Getting Your Gmail Account Under Control And Working For You!

Getting Your Gmail Account Under Control And Working For You!

Inbox zeroI’ve never been able to control my email accounts! Regardless of my actions emails flow in leading to major email infestation.

James’s explanation of how he uses his email accounts as his “to-do-list”; archiving emails that have been actioned immediately and keeping those that need follow up labeled in his Inbox has helped me to take gmail from 3000+, home email from 1000+ and my work email account to ZERO!

Let me show you how to do this with gmail (HINT: Follow these steps before deleting or archiving any emails)!

Step 1: Create Labels

Labels in gmail are a bit like folders in Microsoft Outlook except you can add more than one label to an email and keep the email in your inbox (whereas with Outlook the email is move into the folder). Clicking on a label displays all messages in ALL MAIL with that label.

Look at the emails in your inbox and create labels that separates your messages into meaningful categories which you can use for managing your workload. For example I have labels like “To Do” for those I can’t action immediately but to remind me that I need to deal with and labels for conversations on specific topics or people that I need to be able to easily locate.

Don’t stress — you can add more labels at anytime and removing a label doesn’t delete emails.

Creating labels for emails

Step 2: Create Filters

Filters are great for managing incoming emails because you can set up filters that automatically label, archive, delete, star or forward emails based on keywords, email address etc. For example if I needed to keep track of emails from a specific person I set up a filter with their email(s) addresses which automatically labels them.

Creating filters

Make sure you tick Also apply filter to conversations below to apply the action to all existing emails.

Step 3: Archive All Email In Your Inbox

When you archive in gmail it takes the emails from your inbox and moves them into ALL MAIL. This cleans up your inbox without deleting them making messages findable when you search your email with keywords or click on a Label.

Gmail currently provides 7063 MB of storage space — so lots of room for keeping emails.

To archive just click on Select: All which selects the 50 messages currently display and then click on Select all conversations in Inbox. Now just click Archive — any recent messages you don’t want to archive just untick before clicking Archive.

How to Archive

Step 4: Keeping Your Inbox Empty and Using It As A To-Do List

Now that your inbox is empty to use it effectively as a To-Do List you need to keep the messages in your Inbox really low (less than 50). To achieve this you need to:

  1. Once emails have been responded to, label if necessary, and then archive them immediately!
  2. Any emails that you can’t archive (because they require action in a few days) add a label as reminder of what task you need to complete.
  3. Delete, instead of archiving, immediately any emails you don’t need to keep e.g. notifications from twitter, Facebook. Deleting moves messages across to your trash and gmail automatically deletes them after 30 days.
  4. As notifications arrive that you no longer need immediately unsubscribe from their service or set up a filter to automatically delete them.


In case you’re wondering since I always keep my Google Reader account at ZERO I’m sure the new skills I’ve gained will do the same for my email accounts. Shame I can’t say the same about keeping my house and study tidy — solution(s)?

I’ve only covered some of the features of gmail. What other features are you using in gmail to make your life easier?

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14 thoughts on “Getting Your Gmail Account Under Control And Working For You!

  1. Sue,
    A great list of basic gmail reminders. One day I will get my inbox empty…

    A particular favourite feature of mine is the “+” sign. If you sign up at a new service with the address e.g. “[email protected]” rather than “[email protected]”, you will be able to filter out any emails that come from that particular service -useful also to track spam. It can be useful in a classroom when your students don’t have an account (maybe because they are too small) – you can have all your class signing in to a site with one single email account!

  2. Sue, thanks for the great tips! I always try to keep on top of my e-mail but without any great success. After reading your post I feel better about archiving my messages (wasn’t sure what happened to them before).

    At work I use MS Outlook, which I’m not crazy about; I’m thinking I might forward all my work e-mail to my Gmail account so that it is easier to manage. Good idea or bad? I’m not sure.

  3. Thank you, Sue, for the explanation; I’ll try it soon. For the moment I would like to check if I can: 1. Open a new account on gmail.
    2. If I add to my email’s name a + followed by 6a1, for instance, does it mean that I can go and sign up to voice thread instead of a young student, thus enabling him to use this tool, along with, let’s say, a whole class?
    Could you just tell me if I can do this? Thank you.

  4. @Rafa It was totally worth it getting my gmail account to zero. Now the only emails sitting in it are those I can’t immediately deal with (3 emails) meanwhile all others are archived or deleted immediately after actioning.

    The “+” sign feature is excellent. It is a good way for teachers to set up blogs so that all comments come to them to they can ensure there are not issues with inappropriate comments. I’ve written a post on using them on The Edublogger.

    @Claire I also wasn’t sure what archiving meant. My home and work account both use MS Outlook. I’m also considering if I shoud try and send most of these emails through gmail since I can respond to the different emails from gmail by changing which email address it displays. James has been nagging me to combine all emails into the one account.

    @Ines (Inpi) Check out the post on The Edublogger about using the “+” sign as it explains in more details. If voicethreads terms and conditions are for over 13 years I can’t make that decision. I notice that Wesley Fryer has pointed out that Ning is for over 13 only – it is a shame there are these issues with these sites. Perhaps some of the companies need to set up a safe version for younger students.

    PS Hope you all notice my prompt response to comments – see comment in inbox — action it by responding then delete. Can Sue stay this efficient?

  5. Hi Sue,
    I am currently writing material for my subject advisors on how to to get organised. Can I include this wonderful “tutorial” into my material? Will cite you of course! It will be fantastic if you could upload it to slideshare for us to embed!

  6. Hi Sue thanks for the tips on GMail – my 2 additions to your list would be:

    1) Use Remember the Milk for your To-Do list and to install the GMail plugin giving you your to-do list alongside your Inbox – it has some nice features such as sending emails into your to-do list etc –

    2) The second thing I find really useful is the Superstars GMail labs feature. This gives you a much bigger palette of icons to star emails with – useful for making that To-Do list easier to manage. All you need to do is enable the GMail Labs feature in your GMail settings and then pick from the list of tools. You can even play a game of Old Snakey right there in your inbox.

    Take a look –

  7. @Tom (tbarrett) I know quite a few people who are using Remember the milk really well – Vicki Davies teaches her students how to use it. I went ahead and installed it in my gmail account and will definitely see how it goes. At the moment working really hard on actioning all emails immediately with only those I can’t being left as my to-do-list.

    Those Superstar Gmail features are amazing. Haven’t got into using stars etc yet but perhaps I should be ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Sue,
    Are we able to sync DET email to iphone? If so, do you know how? I’ve asked a few of our TAs and they don’t know.

    I always learn a lot from your blog – thanks!

  9. @Judy I don’t think we can since DET uses a secure web address. The other option would be to set up your work account so that it forwards all emails to gmail and set up your gmail account (if possible) to be able to reply to emails using your work account.

    I just have my work email bookmarked in Safari and access it using the web interface.

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