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How to Organize Your Gmail Inbox (and Create a Labeling System)

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When you look at your inbox each day, how do you feel? Do you dread opening Gmail because you know there are at least 25 emails that need your attention now? What about all the ones you didn’t get to yesterday? What about the ones from last week? Last month?

If you’re anything like I was, you’d be stressed already and not even out of bed yet.


We all deal with emails. A lot. How many total emails do you have in your inbox? Be honest. Go check right now. 10? 50? 1000? 10,000?

I have news for you: if your number is greater than 0 at the end of each day, you’re doing it wrong.

Opening your inbox to hundreds or even thousands of messages each morning is subconsciously (and often consciously) a daunting experience.

What’s worse is that you probably waste hours of each week sorting through information and needlessly forgetting tasks because your inbox isn’t organized and prioritized properly. If it was, you could be using that time to make money.

Sounds good, right? Let’s get to it then!

The Single Click

If you are a Gmail user (which you should be), the road to recovery starts with the “Archive” button.

This button actually scared me for a long time because I had no idea where those emails would go or if they would automatically get deleted someday. Turns out, they just go into the “All Mail” folder.


Go to your inbox, check ALL of the emails in your inbox (even if your number is 10,000) using the “Select All” button immediately to the left of the archive button. Then press “Archive”.

Ok, so it wasn’t quite a single click, but…

Congratulations! All of the emails in your inbox have now been moved to the “All Mail” folder where you can continue to access, organize, label, and respond to them as you normally would. However, your inbox should now display the most sought after message of all time: “No new mail!”.

But if you want to keep your inbox empty, you’ll have to develop some new habits.

Use Your Inbox as a To-Do List

A popular trick (one that I use myself) is to use your inbox as a prioritized to-do list. When an email comes in, quickly decide what to do with it.

If it requires an immediate response, finish your current task and respond. If it is not needed or wanted, put it in the trash. If it doesn’t require your immediate attention, archive it or leave it for the end of the day.

This will help you keep your inbox count very low while simultaneously reminding you of what needs to be accomplished in the near future.

Create a Labeling System

To save even more time each day, create a color-coded labeling system for your emails. First, try dividing your emails at a high level. For example, are they “Personal” or “Business” emails? Then, create sub-labels or folders beneath them.


For example, under the “Business” label, you might have “Clients”, “Receipts”, “Taxes”, “Job Offers”, and “General Inquiries”. Under the “Clients” label, you might create sub-sub-labels for each of your active clients.

Once an email thread has been labeled, a single click of the “Archive” button will move it from your inbox to it’s rightful home under that label or labels.

This system will allow you to quickly sort emails as they arrive and prevent you from having a mountain of unattended emails in your inbox at the end of the day.

Create Email Filters

Now that you have a robust labeling system, Gmail’s filters become useful for something other than automatically deleting messages from unwanted senders.

For example, you can create a filter that automatically applies one or more labels to emails from a specific client.

If you are subscribed to multiple newsletters or blogs, create a filter that labels those emails as “Subscribed” so you can quickly go back and find unread articles.

If you want to get really fancy, you can even filter for terms such as “staffing” or “recruiter” and put them into your “Job Offers” folder.

Let Some Emails Float

Not every email will have a label and that’s ok. Labels and folders are great for organizing common types or groups of emails. Don’t forget that Gmail has a powerful search feature that will help you quickly access any “floating” emails you can’t find with your labeling system.

If you have thousands of emails to organize, consider only organizing the ones from the last 6 months. Chances are, if you haven’t needed it in 6 months, you probably won’t need it again. It doesn’t need to be labeled.

If you haven’t touched an email in over a year, it’s probably safe to just delete it (unless of course it’s super important).

If you get so many emails that this advice simply won’t work for you, consider hiring an assistant.

Minimize the Emails You Receive

Do you really need to get an email notification when someone mentions your name on Facebook or Twitter? Do you honestly have to get an email digest every morning from those blogs you subscribed to 3 years ago?

Probably not.

Take the time to uncheck some boxes in the “email notifications” section of your most used websites and apps.

If you immediately delete tons of emails without even finishing the subject line, turn off those notifications and prevent the clutter from ever hitting your inbox in the first place.

The Big Takeaway

If you manage a lot of emails, you must have a system for organizing at least some of them. It will save you time, keep you focused, and prevent you from forgetting to complete important tasks.

Everyone is different, but this is the system that works for me and I hope that it will serve as a starting point for the one you create.

Invest some time this week to create a (hopefully automated) system that works well for you.

Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite network.

About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teachers thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog and newsletter.
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