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Organizing Your Gmail Inbox For High Productivity

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of emails you receive? Wouldn’t you love to organize them easier and faster, so you can take action on the really important ones?

A few of my clients have the same problem.  I know they’re overwhelmed with emails because sometimes they don’t reply to requests I send them.  Later when I meet with them, they apologize, saying, “I’m sorry, I must have missed it.  I get too many emails!”

My fear for my clients is they are missing opportunities to do business or perhaps forgetting to follow up on important details with clients.  What they need is a system to help them manage their abundance of emails.

First things first, Your Email Inbox Is NOT Your Daily Task Manager

The thing I noticed with both clients is they are keeping emails in their inbox as a way to remind them of things they need to get done.  If you’ve only got a few emails, this system works great.

But when you’re getting 50 or more emails each day, the idea of using your inbox as an organizational tool is like setting yourself up for failure.  Important emails are invariably going to be pushed to the bottom, soon to be forgotten.

email is a communication toolDo not use your email inbox as your daily task manager.  If you try to use it this way, you’re hurting your productivity and eventually something is going to fall through the cracks.

Email is a communication tool, not a place for you to organize your daily tasks. You’ve got to get “actionable” emails out of your inbox and into your tasks list, which leads us to our first step toward high productivity!

Step 1:  Put All “Actionable” Emails In Google Tasks and Gmail Calendar

The key to better organization is putting your action items in a place where you can readily see them. Google provides you with all the tools you need to do this: Google Tasks is the place to keep track of your running “to do” list and Google Calendar is where you keep track of all your appointments.

Whenever you receive an email that requires further action, put it on your Tasks list; when someone schedules an appointment with you, put it on your calendar.  Then delete or file the email.

Using Google Tasks

enabling daily tasks

Gmail’s “Tasks” option is a great place to manage your workload.  The “Task Box” appears like a permanent post-it note in the lower right hand portion of your screen, so you can keep a running list of things to do.

tasks box

Add and subtract tasks as you go through your day. You can even take tasks with you by syncing them up to your iPhone.

Using Google Calendar

Open your Google calendar as indicated below.google calendar

Once you’ve opened the calendar, click on any time slot to add your appointment.

Create an appointment in google calendar

After you enter your appointment details in the “What” field, click “Create event” to add the event to your calendar.

Step 2:  File It!

Now that you’ve noted your action items as a task or an appointment, file your important emails, so you can find them later. Gmail calls this “labeling” (see photo below).

label your emails

After you’ve clicked on the Folder “icon”, a drop-down menu will appear. Click on “Create new” near the bottom of the list and enter a new label (folder) name.  If you’ve already created folders, simply hover over the folder name and left-click your mouse.  The email will be filed there automatically.

drop down menu for google folders

Notice the option to “Nest label under”. This allows you to really get organized by putting all of your client folders under one central “Clients” label.

new client folder

I have 5 main folders that I nest everything else under:

  • Clients – all of my active and potential clients have a folder under this label
  • Vendors – I keep all vendor folders under this heading
  • Personal – for personal, family and any other emails I want to keep
  • Travel – for airline confirmations and travel itineraries
  • Gardening – I’m really into gardening and keep related email tips and correspondence organized in this folder

If I have any inclination that I might want to keep an email, I file it in one of the folders above. Otherwise, I delete it.

Step 3:  Automatically File “Non-Urgent” Emails Using Filters

“Filtering” in Gmail allows you to automatically file your incoming emails, before they ever hit your inbox.  Then you can review them at your leisure.

Thanks to Marie Leslie for providing the video below which walks you through the step by step procedure for filtering incoming emails in Gmail.

The steps to setup Gmail filters are:

  1. Click the “Settings” icon in the upper right hand corner of your Gmail.
  2. Choose “settings” option from the drop-down menu.
  3. From the top menu, select “filters”.
  4. Choose “Create a new filter” from the middle of your screen.
  5. In the “From” field, enter the name of the whatever set of emails you want to filter.
  6. In the video, Marie, chooses to file emails from LinkedIn, so she enters “LinkedIn” in the “From” field.  You don’t need the specific email address; just entering “LinkedIn” will do.
  7. At the bottom of the form, click “Create filter with this search”.
  8. Check the box “Apply the label:” and click “Choose label…”
  9. Either create a new folder or select an existing folder in which to file all new incoming emails from LinkedIn.
  10. Check the first box “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)”.
  11. If you check the box at the bottom “Also apply filter to XX matching conversations.”, then Gmail will move those existing emails from LinkedIn into your folder.
  12. Click the blue “Create filter” button to put the filter in place.

That’s it!  Now all emails from LinkedIn will be filed immediately.  You will never see them in your inbox and you can read them at a more convenient time.  (Perhaps you might want to make an appointment in your calendar to review emails like this every Friday at 9am).

Apply the steps above to sets of emails you get that are non-urgent and that you;d like to read later.

Step 4:  Unsubscribe!

Over the years, you’ve probably signed up for a number of email lists whether you know it or not.  One innocent check mark can add your email address to literally hundreds of marketing lists.  Unless the information you’re receiving is benefitting you, get off the list.

Don’t just delete the email, unsubscribe from the list.  Scroll down to the bottom and look for the Unsubscribe link.  Take the few extra seconds to get off the list once and for all and you’ll be cutting off the problem at the root.  Commit to doing this every time you get an email from someone or some company you know you no longer want to hear from.

When there’s no Unsubscribe option, reply with “Please remove me from your list” in the subject field.  This will usually do the trick.

unsubscribe from email

Step 5:  Stop Subscribing To New Lists

Now that you’re committing to the habit of unsubscribing, don’t keep subscribing to new lists.  Be careful the next time you purchase airline tickets or sign-up for “free this” or “free that” – many companies have the “Sign Me Up For Special Offers!” box checked by default.

sign me up

Step 6:  Report Spam

In Gmail, the “report spam” icon can eliminate future emails from being sent to your from this particular sender.  Clicking “report spam” does three things:

  1. It moves the email into your spam folder, effectively deleting it from your inbox,
  2. Attempts to always mark as spam senders that you’ve reported spam on, and
  3. Reports to Google’s machine learning systems which helps all users not receive spam from this sender

report spam

I’ve seen reports of people still receiving spam even after reporting it, so as a rule, you should always try to “Unsubscribe” first and only use “Report Spam” if you can’t find an unsubscribe link.

Conclusion

Using your email inbox as a daily task organizer is a recipe for disaster.  As emails accumulate, you’re bound to miss important reminders of things you need to get done, especially when those emails you were using “to remind you what to do” slip deeper and deeper into the bottom of your inbox.

Create a new habit and commit to using Google Tasks and Google Calendar on a daily basis.

You’ll sleep better knowing your tasks – whether they need to be done today, tomorrow or two months from now – are safely written down and recorded in one central place.  And you’ll breathe easy knowing you’ve got all your appointments stored in Google Calendar. You’ll finally feel like you’ve got control of your overflowing inbox.

For more information on using Gmail for efficiency, Google put together this awesome reference guide.  It’s an excellent tool.

Do you receive an overwhelming number of emails?  How do you organize yourself, so that nothing important gets lost?

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4 Responses to Organizing Your Gmail Inbox For High Productivity

  1. Brendan says:

    Great post Mike! Google Calendar also has a great tasks feature built into it which can be helpful as you can set reminders, follow up dates, etc.

    However for any business receiving more than 50 emails a day, I think they should really consider either using a stock CRM system or having one custom setup for them as that would be the best way to track that many prospects, leads, clients, and accounts. Although I guess you have to use the CRM system once in place as I have one and still find myself using my inbox as my “to do” list…

  2. Marie Leslie says:

    Great tutorial, Mike, on getting the email under control. I especially liked this one: “First things first, Your Email Inbox Is NOT Your Daily Task Manager.” Way too many people allow their inbox to dictate their work day. That is a painful road to becoming overwhelmed and getting nothing done. I have to admit I’ve gotten out of the habit of email first. I tend to my biggest priorities and then I check my email. It really has helped my productivity.

    There are lots of great ideas in this post for both newbies and experienced business people.

  3. Barbara Covert says:

    Great info, and a good reminder not to rely on the inbox!

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