Avoid that shipwreck waiting for you in the sea of email - deep eh?

Avoid that shipwreck waiting for you in the sea of email!

Managing your email is one of those things we kinda just learn how to do over the years.

But when you are getting hundreds of important emails each week at work, you need to really have a system in place to make sure you don’t lose track of something important.

Here are 4 of the simplest techniques for effective email management in Gmail so that you don’t forget anything important.

1. Gmail Stars

Stars are great because they are super quick to use even on mobile. It’s a one click prioritization method that can let you speed through a bunch of new email and quickly marking up things to look at in more depth later.

But there’s more to stars than meets the eye – you can cycle through several different icons to mark up each email with a much more specific symbol. That’s super useful when you find your Starred list becoming unwieldy and wish there was a way to prioritize them.

To access the other icons you have to delve into Gmail’s General settings and turn the function on.

2. Gmail Labels

If you are not already using labels in Gmail, you really should! They are Gmail’s answer to folders but they are much more flexible because you can have one email in several different labels (folders), which helps with finding things again when an email could have been filed under several folders and you have to check them all to find it. With Gmail, the email can be in all of the relevant folders at the same time. Handy eh?

The great thing about this approach is that you can start using labels as markers as well as ‘folders’ for a specific project or subject. Create an ‘Urgent’ label and you can start building a priority list for your work. Create a ‘Waiting On’ label and you can flag blocked work.

Stars only have one location (the ‘Starred’ tab on your sidebar) for all the different types of star icon, so you are mixing up things you’ve marked as waiting on with things you’ve marked as urgent tasks. If you use labels for this you can start creating true lists for your urgent and follow up email so that you can focus much more effectively and keep track of things.

ActiveInbox takes this idea to a new level of functionality by creating buttons for those category labels so you can add them in one click rather than clicking the label dropdown and scrolling around to find the right category.


You can also then summarise what you need to do next with the email in a to-do list or note attached to the email.

notes and to-do list

You can then even scan your email list to see what’s next with each email.

list view summary

Bonus Tip:

If you do use Labels color coding them can help a lot. It speeds up your interaction because the eye picks out color much more quickly than text. But it also makes Gmail look that bit more appealing and helps you quickly scan for emails with a specific label in your inbox.

3. Mark as Unread

Most of us use our Inbox to store all our email and if you try and read everything in your inbox, the best way of making sure you check an email again is by marking it as unread after you read it the first time.

This approach is not great for many reasons, but it can and does work for many of us.

The big risk with this approach is that an unread email disappears onto the second or third page of your Inbox and you forget to check those pages for anything left behind. This can happen very easily. Infact those inbox pages are one of Gmail’s greatest design flaws on our opinion for exactly this reason.

You can ask Gmail to show 100 emails per page in the General settings, but while this can help make sure you forget less things, it doesn’t solve the problem especially if you get hundreds of emails every day.

So if you are using ‘Mark as Unread’ to try and keep track of important emails, try to start using the multiple star icons instead. It is a much more reliable system.

4. Search

Gmail’s advanced search can be very powerful – when we remember to use it. For instance it can give you access to focused lists of contacts by searching for specific contacts or keywords associated with a project. You can even view several labels combined into one list by typing label:name label:name into the search bar as many times as you like.

Mastering it and remembering to use it is the real challenge though. It’s not particularly intuitive and until you force it to become part of your working routine in Gmail it is easy to overlook the many ways it can save you time and help you focus.


5. The Inbox Zero way

The idea of Inbox Zero is to use your inbox as a sorting room rather than the repository for all emails, ever. You ‘archive’ every email you read – which means you can still access that email in the ‘All Mail’ folder forever. It’s just not in your inbox anymore.

archive button

The strength of this method is that your inbox only holds emails which you haven’t dealt with, and you stop losing track of important emails because they’ve fallen onto the second or third or fourth page – as long as you read your emails every day!

Archiving everything means you need to use labels much more, and check your labels regularly. This is where creating task ‘status’ labels like ‘Waiting On’ or ‘Action’ comes in useful, as instead of having to look through all your project labels for things you need to deal with you can just check two or three status labels to keep on top of everything.

ActiveInbox was built to help you achieve Inbox Zero in Gmail by giving you quick and easy ways to keep track of important email when you’ve archived them.

inboxzero infographic

Business Limitations of Gmail:

Sorting and Grouping Emails

Gmail as never had email sorting options – you know, the thing you find in almost every other email client that helps you work with a list of 100 emails and scan through it in the order you want to – oldest first, by sender, by category, etc…

Their reasoning has always been that you can just use their advanced search to find what you are looking for.

But that’s a rubbish answer, because sorting emails is about scanning down a list of emails in a prioritised order to find something that you don’t want to or can’t search for. Its about working and processing emails in batches – you don’t want to have to search for each batch individually. It just takes too much time. And as we’ve discussed, Gmail’s advanced search is hardly the most intuitive thing and it is easy to forget to use it if you’re not in the habit.

ActiveInbox is the only Gmail extension that gives you powerful sorting and grouping options for your emails inside Gmail. You can read more about sorting and grouping emails and how we do it here.

Reminders – Following Up and Remembering to Do Things

Scheduling reminders for emails is incredibly useful if you don’t have a cast-iron organisation method for keeping on top of your emails. Reminders will ensure an important email is brought to your attention whether you’ve bothered to file it away properly or not.

Schedule Emails to Send Later

Scheduling email to automatically send later is one of those formerly nice-to-have features that is rapidly becoming a must-have feature. That’s because it lets you catch up with email whenever you have the time but not have to worry about being seen working outside working hours – on holiday, at home or on the weekend.

You don’t want instant responses or people thinking you are at work, so being able to schedule emails to be automatically sent only during working hours really can set you free. ActiveInbox does just that, and unlike other solutions we have no limits so you can crunch through those emails when you like and not worry about being cut off.

Looking for profile information on new contacts, desktop notifications, professional looking signatures?

Discover the 9 best business Gmail extensions to help you manage that constant flood of email at work.

Recently moved from Outlook to Gmail? Read about how you can make Gmail more like Outlook with ActiveInbox.

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This was written by Andy Mitchell