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Deliciously Clean Gmail

Yesterday's post on stupid spammers inspired me, for some reason, to do something I've been wanting to do for a very long time: clean out my Gmail inbox. I've had Gmail for about a year and a half now and I've accumulated nearly 2000 emails in my inbox. It just doesn't look good. It doesn't look good at all.

I remember reading a while ago (though my Google searches turn up nothing now) that a good Gmail strategy is to get everything out of your inbox. Like a traditional Inbox at an office, your email inbox is a place where new and action-requiring emails live. Once they've been dealt with, they shouldn't be there anymore.

I didn't simply want to Archive everything, though. Wouldn't it still be unorganized, but rather, just out of the way? Isn't that like cleaning your room by shoving all of your dirty clothes under the bed so that they're out of sight, but not quite out of mind? So, instead, I decided that I'd create a few labels ("Friends", "Four Island", "Facebook"...) and then, working back from the oldest part of my inbox, label emails under all the appropriate labels. Then, I simply archived my entire inbox. There goes my garbage! However, unlike the garbage under your bed, my email was sorted and I could simply click on "Friends" to see emails from my friends instead of having to search through "All Mail".

This was good. So, I've formed a new policy for email checking. Here we go:

  1. First of all, and this is fairly specific, but if you use the Google Mail Checker Plus extension for Chrome or any other similar program that not only checks your inbox for new email every once in a while, but also shows you what the new email is, disable it. If you don't want to disable it, at least configure it so that it doesn't show you new email. Make it send you to gmail.com instead. The best way to organize your email is to make sure that you are fully focused on the task, rather than simply waving your hand at something that pops up.
  2. Second, create labels for yourself. If you have specific types of email that you get regularly, like emails from your friends or emails from annoying social networking sites, create labels for them. If possible, also create filters that can automatically assign new incoming email to one of your labels. However, if you do this, don't make the filter tell these incoming emails to skip the inbox. You still want all new email in your inbox, ready for you to deal with them.
  3. When you have new email, go to your inbox and click the email at the bottom. You should work through your email one at a time to ensure, once again, that you aren't distracted.
  4. Read the email. Does it fit under one of your labels? If so, label it. Is it garbage/spam? Mark it as so. Does it require a reply or other further action? If it requires a reply, try writing it right then. If that's not possible, or if the email requires further action, then simply move on to your next email. If you are done with the email, though, Archive it. This will move it out of the inbox and out of your way.

If you follow these steps, not only will your Gmail inbox be deliciously clean, but you will know that the items in your inbox actually require something to be done to them. Isn't that great? I hope you've enjoyed this little mini-howto as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Really, I haven't written one of these for a long time! :P

Hatkirby on May 27th, 2010 at 12:32:42pm
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I just use searches and filters for everything - the functionality for this in gmail is so good! Apart from that I use a separate email account to sign up to things and add a labelling filter every time I sign up to something.

Bluemonkey on May 29th, 2010 at 3:11:11am

Using a separate email address for social networking sites is a pretty good idea, except then I don't get emailed stuff when it actually is important. And I like to use filters, but only to apply labels because I think the Inbox is a good place to store things that require action, and if you filter something off somewhere and skip the Inbox, then you won't notice it. Meh, it's my strategy :P.

And my Facebook label counts for around half of the emails in my account. Kind of sad, really. :P

Hatkirby on May 29th, 2010 at 7:26:01pm
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