How to organize your Gmail inbox in 15 minutes: Eight secrets

By Harsh Vardhan
organize gmail

Surprisingly enough, if you know how to organize Gmail effectively, you have created a strong resource to live an anxiety-free life.

Isn’t that unread notification on your phone a little too distracting at times? The ugly truth is: people will keep reaching out to you whether you like it or not.

You spend hours sifting through emails, determining what to do with them, and actually dealing with them eventually — you basically end up spending a lot more time in your inbox than you had initially planned.

When you cannot escape altogether but still want your peace of mind, becoming more organized is the best way out. This post will tell you how to organize your Gmail inbox such that it’s more of a productivity and collaboration tool and not a fatal distraction.

Put the right emails on top

You have five ways to organize Gmail when it comes to sorting emails as they land in your inbox. Head to your settings (the gear icon at the top) and look at the dropdown next to inbox type. You’ll see five options there.

organize gmail

Default: It shows the emails in the order that they came in — the layout we see every day.

Important first: Gmail uses its own prediction to determine which emails are important, and places them at the top of your inbox with a yellow marker. Everything else goes below that.

Unread first: This setting displays unread emails above recent emails. This is especially helpful if you use the read/unread as a to-do list.

organize gmail

Starred first: This is for the ones who use stars to prioritize their inbox. The starred message appear first, followed by everything else.

Priority Inbox: Gmail learns what kind of emails you interact with the most, and puts them at the top of your inbox. You will see important and unread at the top. The next section is starred messages, followed by another section which you can customize. The last section is everything else.

organize gmail

Get rid of tabs you don’t use much

You don’t have to have all the five tabs inside Gmail. You can disable the ones you do not use much. The only tab you cannot disable is the Primary tab.

Click on Settings. From the dropdown menu, click Configure Inbox, and select tabs you want to enable or disable.

organize gmail - remove tabs

Pay careful attention here: If you disable a tab, its messages will appear in the Primary tab. Always remove the ones which do not receive many emails.

Use Labels to neatly organize Gmail (and much more!)

Gmail is a label-based system. Everything that you would otherwise consider a folder, such as Inbox, Trash, Drafts, are technically labels.

Labels are a great way to organize Gmail. They are like tags you can add to emails you send or receive. Unlike folders, you can add more than one label to an email. Another feature you’d love is the ability to add colors to labels.

organize gmail

Useful resource: Everything you need to know about Gmail labels.

Pro Tip: Hiver takes the Gmail labels functionality to a new horizon altogether. It lets you share Gmail labels with other users so that you can sync up on client or sales conversations. The moment you share a label with a teammate, they have access to all conversations tagged with that label. No CCing. No forwarding. Know more.  

Automate emails to be assigned as tasks (without forwarding)

A large number of emails you receive would require someone else from your team to work on them. The usual course of action when you want to organize Gmail is sifting through emails and forwarding them to teammates — an absolute waste of time.

If you delegate tasks using email, I’d suggest you start using Hiver and set up shared mailboxes. You’ll be able to specify conditions based on which emails are automatically assigned as tasks to your teammates.

For example, say you have a teammate who looks after all the emails from a certain client of yours. Using Hiver, you can have all incoming emails from the client’s email address assigned to your teammate automatically.

organize gmail

You also get the ability to specify multiple conditions, such as the sender email and a specific word in the subject line. The possibilities are basically endless. Sign up for Hiver.

Stop using Email for internal conversations

The one way all of us flood ours and our teammates’ inboxes is sending emails for things that can very well be done otherwise.

If a topic has many aspects that will need to be explained or discussed, take it to a personal meeting. If there is a last minute cancellation of meetings, get-togethers, or interviews, tell them in person, or use the phone.

If nothing else looks feasible enough, there is one resort that works like a charm every single time — Hiver’s Email Notes.

Notes are messages you can write to your teammates and they appear right next to your email thread. No CCs, no BCCs, and no forwarding.

Unlike chat, you can always go back and see what you conversed about a thread — you never lose context.

organize gmail

You can use Notes for exchanging client information, offering tips, or basically anything that does not involve writing an entire story. Every step towards unclogging one’s inbox is worth it. Know more.

Archive emails you do not need in the near future

A lot of times, we do not delete emails only because we might need them later.

Say every time you buy something from a vendor, they send you a receipt. You do not need them now but they might come useful when you are getting your accounts done at the end of the year. This is where the archiving feature comes into play.

Archiving does not delete your email but removes it from your inbox. The good thing is that they remain searchable and you still manage to organize Gmail pretty neatly.

Select an email and look for the file-like icon at the top. Click it and you’re done.

organize gmail

You can also automate archiving by using filters, discussed next.  

Use filters to automate common actions

Gmail has a really strong filtering capability. You can filter emails by subject, sender, recipient, content, and more. Once you’ve filtered the messages, you can instruct Gmail what to do with them — label them, set priority, decide whether the emails make it to your inbox.

What you’ll absolutely love is the automated filtering. You can set criteria and actions; every email that meets the criteria is dealt by Gmail automatically.

All you have to do is start an advanced search. Click the grey arrow at the extreme right of your search bar.

organize gmail

And a dropdown opens up.

organize gmail

Type in an email address and click “Create filter with this search” at the bottom right of the popup.

For example, if you get a bunch of newsletter emails you have no interest in, you can create a filter that will automatically archive all emails that come from that address.

organize gmail

Ways in which you can use filters to organize Gmail:

  • Star every email from someone important (say your bank)
  • Automatically forward emails from a certain address
  • Archive emails that contain a certain word (say Free trial)

Experiment with Gmail Labs (you’d love Multiple Inboxes)

If you’re new to Labs, the first thing you need to know is that it is a testing ground for Google. The successful ones go on to become standard Gmail capabilities and other might get shelved — but it’s definitely worth giving a shot.

The one feature that has been under Labs for years is Multiple Inboxes. It allows you to create multiple panes, each designed to display a certain category of emails, based on the email type, topic, or personal preference.

You can have emails from a particular sender, or emails that bear a certain label appear in a separate mailbox.

For example, you can add labels such as needs response, to-do, project backlog, and weekly reading — all the emails with a particular label appears in the respective inbox:

organize gmail

Here is a handy video if you’re looking to organize Gmail using Multiple Inboxes.

A few tools to get you started

Hiver — Delegate emails as tasks automatically. Write Notes, and not emails, for internal conversations. Use email templates.

Sanebox — Prioritizes and summarizes messages by analyzing their headers. Filters unimportant emails to a ‘SaneLater’ folder for you to deal with them later.

Maildrop — Helps you stay clear of spam.

Unroll.Me — Helps you manage all your newsletter from one dashboard. Makes unsubscribing surprisingly easy.

AwayFind — Lets you decide which emails are worth a notification. You can choose between being informed via SMS, phone call, desktop alert, or the AwayFind app.

Wrapping up

Distractions at work take up more time than you think. It takes about an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption, according to a study.

Distractions derail your mental progress and your brain takes a while to get back to focussing again. Given that emails are a big source of distraction at work, it’s only natural to do something about it.

You’d be surprised by the amount of time you can free up just by organizing your Gmail better.

Don’t let the inbox take over.

About the author

Harsh is the content lead at Hiver. He's jocular, loves dogs, and spends most weekends doing road trips. He also reads sometimes.

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