Email organization in GMail (Aka the Zen of Gmail)

Email organization in GMail (Aka the Zen of Gmail) is the post I’ve always wanted to write about using Gmail, but of course never have because I’m lazy and can link to great posts.

I think part of the problem is people take an email-organization mindset from Outlook and try to apply it to Gmail. The results - comedy abounds! The solution? Shed your old ways, and embrace the new!

Change comes slowly, especially for people that are not using Gmail as their primary email and for most people that means using it for work/school. First, learn how to apply labels to messages automatically using filters then try out some of my labels.

Labels for email addresses

I use my main gmail account to manage email for at least 5 domains and email addresses I’ve had in the past. Each of these gets their own label using a prefixing system: -> a:example

Labels for companies

You have different companies in your life that have sent you boring but important email. Past employers top the list for me, but includes things like investment companies, bank accounts, “paperless billing statements”, EBay, etc.

MegaCorp HR -> c:megacorp

It might be a good idea to use a wildcard filter for some of these. See 20 Ways to use GMail Filters for some examples.

Labels for mailing lists

Obviously right? I guess not. I currently have 22 lists I’m following. Most are fairly low traffic, but they all get archived and labeled so I don’t see them in the Inbox. I don’t mark them as read so I have an idea of how far behind I’m getting. I tend to wait until a list has a “meaningful” amount of messages before setting aside time to go skim it, archive and delete most of the messages.

TestNG Users -> l:testng

Why don’t I following mailing lists with RSS? Gmail’s conversation threading is a must have, when 25 people reply to a topic you don’t care about you only see the first message.

Labels for bacn

NPR on bacn “According to the bloggers who invented the term just a few weeks ago, bacn is e-mail you want to read — just not now. It’s Facebook notifications, bank statements, Google news alerts, or any of the other sundry e-mails that you asked for, yet quickly pile up unread—like a week’s worth of newspapers.” For me this category only includes things like Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/Google Alerts as the bank statements are a bit more important to me and deserve a category all their own. In this case, the label is prefixed with “s” for Site, it puts it towards the bottom of my labels list and if you wanted, you could think of it as “spam:foo”.

“npost is now following you on Twitter!” -> s:twitter

“Join my network on LinkedIn” -> s:linkedin

Finally, everything else…

Now go ahead and start tagging everything else and take come cues from Ryan!

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