10 Steps to a Gmail Makeover

It all started a couple of weeks ago at the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators. Hank Thiele and Cory Pavicich did a fifteen minute segment on how to effectively use your Gmail. I have to admit, that even though I’m a major Google Apps user, I was still pretty much relying on Microsoft Outlook to keep myself organized. I must have been crazy.

When Hank and Cory started speaking I had over 14,000 e-mails in my inbox. I am happy to report that as of today, just about 14 days later, I am at inbox zero. Here’s what I did:

1. Archiving
I was not archiving my e-mails at all. When you archive an e-mail it moves out of your inbox, yet it will still come up in your search results. All you have to do is click the Archive button when you are in an e-mail or select a group of e-mails and click More Actions – Archive.

2. Delete
Once I started searching through my e-mails, I realized how much junk was in there. I deleted all the Mailer-Daemons and the solicited coupons /ads / catalogs that had expired.

3. Labels
I created three Labels (or folders) for my mail. The easy ones to quickly lower the number in my inbox were Labels for Twitter, Facebook and my administrator. I started with Twitter and did a search for anything from Twitter and then created a label named “Twitter” and moved it all there. I then did the same thing for Facebook and for my boss.

So, I am proud to say that about 30 minutes after Hank and Cory were done with their presentation, I had reduced my inbox from over 14,000 to about 8,000 just with the first 3 steps.

Over the next week or so I took the following actions to further reduce and organize my inbox:

Filter by e-mail address, subject, keywords, etc.

4. Filters
I created filters for mail coming in and applied them to existing messages. I took a look at the mail each day to see what I was receiving and created Labels and then filters based on what was appearing in my inbox. This took a few days as different e-mails come on different days of the week and it’s easier to organize your inbox a little at a time.

5. Mark as read
I went into each of the Labels that I had created and selected all the mail in the Label. I then “marked as read” and Archived all the messages in each of the Labels to ensure that none would remain linked to my inbox.

6. Colors
Since I accumulated numerous Labels, I began color coding them based on my personal system. But the colors are definitely helpful and if you use the filters, much of your mail will appear in your inbox with the colored Label attached to it. This helps me make a decision quickly as to whether or not it needs my immediate attention.

7. Delete some more
It did get to a point that I was not sure which Label to move some e-mails into and I did not want to make a “Miscellaneous” Label, so I needed to either select where to put things or make a decision as to if it was okay for me to permanently delete them. It was tough at first, but did I really need registration confirmations from January 2008?

8. Starred messages
Since I was used to using the feature in MS Outlook that allowed me to flag e-mails for follow-up, I needed to find a replacement in Gmail. The Starred messages feature in Gmail would accomplish exactly what I needed with a couple  of additional features. I took a look at what I had marked in Outlook that still needed attention and Starred it in Gmail. I then click on the “Starred” button and was able to view all of my Starred messages regardless of their Label.

9. Check out a few more things
Subscribe to the Office Gmail Blog to keep on top of new features as they are released as there is an entire Gmail Labs section that is worth taking a look at. While logged in, click on Settings and then on the Labs tab. Here you will see all the Gadgets that have been developed for Gmail. By default, they are set to “disable”, but you can choose those that you would like to enable and then click “save changes”. One that I chose to enable was the “Green Robot“. It changed the icons in the Google Chat window to indicate whether someone was chatting from an Android phone (which I frequently do).

10. Be Decisive
Hank gave a very wise piece of advice. He suggested that when you get a new piece of e-mail, make a decision about what to do with it. Give it a Label. Read it. Delete it. Archive it. But, don’t just leave it there. It took me 14 days to whittle down from 14,000 e-mails to zero. I feel like I’m going to be more responsive to people now as they are not going to get lost in the shuffle. Well, I hope so anyway.

Do you have any Gmail tips to share? I would love to hear them. Please share them here.

34 thoughts on “10 Steps to a Gmail Makeover

  1. Impressive, well done. The labs, archive, and search, are awesome. You could do so much in labs my favorite is probably the send and archive.
    Thanks for sharing it in doable terms.
    Sounds like it was a great session, sorry to have missed it.

    1. Michael,
      It was a great session – short and to the point. They also presented with Danny Silva about Google Voice. My next project.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Excellent tips Lisa. I recently made the decision to switch from my Thunderbird desktop client to Gmail for email management. I’m going to switch over the summer. The biggest reason for me is that I don’t like being tied down to my specific computer. I want to be able to check my email from what ever computer I am near. Fortunately Thunderbird uses many of the tagging features available in Gmail so I think the transition should be pretty easy. I will, however, need to wade through several thousand emails that are still up on the Gmail server. Your tips will help a lot!

    1. Thanks John. I realized that I was reading e-mails sometimes twice when it wasn’t necessary.
      It was a time investment to sort through it all, but in the end it’s going to save me a lot of time and aggravation.

  3. Susan Ross says:

    Great post! You have inspired me to clean up my Gmail and become more organized. Spring cleaning for Gmail – imagine that! I am looking forward to seeing you in May at NJETI.

  4. Hi! My name is Jessica Eaton and I’m one of Dr. Strange’s student’s in his EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. Your post was very helpful for me because, until I enrolled in this class, I didn’t have a gmail account. I had been using yahoo, but Dr. Strange required us to get a gmail account. This was definitely a good idea. Your tips were very helpful, and I’m sure I will keep them in mind in the future.

    Thank you,

    Jessica Eaton

    1. Much luck to you Jessica! Gmail definitely will offer you options that you won’t see in other web based mail. Check out the Labs section and read up on how you can integrate Gmail with Google Docs – great stuff! Enjoy your course work!!


  5. Candy Schwartz says:

    I use the “filter” capability to send all of my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and etc. alerts into a “folder”, and then I deal with them all at once, since they are much the same. Saves a lot of garbage in the Inbox.

    1. Candy,
      I agree – it winds up saving so much time in the end and doesn’t distract me during the day when I’m teaching. Thanks for your comment.

      I’ve only just recently revisited my old Hotmail address to check out the capabilities of the Skydrive. More on that another time 🙂

  6. Hello! My name is Heather L. I attend the University of South Alabama and have been assigned to follow your blog for the next three weeks for Doctor Strange’s EDM 310 class. I really enjoyed reading all of the things G-mail can actually do! I had no clue that you could use filters for e-mail and they actually work. I also loved your advice on color coding things. I am in the middle of trying to reorganize school work right now and this post definitely gave me some great ideas on how to do that with my e-mail!

  7. Miss Cheska says:

    Hi, Lisa. Came across your impressive post via my Twitter PLN and just had to say thanks for the tips! I’ve been using Gmail for awhile, but haven’t really started exploring its features until recently. Filters are my best friend! They’re a great easy way to notify myself of important incoming messages and get rid of the few annoying ones that make it past the spam filter. I haven’t used archive much, but I think I’ll start using them and check out some lab features after this! 🙂

    1. Thanks Miss Cheska. Archiving is what has made the difference for me. I also think that using the filters had made it so that I am less distracted by e-mail during times when I need to focus on face-to-face time. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  8. Thanks for a great post at a great time. Using Google Docs has been a superb tool and a great experience but being decisive about my inbox has been a long time coming. Though I don’t have 14,000 emails I do have approx 1000 which I am now using my my spring break address.

  9. Devon says:

    One of my favourite features in the labs is the multiple inboxes – it allows you to see your inbox on the left, and some of your filtered emails on the right, based on parameters you set. I have certain emails that get filtered and archived automatically so that they don’t get mixed up in my normal email, but instead they appear in their own box on the right, so I can deal with them at the right time. I also have one set up for drafts, since I sometimes find I forget they’re there.

    I use my inbox as my to-do list a lot, and I find that all of the features you list really help making sense of the masses of information.

    1. Thanks Devon. I have just recently started using my inbox as my to-do list. It makes it more difficult to keep it empty, but it keeps me on my toes.

  10. I have a couple of different email my personal and my business but I was with yahoo mail for long time, but made the switch about a year ago to Gmail. I think by using a couple of these tips I will be able to maintain my email much better.


  11. Hello my name is Jenny I am taking EDM310 at South Alabama and my teacher has asked to read and comment on certain post. I think that you post about Gmail is very interesting and also very imformative. I myself just got a gmail account for this class and I have to admit that I really did not know much about it until then. After reading your post I found that I have learned more about using gmail than I ever thought I would. Here is a link to our class blog and also my personal blog: http://turnerjennyedm310.blogspot.com/, class blog:http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/

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