Ever clocked out of work after answering most of your emails and returned to the office the next day with a litany of unread messages in your inbox?
We’ve all been there.
Sorting through emails can be an agonizing time suck, especially when you have to filter out spam, unimportant items, or messages that can be answered later.
You have reports to write, presentations to put together, calls to take, deadlines to beat, and meetings to attend.
Emails don’t just go away — unless you trash and delete them permanently — but you can automate the sorting process so messages are organized and prioritized instantly.
Gmail allows you to create filters that can not only delete and archive your incoming messages but also mark them as important or forward them to someone else.
Gmail filters can also automatically apply customized labels to incoming emails. These labels act as curated libraries that contain emails from specific people or have common keywords.
Though they don’t move emails from your inbox to another location, labels do flag emails and collate them as they flow into your inbox.
It’s important to point out that Gmail labels are different from folders. While folders require files to be stored and organized in one place, you can apply multiple labels to an email and search for that message under each individual label.
As an example, if you work for a large architectural firm and have clients nationwide, you can add labels to each incoming email for individual regions, states, and cities. If you want to search for an email from someone in Atlanta, you can find it in all of the labels for Southeast, Georgia, and Atlanta.
In this case, “Southeast” is your parent label — your dominant or primary label — while “Georgia” and “Atlanta” are your sublabels.
You can add an unlimited number of labels to an email, but if you delete an email, it will be erased from your inbox and every label attached to it.
If you use Gmail as part of your workflow, read on to learn how to create filters and labels in just a few quick steps. We’ll even include some handy visuals for reference.
Create a label on a desktop or laptop
Although you can create a Gmail label on smartphones and tablets, we recommend doing it on your laptop or desktop so you have more control over the process and can quickly apply changes to existing emails
Once you create labels, you can set Gmail filters that apply those labels to incoming emails from specific senders or with certain keywords as they hit your inbox. We’ll outline steps to set that up in the next section.
- In the Gmail toolbar on the left of your screen, scroll through the list of options and click on the “Create new label” link.
- Enter a name for the label in the dialog box that appears. If you would like to categorize your new label under an existing one, click the “Nest label under” checkbox and make a selection from the dropdown list below.
- After creating your label, you can assign a color for it and change how it appears in your Gmail toolbar. You can also use the same menu of options to modify your label or add a new one under it.
Create a filter that sends emails to labels
After creating the labels to organize your incoming emails, you must create the appropriate filters that will flag incoming messages as they arrive in your inbox. Doing this will help you manage your priorities, organize your inbox, and save the time it would take to manually apply labels to individual emails.
- Determine what you’d like to filter by using the search box at the top of your Gmail account. You can, for example, enter a specific email address, a person’s name, or a keyword that may appear an email. Once you’ve done this, click on the arrow pointing down in the search box.
- Click the “Create filter” button, located at the bottom right-hand corner of the options menu that appears below the Gmail search box.
- Click on the “Apply the label” checkbox in the new menu of options. Select the label to store future emails — from a specific sender or with a certain keyword — based on your entry in the search box by clicking on the arrow beside the “Apply the label” checkbox.
- Make your desired label selection or selections in the dropdown menu that appears. Reminder: If you place multiple labels on an email, that email will be stored and searchable under all of the labels.
- Click the “Create filter” button at the bottom right-hand corner of the menu options box once you’ve selected the label you want.
Edit or delete filters to change what’s sent to labels
Your labels — or what’s sent to them — should change over time so you can stay on top of things. Editing or deleting the filters that send emails to your labels will take a few steps, but going through this process will ensure you don’t lose track of the action items that matter to you.
- In Gmail, click the Settings icon that looks like a cog.
- Click on the “Settings” option in the dropdown menu that appears.
- Click on the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab in the “Settings” menu.
- Under the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab, make the appropriate changes to the label that you want by clicking the “edit” or “delete” links next to it.
How do you keep your emails organized in Gmail? Have you integrated labels into your workflow? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.