This is step one in my Gmail tips for journalists series.
If you’ve just switched to Gmail from something else — Outlook, for example — the first thing you’ll want and need to do is understand how to manage your flashy new inbox effectively. (You may also be desperately attempting to make Gmail function as similarly as possible to your old friend, Outlook. Instructions on how to do that are here. I won’t judge you.)
Your basic settings can be found and tinkered with by clicking the little gear icon near the top right of your inbox. Some are pretty self-explanatory, some aren’t.
I’ve queued the video below to a really nice description of labels — which are Gmail’s answers to folders. If it doesn’t start right, just make sure you’re starting around the 3:30 mark.
This is one of the settings you’ll see under the “General” tab. If you’ve used Gmail for any length of time, you know that you can “star” an item by clicking the little star in the subject line. This is great for drawing your attention to important items that you’re leaving in your crowded inbox.
But it’s a little clumsy. Maybe you want to highlight urgent items, maybe you want to mark some items in a certain label as “done,” maybe you want to mark items as delegated to certain members of your team… it seems a little silly to make up labels for all of those things — at least to me.
That’s where stars come in handy. This option gives you a bunch more types of stars. Coooool. Now you can use a red exclamation point icon for “urgent,” a star for “don’t forget,” a green checkmark for “done.” Do whatever you want with it. If you want to go really crazy with your email organization, check out how you can use it to power multiple inboxes in the Labs section below.
There just isn’t a catchy name like for inbox maintenance, but if there was, filters would be the first step in inboxscaping. It’s also one of the best ways to take advantage of labels, the Google-fied version of folders.
You get a lot of email and a lot of it can go into certain categories — press releases from the city, weekly submissions from freelancers, invoices and everything else. So why not have Google sort it for you for easy access later? Filters can be triggered by words in the subject line, by the sender’s email address — I’m honestly not going to write a better basic tutorial on Gmail filters than Google did, so read that and set yourself up.
What I will do is tell you to set up your filters primarily to “skip the inbox” — the content will be saved and easily accessible, but it won’t be cluttering up your inbox anymore. That way, you can cruise through the inbox a little faster when you’re on one of your email binges/purges.