasingly difficult to manage your ever-growing Inbox. Whether it’s general disorganization, inability to get accurate search results quickly, or just frustration over the sheer number of messages you deal with on a daily basis, email management can be time-consuming and distracting. Fortunately, several methods and resources exist to make your email work for you and not the other way around.
1. The Getting Things Done methodology
If you’ve worked in an academic or corporate environment even for just a brief time, you’ve likely heard of GTD or at least something similar. At its most basic level are three actions you should apply to incoming and existing messages in your Inbox:
- Do It
- Respond to or complete the task in the message immediately;
- If time doesn’t permit, delegate it...
- Delegate It
- to an appropriate person or group, or
- Defer It
- and note it as a to-do item using whichever process you prefer
Once you’ve put a message through this workflow, file the message away, archive it, or delete it. As you treat your Inbox like a to-do list instead of a repository for all messages, it will become much more manageable.
2. Using labels to organize your mailbox
A quick and easy way to clean up your Inbox and stay organized is to move messages from your Inbox to different labels. With a message open, click the Move to button to move that message from the Inbox to a selected label, or click Create New to setup a new label. Alternatively, to move several messages at once, select them by checking the box to the left of each, then click the same Move to button. Don’t forget that messages can have multiple labels assigned to them for easier retrieval later.
3. Taking advantage of filters for automatic filing and deletion
Once you’re comfortable working with labels, filters can further save you some time and effort. This feature is useful for automating moving incoming messages to labels or deleting them entirely. Examples of items that could be filtered include subscriptions to newsletters, messages from specific senders, or advertisements.
Find a message you’d like to use to create a filter, then click the button and select Filter messages like these. You can then select one or more criteria gmail can use to filter messages, such as the sender’s address or a subject. Once you’ve set up what should be filtered, you have several options for the actions the filter should take.
Using Apply the label: and Skip the Inbox (Archive it), you can automatically have messages go straight to a specific label without ever going through your inbox first. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be amazed at the fact you just don’t need those emails; if you find this to be the case, seriously consider UNsubscribing to these emails.
4. Deleting vs. archiving: what’s the difference?
You may think that the best way to dispose of your messages is to delete them. In many cases this is true, especially when handling spam and other email you’ll never need again. Still, sometimes you’ll find that you deleted something you wish you hadn’t, and it’s very important to remember that items in your Trash folder are permanently erased after 30 days. A good solution to this problem is archiving instead of deleting. Archiving removes the “Inbox” label from messages so they no longer show up in your Inbox, but can still be found with any of their other labels, plus the “All Mail” label. Doing so ensures that the message won’t be accidentally deleted permanently, and can still be found in a search later. To archive one or more messages, use this button that can be found above your list of messages:
5. Which view works best for you?
Maybe you’re not frustrated by the amount of mail in your Inbox, but rather by its layout. To try several other options that may work better for you, mouse over Inbox in your list of labels, then click the down arrow that appears, . The Inbox Type menu presents choices for the default look and four other possibilities, such as Unread first. It’s easy to change between these views quickly so it’s worth trying each one to see which you prefer.
6. Email vs. Hangouts for quick messages
If you ever find yourself having back-and-forth email exchanges that cause your Inbox to become cluttered, consider using Hangouts. Instant messaging can be a useful and quicker way to handle this type of conversation. If you don’t have Hangouts enabled, click the gear, then Settings. Find the Chat tab in the list of tabs, and click Chat on and Save changes.
For further resources, please visit the M+Google page at http://google.umich.edu.