On somewhat of an off-topic, I wanted to talk about working with Gmail. Half the world’s civilization uses it, including myself, both at work and at home, but many of us don’t get it right.

Gmail is not just about a practically unlimited mailbox, a place to backup files by sending them to yourself. It’s also about a whole different way to organize emails other than the traditional system of folders. Damn, I hope I’m not starting to sound like a Google commercial, and if I do, Google better pay up.

Learning how to work efficiently with Gmail saves you time, money, and headaches. Just don’t spend too much time in front of the screen please, that doesn’t seem to help the headaches. Oh, and go and get some exercise too.

You only need to utilize 3 of Gmail’s features to use it right – Inbox, Archive, and Starred:

  1. Inbox – The Inbox is practically your task queue. Only keep emails that require some sort of follow-up in the Inbox, be it emails you haven’t read yet, messages that demand a reply, or some sort of other action. The goal is to keep the Inbox empty at any point in time. Turn it into a game – see how fast you can get it cleared and for how long.
  2. Archive – As soon as you’ve followed-up on an email, clear it out of the Inbox with that Archive button at the top of window. You can view archived messages by using the All Mail link, doing a search (though the search kind of sucks), and by contact (type the person’s name in the Chat textbox and choose View recent conversations).
  3. Starred – Use stars as bookmarks. If you want to have super-fast access to certain emails in the future, such as instructional emails, links, or love letters from your ex, star them. A big tip is not to mix up the star functionality with the Inbox. The “TODO” emails should be in the Inbox, only star them if you want fast access to them in the future even after they’re out of the Inbox.

What about Labels? I have some auto-rules that label emails, but I barely assign them manually nor do I access emails by lables much. They end up containing way too many messages and having too many specific labels to use manually is too much of an annoyance for me. It’s much easier to use the search and view conversations by contact to find emails. If however you find them useful, use them by all means.

Another tip is about self motivation. If some emails end up sticking in your Inbox for too long, either gather the strength to go and follow-up on them, or recognize that you will never do so and archive them. Trust me, it will remove clutter not only from your email but also from your mind.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, go ahead and put it into action. If you have more Gmail tips don’t be shy, share them with us in the comments.