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 coupleĀ  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.