Gmail productivity hack: Keep What Matters On Top

Is your inbox always full?

Mine is.  I’m probably not the only gmail account holder with about 70,000 unread emails, but sometimes I wonder if I could be.  I love learning so much, and in so many different areas, that I have subscriptions from all over the web.  Sometimes I worry about whether I’m missing important emails, but every now and then I’d run a search for any new stuff from family, friends, or something I was particularly interested in – and I thought that covered me.

Gmail, though, has just made life a LOT simpler.

gmail-labs-settingsIf you haven’t yet discovered Gmail labs (the little test tube icon at the top right of your screen) you need to go in and check it out.  There’s all kinds of neat features in there you can play with, including an ‘undo send’ that holds your email for 5 sec before sending it so you can retrieve it if you remember something you left out (or something you SHOULD have left out), and a feature that looks for words that say there’s an attachment, then prompts you if there isn’t one when you hit send.  The latest feature, though, is a huge timesaver.  Gmail Multiple Inboxes.  (I’ve cropped the image at the left, which shows what you see when you click on the ‘labs’ icon – it may be a bit further down the list for you…)

What this allows you to do is to take any search you’d run in google – like ‘starred emails’ or ‘labelled: Next Action’ – and create a virtual inbox for it.  Then you can decide where you want that inbox to go; either to the right of the normal one, above it, below it – whatever you choose.  You can create several of these.  I’ve chosen just two.  Firstly, I have a mail rule that labels anything from close friends and family as “Family n Friends”.  My new top ‘inbox’ is for any of these emails that are still in the inbox, so it only picks up any new emails.    Secondly, I use the star icon to mark emails I need to action (GTD Inbox is great, but I also use iGoogle which doesn’t give me the same options.  Stars I can at least do from anywhere.)  That’s my second inbox, displaying 5 of the most recent (like the normal inbox, you can click a link to see older ones).  Since I’ve put that up there, I’ve been going through my backlog of starred emails like you wouldn’t believe, since they’re right there in front of me every time I open the inbox!

Here’s a few situations when this could really help you out:

  • If you’ve got an important project (or several) you want to track
  • For general task management (you can also manage tasks in Gmail too, now)
  • If there’s someone you’re waiting for an email from
  • To give your emails levels of priority (you could have labels for importance and urgency, to give you A1, A2, B1 type categories, if you use the daytimer conventions, or Quadrants I – IV, if you use that instead)
  • If you have multiple email accounts being picked up by Gmail: I think it grabs about 7 accounts for me, so I could have inboxes for each
  • If you like the “last day, last week, last month” conventions of thunderbird, you can recreate them here
  • Filter all your subscriptions into a separate ‘inbox’ and keep your main one clear, but still have them visible
  • To push action items over a certain age up to your attention
  • …any other reason at all…

Have I missed any?  What kind of uses do you think you could make of this?  Please post your ideas in the comments below…

gmail-multiple-inboxes-1Here’s a screenshot of how it looks on mine – and no, you’re not going blind, I blurred out the names & subjects.  The inbox definitions are underlined so you can see what they’re searching on, and I’ve highlighted where the labs icon is if you want to go have a play.

If you’re not already familiar with them, it’s also worthwhile to check out “Advanced Search Operators” for Gmail so you can filter exactly what you want.

Have fun!

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