According to recent research done in August 2019 Gmail is mail client number one with 29 % market share (more info: Email Client Market Share). On the other hand the modern worker spent about 28 % of their time in email management. (More info here: The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies ). If you spend one third of your time using Gmail, most probably you will need to analyze your workflow.
This article try to share tips and tricks based on my personal experience. The results of the article can be measured and verified after one month. Some of them are applicable not only for Gmail but also for other clients like Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo, Thunderbird, etc
You can find the official best practices from Google here:
The best practices:
- Use labels and categorize Gmail
- Create ToDo, Important and Non important folders
- Open and use your Gmail only at a given time
- Keep your inbox clean and neat
- Use mail templates
- Customize Your Gmail Interface Look With Themes
- Bonus: Gmail scheduling and automation
- Bonus: How to enable the preview pane
1. Use labels and categorize Gmail
There's no limit on the number of the labels you can create. You can organize the labels similarly to folders on your computer.
Note: Have in mind that labels don't behave always as folders. For example if you delete a mail then it's going to be removed from all labels!
In order to create labels in Gmail you can follow this steps:
- start Gmail. (note you can't create labels from the Gmail app)
- click More (on the left)
- Click Create new label.
- Select name for your label.
Once the label is created it can be deleted or edited by:
- start Gmail
- Select label (on the left)
- Click the Down arrow (next to it).
- Click Edit if you want to edit the label
- or delete if you like to remove the label
Create well organized structure having this simple rules in mind:
- Use optimal number of labels - too much will cause extra level of complexity while too few will be insufficient
- Avoid duplication of labels - labels should be distinctive and unique.
- Put the important labels at the top and less important at the bottom
- create filters which will categorize your mail automatically
Now in order to expand the last section of the rules. Filters helps to organize incoming emails by
- adding star
- automated forward
New filter can be created by:
- In the search box at the top, click the Down arrow Down Arrow.
- Enter your search criteria. You can test the criteria by clicking search and seeing what emails show up.
- click Create filter (at the bottom of the search window).
- Choose action(s) for your filter.
- Click Create filter.
2. Create ToDo, Important and Non important folders
Add labels and filters which can help you to preorganize the incoming mails automatically. This is going to work fine in most cases but not in all. I have simple rules for dealing with new mails(Once the initial labeling is completed - which will help me to understand better from who is the mail):
- read the email subject
- check quickly the content
- Now there are 3 actions which I can do:
- move the mail in folder ToDo
- read the mail (if there's no need of action or I can perform the action)
- leave the mail untouched
This rule can be tested best after absense or holidays when there are hundreds of mails in your mailbox. If your folder is well organized (keeping the top-bottom rule - most important mails on the top - then you can review hundreds of mails in matters of one or two hours).
3. Open and use your Gmail only at a given time
One common mistake is to keep your email client (and Gmail in particular) opened all the time and getting notified for every incoming mail. This will lead to distraction and switching between the tasks. In order to avoid this you can schedule a script or open your mail client two, three times per day. My personal preference is to start the gmail at 10 and 17.
Usually I start my working day at 8 in the morning. I want to complete the tasks from the previous day or to continue with my ToDo list. If I start the mail client first I'll lose track on my ToDo list or might have change in priorities.
Next time to open the mail is near the end of the working day(1-3 hours before it). This will give me enough time to do something if needed and also organize the next day better.
The good bosses don't expect you to be answering all the time or to be on stand by mode - waiting for their instructions. The good bosses check results and not how long you are available. On the other hand if someone expect your response 100% of the time (while this is not job requirement) you may think for a change.
4. Keep your inbox clean and neat
Why to tidy up your inbox? There are many reasons for this:
- easier to find a mail
- less time and efforts to deal with new mails
- save you few extra clicks and mistakes from manual management
- keep sensitive mails in a label and not in your inbox (sometimes you may need to share your inbox and you don't want someone else to see your sensitive information)
- spent more time on important mails and less on spam(once something is identified as high/low informative and recurring mail - be sure to create filter for it!)
Most of the time my inbox is empty. This is because all other mails are automatically labeled and moved to different folders. In this way the inbox contains only "strange" or not categorized mails. If I find any kind of mail important - then I'll add new label and filter in order to deal with this kind of messages automatically.
Bad practice here is to have thousands of unread mails in your inbox. This will take extra time for searching and reading mails. Most of the time even you won't be able to find the message you need.
On the other hand if you work on several projects/people and they have labels - then you can search for the mail only in a given label.
5. Use mail templates
Many things will be repeated in your working days like- birthdays, anniversaries, new comers, reports, technical requests etc. All this kind of mails can be created from templates.
Of course you can do it by searching the mail and copy pasting it each time. But this is simply no efficient way of working. If you want to be more efficient then you can create templates. In order to create Gmail mail templates follow this steps:
First you need to enable the template feature
- Open Gmail
- Select Settings from the menu
- Select tab Advanced
- Enable Canned Responses (Templates)
- Save the Changes
Now you can create and use new message templates
Create new email template or edit existing
- click Compose
- Enter your template text
- Click More
- Canned responses
- Choose an option - create or edit:
- Save draft as template > Save as new template - create new template
- click Save draft as template and under Overwrite Template, choose a response and click Save to overwrite it
Gmail use templates
- click Compose.
- Click More
- Canned responses
- Insert Template
- Choose a saved response to insert in your email.
- Compose the rest of your message
- Click Send.
Note: To delete a canned response, click Delete template, choose the response you want to delete, and click Delete.
Automate Gmail templates
- In the search box at the top
- Click the Down arrow
- Click Create filter - At the bottom of the search window
- Choose what you’d like the filter to do
- Enter your search criteria (for example mail summary - birthday)
- or From - the sender of the mail
- Click Create filter.
6. Customize Your Gmail Interface Look With Themes
Spending most of the time with Gmail you might want to change the default layout and look. According to some researches if you watch inspiring images you will be more creative and productive. Also good images can bring better mood which might be essential if your day is passing in front of the monitor.
a color can change our mood from sad to happy, from confusion to intelligence, from fear to confidence.
If you want to read more about it then you can check here:
Apply a Gmail Theme
- Select a theme from the Themes screen
When selecting images think for:
- contrast - you want to read mails easily
- distraction - some images might steal your focus
- changes - frequent changes can bring a note of freshness in your day
Finally if you have time and the mood for it go and create your own theme.
Bonus: 7. Gmail scheduling and automation
Whether the mail will be received, open, read and digested depends on the recipient. But you still can influence on this by targeting optimal time for the person.
Check the person's time zone and working hours if possible. Then send the mail in the early working hours for him. If you are not sure about the time constraints of the person than you can check for mails from him (if any).
In order to do email scheduling with Gmail you can do:
- create the mail
- then click the down arrow next to Send
- Schedule Send
- Pick date & time
- Finally click Schedule Send
Much is said and done about automation. In terms of emailing it's a huge opportunity and a problem. My advice for you is to schedule anything which is possible.
For example if you need to forward mails from a given person to another one or reports (containing given keyword in the summary) then go and create gmail filter.
If you need to send weekly report to someone - then again create a script which can generate automatical report for you. The web is full with example scripts. For example for python you can use something like:
send_an_email.py or others like:
Bonus: 8. How to enable the preview pane
Working with Gmail preview pane will save you hundreds of clicks and will help you very quickly to manage new messages. In order to enable Gmail preview pane you can do:
- Open Gmail
- Click the gear wheel button on the top right
- Select Settings
- Go to section Advanced
- Scroll to Preview Pane section
- Select Enable
- Save the changes
Two more things about Gmail preview pane:
It can be toggled by:
- top right corner
- press toggle button (next to the gear wheel)
- now you can choose:
- Vertical Split: Positions the preview pane to the right of the email.
- Horizontal Split: Positions the preview pane below the email, on the bottom half of the screen.
Personally I prefer the vertical split.
The second thing is that if you want to make an email read - then you need to double click it.
Every journey starts with a single step. You can try several from the tips above and check if they are working for you. Best will be to give time for the changes.
Let say that you want to test practice number 2. Then prepare for the change ( small analysis of your mail might help in order to find optimal labels for you), apply the changes and verify the results in 1 month.
It's important at the beginning and the end to measure the time spent in Gmail (reading, writing, editing and searching mails) - the final goal is to reduce time spent by 50% and more.