If you’re a child of the internet like I am, you probably spend a hefty portion of your waking hours connected to the ole’ intertubes in one way or another. And all that internet connectivity has a way of creeping into your inbox bit by bit, until it’s basically the equivalent of an episode of Hoarders.
- Social media notifications.
- Links to cat videos from people who really get you.
- Conspiracy theories and chain letters from your angry Uncle.
- Love letters from Russian beauties and Somalian millionaires.
- Electronic statements.
And then buried… somewhere in the middle of all that…
- Legitimate email that you need to act on.
Maybe you occasionally go on a deleting and filing spree to get down to “inbox zero.” But the mess always creeps back in.
The good news is that if you use Gmail (and you should, because it’s the most robust web-based email service out there) there are a lot of tools at your disposal for getting your inbox organized once and for all time.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
1. Archive instead of Delete
Let’s deal with possibly the biggest gem Gmail has to offer: the Archive feature. It’s easy to forget that before Google had a whole suite of services, they were simply a super-powerful search engine. They’ve built that search functionality right into Gmail, but surprisingly few people use it.
Emails that should be deleted: true spam, anything your ex sent you.
Everything else: Archive it instead.
Archiving emails takes them out of your inbox and sends them into the “All Mail” section. From there, you can use the search box at the top of Gmail to track them down, and it’s about as flexible as Google’s search engine.
For example, you can search emails using “from:firstname.lastname@example.org” to pull up anything sent from a specific address and follow that with any string of search terms.
In fact, there’s a whole list of advanced search functions you can use.
There’s really no need to ever delete an email when you can archive it instead.
I’ve expressed my love for Todoist before, but did you know that Todoist has an extension that works right inside Gmail?
Once you install the extension, you’ll see this little button in every email:
Click that button from within any email, and it adds that email as a task inside Todoist. You can now archive that email to quit seeing it in your inbox. When you’re ready to tackle that task, you can click right on it in Todoist to jump back to that email in your mailbox.
Quit using your inbox as a hodgepodge To-Do list and get that stuff on your actual ToDoist list.
This extension lets you “Boomerang” an email for a future time, taking it out of your inbox to be redelivered to you whenever you want.
Not ready to make that doctor appointment until next week? Boomerang the reminder for Monday. Need to remember to make a dish for the potluck? Boomerang it for the day before the party.
Boomerang is accessible from two different places once you install it, but the button to the upper right contains more options.
The free version of Boomerang lets you mark 10 emails for redelivery per month (plenty for most people) but the paid version allows unlimited uses.
4. Gmail Labs: Canned Responses
One of my only gripes with Gmail is that it lacks a feature for creating email templates. Canned Responses solves that problem.
This is actually built into Gmail, but you’ll need to go to Settings > Labs and enable it. It will be most helpful for people who use their email for work where they have to send a lot of very similar responses. If you have to regularly send reports or answer a lot of similar customer service questions, Canned Responses can save you loads of time.
With a new email open, type up the content that you want to save as a template. If you have an email signature, delete it so it doesn’t get saved as part of your canned response (that would add it to future emails twice and we don’t want that). Click the arrow in the lower right corner, select Canned Responses > New Canned Response and give it a name.
Now, any time you want to use it in an email, you can visit that same menu and add it to your message.
5. Gmail’s built-in “Mute” feature
This one is HUGE for me, but most people don’t know it exists. Next time you get stuck in an email chain you have no interest in, like one of those chain letters from that crazy uncle or a work email that someone accidentally sent to EVERYONE in the company, just click on More > Mute.
As if by magic, you will cease to receive any further replies to this email. If you find later that you need something from those emails, you can still find them in “All Mail”. Beauty.
Finally, keep those emails you don’t want from making it to your inbox in the first place.
Once you give Unroll.me permission to access Gmail, it’ll search through your account for anything it views as a “subscription”. This might include actual newsletters that you’ve subscribed to as well as other updates like social media notifications or lists you ended up on when you purchased something.
From there, you can choose which to keep and which to unsubscribe from. It even offers an option to create a “Rollup”, which is a digest of newsletters you subscribe to condensed down to a single email. I think that’s weird, but if you subscribe to a lot of stuff that you do actually want, maybe it appeals to you.
Do you rock any Gmail hacks that I didn’t cover? I would love to hear about them!