5 power user tips to gain control of your Gmail inbox

Cross-posted from: http://blog.synergyse.com/2013/08/5-power-user-tips-to-gain-control-of.html

Over the past few years I’ve worked with thousands of people, helping them transition to Google’s email from other systems, and it’s always surprising to see someone’s face when I show them a basic feature that really changes their life. Here are five features of Google’s Inbox that you might have overlooked, but will really change the way you handle your mail. Put that Inbox to work!

1. Labels

Other email solutions, such as Microsoft’s Outlook, use folders to store and organize mail. In those instances, the email physically moves to a folder for organizational purposes, and it’s hard to retrieve an individual email unless you know where you put it. Also, you’re only allowed to put an email in one folder. In Google’s Inbox, a label (select a conversation, then click the label-looking button in the toolbar) allows you to sort your mail under your terms, often labeling one email multiple ways.

For example, you might designate one label for the person automatically (find out more about filters next!), and also sort based on subject matter, like “new recipe,” or something similar. That way, when you click on the label, you’ll get other emails that have been labeled with “new recipe,” but that may have been sent from someone else.Notice, in the example below, the email is labeled with a couple of different labels, first for the company (Branditarians), then a sub-label with the client name, and last ‘Web Design’ that indicates that the email is a web design project email. Selecting any of these labels later would result in finding this email automatically.

Labels are really mini-searches performed by Google, as opposed to an actual folder, and that’s what allows you to label an email multiple ways. Some people find it helpful to think of this as tagging. Either way, it’s a smart way to organize your inbox.


Fig. 1 – Labeling an email with multiple labels helps in retrieving old conversations quickly. Adding a dash of color adds visual clues to the message’s importance or allegiance.

2. Filters

Filters take the labeling of emails to the next level by automatically labeling emails as they comes into your inbox. Filters are often called “rules” in other email programs, but they’re quick and easy to set up, and make your inbox really pop with all the colors of the rainbow – all of which makes your job of identifying priority emails so much easier.

Simply select a conversation, or multiple conversations, and build a filter using the parameters that fit your need. You might start off by building filters based on who the email is from, and then apply a label to that email, which causes labels to be automatically applied and saves you time. The best part is, once an email has been automatically labeled, you can simply archive the email; to retrieve it, just click the label in the left hand menu below the ‘Compose’ button.

Fig. 2 – Once a conversation has been selected, click the ‘More’ button in the toolbar, select ‘Filter messages like this’, and start building your filter. Notice all the options you have for email handling, like applying labels, skipping the inbox altogether, or sending canned responses.

3. The Priority Inbox

Many people trudge along with thousands of emails in their inboxes, and use that as a to-do list. I see it all the time, and more often than not the poor souls can’t find the email they’re looking for, or have to ask someone else to resend an email from last week.

In addition, all email becomes equally important, and whatever’s on top gets the most attention. That’s a terrible way of dealing with your inbox!A better way is to enable the Priority Inbox. Click Settings, then Inbox. Select Priority Inbox to have Google help you automatically, by showing important and unread emails at the top, starred emails (stuff you need to follow up on later) in a middle section, and everything else at the bottom.

Furthermore, help your inbox identify what’s important by clicking the little yellow marker next to an email – on for important, off for not. After a while, Gmail begins to recognize what type of emails you consider to be important, and your inbox will truly begin to take shape. You’ll go straight to the top for the critical stuff, and leave the email from your local car dealer at the bottom, waiting for later. And when you’ve cleared your important stuff, your inbox even celebrates with you!

Fig. 3 – This is the best part of the day – your priority stuff has been handled, and you can check other, less critical mail (that mail generally displays below the important section, though you can tweak the sections of the Priority Inbox however you like.)

4. Searching the Inbox

Most people forget that Google was founded on search, at least when they’re in email. Don’t! The search bar at the top unlocks the true potential of the inbox by allowing you to quickly find information otherwise stored inside emails, in your contacts, or someplace else.Simply searching for an email address, and then hitting your enter key retrieves all emails that match that address.

Sure, you might have to learn a few commands like ‘from:’, or ‘has:attachment’, but you could also click on the tiny down arrow in the search field to reveal advanced search options with a fill-in-the-blanks service to dig up even the most elusive emails. After all, you’re not deleting emails, are you? (Well, maybe the one from your local car dealer…) You can keep it all archived instead with Google’s amazing, and free, storage quotas. And search to find it when you need it! Even if the email you’re looking for is from 2008.


Fig. 4 – You can get pretty specific with the advanced search – no email stays hidden for too long, and this is often faster than trying to remember what label you gave it in the first place!

5. Keyboard Shortcuts

Saving the best for last – I can’t stress enough how much time I save by using keyboard shortcuts when dealing with a full Inbox on Monday morning. First you’ll need to turn them on in Settings, about halfway down the page, and then you can let the magic begin. Here are a few of my favorite power moves:

  1. Hit the letter ‘c’ to bring up the compose window for a new email.
  2. Type in the recipient – if it begins to autopopulate, just hit your ‘tab’ key to accept. Tab again for the Subject line.
  3. Tab once more to type your message.
  4. Tab, then ‘enter’ to send the email. And nowhere did we use the mouse or trackpad! Score!

Here’s another:

Move up and down in your inbox using the keys ‘j’ and ‘k’ – look for the blue indicator next to each email to tell where you are.

  1. Select an email by hitting the letter ‘x’. You can select multiple emails that way.
  2. Then, with a few emails selected that you’re not going to read but want to keep (‘cause remember, we don’t need to delete email, right?), just hit the letter ‘e’ to archive them. Done! How easy was that?


Fig. 5 – Find all the power combos by hitting ‘SHIFT+?’ (using your right hand) which brings up all the possible keyboard shortcuts. Remember, you don’t need to know them all, and I certainly don’t, but just learn a few that make sense and begin taming that Inbox of yours. The goal is to celebrate at the end of the day, see Fig. 3, and the fastest way to do that is to leave the mouse behind!

These power moves can be lot for some newbies to the Google Inbox, but companies like Synergyse make it easy to remember the little things – their training tips live right inside your real inbox, so you never have to leave, visit another website, or worry about a blocked video. Simply click on their training menu, select a topic you want to review, and 30 seconds later you’re back in action. Editor’s note: For even more ways of managing your inbox, check out the Synergyse lesson on Gmail Inbox Tabs and Category Labels.

In the end, it’s all about doing what works for you, and many never realize there’s a better way. Try one, or a few of these techniques today, and you’ll soon see the benefits from effectively dealing with emails that cluttered your inbox in the past.

One more tip, but don’t tell anyone – why not make a filter that automatically sends an email with the word ‘unsubscribe’ to a label that is archived? You’re not reading those anyway…