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Summary:

After reading Aliza’s post about how she organizes her email, my biggest piece of advice in using Gmail is to embrace the organizational chaos. I’ve been using Gmail for over three years, and I use it as my primary email. I have a dozen or so […]

After reading Aliza’s post about how she organizes her email, my biggest piece of advice in using Gmail is to embrace the organizational chaos. I’ve been using Gmail for over three years, and I use it as my primary email. I have a dozen or so email addresses, but they all get forwarded to Gmail. I use it as my central inbox for everything, so my email volume in that one inbox is high.

Prior to Gmail, I used Outlook for email, which has a less-than-optimal search capability. In other words, if I didn’t file an email into the proper folder, my chances of ever finding that email again were slim. When I first started using Gmail, I brought this filing behavior with me, and I obsessively tagged and labeled everything. I ended up with a bunch of labels that I probably didn’t need. At some point, I realized that Gmail’s search facility is so amazing that labeling and filing every email became unnecessary. Now, for most emails, I read them, respond if necessary, and archive. All without bothering to give them labels.

Now, to contradict myself. I also make extensive use of Gmail’s filtering capabilities to automatically add labels to some email. However, I reserve this capability for the really important stuff, like client email — you know, the people who pay me money to do stuff. I want to keep careful track of those emails.

When I get a new client, I create two separate filters for that client. The first one looks at the “from” address and applies an appropriate label (for example, “coolclient”) to any email coming from its domain (“*@coolclient.com”). The second filter looks for anything in the “to” address that matches the same “*@coolclient.com”. Now, I can click on the “coolclient” label and see all of my correspondence with that client.

Like most people, I also have an issue with too much email overflowing in my inbox, and I don’t want to miss any of those important emails from clients, so I need to have the client email stand out. Gmail lets you apply colors to labels, so for  important clients, I make the label bright green to make sure that I can see all of my client email at a glance.

I handle my big list of labels by using a keyboard shortcut that lets me go directly to a label without having to scroll for ages. To do this, you have to enable keyboard shortcuts under “Settings”, and then go to Labs and enable the “Go to label” feature. Now, I can hit “g” then “l”, type in my label, and get dumped right into that label. Again, it’s important to embrace the chaos of having too many labels and use this feature to avoid scrolling through them.

Go To Label in Gmail

The key to using Gmail effectively is to embrace the chaos: Let Gmail’s search handle most of the organization, and keep labeling to a minimum. By only labeling my client email and a few other important categories, I’ve simplified my labels down to a manageable level.

How do you organize your email?

  1. [...] How Do You Organize Your Email, Dawn Foster? – Dawn Foster Some new tips for Gmail. You *do* know the Gmail Labs, don’t you? [...]

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  2. When I started out I used to label a few of my emails, just like you have mentioned in this article but now I just use the search. I also use GTalk to communicate with my clients so this method works great for me. I type in the clients name in the search field and I get every conversation I’ve had with that client, whether it was over email or chat.

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  3. [...] How Do You Organize Your Email, Dawn Foster? Web Worker Daily Dawn Foster 25 May 2009 [...]

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  4. Dawn, we recently created a whitepaper on a related subject of management of email chaos in a business context. We have argued that better filtering or search are not the final answers, but to ask whether we’re using email technology properly at all. We have concluded that companies are not, since it is often used for collaboration (file collaboration, discussions, task management) which leads to email chaos (everyone talking to everyone else). We have further suggested that we shift to online collaboration tools for these purposes, and make it a discipline to use them over email.

    you can check out the white paper @ http://www.hyperoffice.com/business-email-overload/

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  5. Dawn,

    if you handle emails FROM clients the same way as emails TO clients, then you can use one filter instead of two.

    You can either edit the filter via Gmail’s interface and put:

    @client-domain.com) OR to:(@client-domain.com

    in the from: rule. Notice how the opening and closing brackets are missing. This is so that you could add more domains for the same rule. For example:

    @client-domain1.com OR @client-domain2.com) OR to:(@client-domain1.com OR @client-domain2.com

    Or, alternatively, you can Export the list of filters, edit it, and then re-import it again.

    Separate filters are only needed for DIFFERENT clients or different handling.

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  6. [...] vs. chaos All, Technology, Web work It’s not the first time that I see a mention of email organiztion in Outlook vs. the one in Gmail.  But it’s the first time that I realized how similar this discussion to the one that was [...]

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  7. I’m firmly believe that Inbox zero is completely unnecessary. Seeing into the chaos is necessary, which is why all the search operators in Gmail are awesome. My favorite is probably in:inbox is:unread which narrows down the inbox to only unread messages, similar to the view unread messages feature of Outlook.

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  8. [...] How Do You Organize Your Email, Dawn Foster? [...]

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