How to Clean and Manage Your Gmail Inbox

Gmail – the inbox of our lives, the pigeonhole of our business – is integral to millions of us looking to keep our day-to-day affairs in order. As email clients go, Gmail has become quite good in recent years at dividing the endless stream of emails into different tags and labels, not to mention keeping spam away.

But even though Gmail does its job well, there are still plenty of extra little things you can do to make your inbox even more tidy, ensuring that all emails go to the right places and that you don’t get any unwanted surprises.

I get a lot of emails that I consider important enough to look at at some point but not quite so important that I want them popping up at the top of my “Primary” inbox all the time. For example, I get a whole load of emails from gaming PR companies which sometimes contain info that concerns me, but I want to sift through them in my own time.

For this, I set up a “Games PR” label, and get those emails to skip the inbox. This essentially makes Games PR a separate inbox that passively gathers up these emails so I don’t get notified when they arrive and can look at them in my own time.

To do this. you can start by clicking the checkbox next to one (or several) of the emails you want to create a new inbox for, then clicking the three-dotted menu icon just under the Gmail search box and selecting “Filter messages like these.”

clean-up-gmail-inbox-filter-messages

A box will pop up showing those email senders. You can get more intricate here and filter emails by subject line or even base the filter on the words they include, but we’re just keeping it simple for now and setting up a filter for emails from specific senders.

When you’re ready, click “Create filter” which will bring up a bunch of options regarding what you actually want to do with the selected emails. In my case I tick the “Skip the Inbox” box and the “Apply the label” box, then next to “Apply the label,” I choose the “Games PR” label. (You’ll get an option to create a new label here if it doesn’t exist yet.)

clean-up-gmail-inbox-games-pr

At the bottom of this box you can also select the option to apply the filter to all previous emails that fit the criteria, so all past emails from these recipients will also be sent over to the Games PR inbox.

Note: creating a label in itself doesn’t “move” emails to other inboxes. (It’s the “Skip the Inbox” option that effectively does this.) You can have multiple labels for certain emails if you wish, and these labels appear down the left-side pane of Gmail.

There are a many mysterious algorithms that dictate where Gmail places them in your inbox. But you can help Gmail to an extent by using the little “Important” label next to emails. It’s that yellow or grey arrow symbol between the star and the sender’s name.

clean-up-gmail-inbox-important-label

If it’s yellow, that email is deemed important and will override any filters to appear in your Primary inbox. If it’s grey, that means it’s “not important” and will function in accordance with your filter rules. Click the icon to toggle it between grey and yellow, depending on whether you deem that email important. This will help Google judge the importance of future emails.

If you don’t want Google using its initiative about email importance, click “Settings -> Inbox,” and at the bottom select “Don’t override filters.” Next to the “Importance markers” heading, you can also tell Google not to use markers altogether and not to use your past actions to predict email importance.

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While you’re in Settings, click “Filters and blocked addresses” to see all the filter settings you set up. Here you can edit and delete all your existing filters, leading to the same screen we talked about under the “Turning Labels into Inboxes” heading.

clean-up-gmail-inbox-filter-settings

Over the years you’ve probably signed up to tons of marketing emails that are so common they’ve become the unwelcome background noise of your inbox. Instead of setting rules for what to do with these emails once they arrive (auto-deleting, for example), you should make sure they don’t get sent in the first place by unsubscribing from them.

Every marketing/newsletter email you receive should have an “Unsubscribe” option at the bottom. This is usually in very small text and clicking it will link you through to the site that sends it. Usually, clicking this button alone is enough to unsubscribe, but some sites make it more of a nuisance by making you sign in to do it. Either way, it’s a quick process and cuts off those emails at the source.

clean-up-gmail-inbox-unsubscribe

In most cases, Gmail is good at filtering these kinds of emails and chucking them into the ‘Promotions’ category, which should be selectable at the top of your Inbox. So go through that Promotions tab, look for the biggest offenders, and start unsubscribing!

There are plenty of other ways to manage your Gmail inbox, but these should at the very least give you an idea of how to get it in order. I swear by the above methods and nothing else and have found my inbox to be a happier place as a result. How do you manage your Gmail inbox? Any plugins you recommend? Let us know!

One comment

  1. I was hoping this article would tell me how to view (and delete) more than 100 message titles at a time so I could delete them. Yahoo mail has that feature but I have never found it in gmail so it becomes a major chore to delete more than 100 messages at a sitting in gmail. Can you tell me the secret to viewing more than 100 message titles in my inbox (or any folder for that matter–but primarily the inbox)?

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