I met up with my incredibly talented friend Nada for lunch at Google Zürich today. You can read about how lovely the Google offices are elsewhere on the internet. Nada works on the Gmail team, and she’s the second hacker at Google working on Gmail to deem me a “power Gmail user.” Never fear, it’s actually not that hard to qualify for this distinction in the event you don’t already. Fewer than 2% of Gmail users use stars, and an even smaller minority use labels, filters, and multiple inboxes.
I’m not big user of stars, but labels and filters are key to my email workflow. I’ll outline my workflow in what follows, but I’ll give the keystones first.
- Any email I plan to respond to is immediately labeled “To Respond” the moment I realize this.
- Any email which reaches my primary inbox is intended to be priority mail, if it’s not it spawns a new filter to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
OK enough with the trite lists, here’s the protein of the post broken down by power feature and power use. This is only the tip of the iceberg (I use several other lab features) but these are the most important features for my personal workflow.
As I mentioned, I’m not a big user as I consider the starring feature a lite version of labels, but I am a user in the end. When I star an email, it means I will need to refer to it often as reference. It might be flight information, account information, or conference details. When the information becomes obsolete, I unstar.
This is a feature from Google Labs. From the Labs description:
Add extra lists of emails in your inbox to see even more important email at once. The new lists of threads can be labels, your starred messages, drafts or any search you want, configurable under Settings.
I have two additional email boxes in addition to my primary inbox, displayed to the right. My primary inbox is for high priority mail, my secondary inbox displays all new mail (so once I finish with high priority mail, if I have the time and inclination I move to this), and my tertiary box displays all messages tagged “To respond”.
Labels are integrated into mainstream Gmail. I have 39 labels, and most emails are automatically labeled via filters requiring no input on my part. Example labels include those differentiating which email account the email was originally sent to (I have all accounts forwarded to Gmail), those for list subscriptions, those for family and friends, and those for particular subsets of my professional and financial lives.
I have a full 114 handcrafted filters. It got to this number as whenever I receive an email in my priority inbox which is not priority, I make the effort to create a filter. Gmail makes this easy by offering a Filter messages like these button under the More Actions menu which makes a best guess about the distinguishing feature of the email, which can then be tweaked if necessary in a matter of seconds. I use filters primarily to assign a message to an inbox (primary or secondary) based on the sender, message content, and designated recipient and optionally associate a label with the message. The labels I use mainly to help me in exploring messages landing in my secondary inbox in a structured manner.
Keyboard shortcuts can be enabled in Labs. These let me easily navigate between different labels. For example typing gl then the name of the label (there’s autocomplete so this doesn’t take many keystrokes) brings up all messages with that label. gl Inbox brings me back to my inbox, and j and k allow me to navigate between different messages without leaving my keyboard.