Inbox Zero: Take Back Control from Gmail

Since the early days of the internet, e-mail has been a lasting part of both our work and social lives. Fast, accessible, and mostly free explains why it’s remained the most preferred method of communication for years on end.  As convenient and important as our inboxes are, emailing can get overwhelming. Waking up to hundreds […]

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Since the early days of the internet, e-mail has been a lasting part of both our work and social lives. Fast, accessible, and mostly free explains why it’s remained the most preferred method of communication for years on end. 

As convenient and important as our inboxes are, emailing can get overwhelming. Waking up to hundreds of unopened messages or sifting through junk mail is unquestionably stressful. Sometimes it’s just easiest to leave unimportant mail unopened, which can quickly lead to messages piling up and an extremely cluttered inbox.

Decluttering Tips for Gmail

Aside from being free, Gmail stands out from its competitors as it offers more storage and security. But the best features are the ones that help us declutter an overcrowded inbox, and they can often be overlooked.

Filters and labels

Manage your emails automatically by applying labels to your incoming messages.

If your job sends you regular automated email notifications/alerts use filters to directly send them to a separate folder. If you work with lots of different departments, it may make sense for you to add a  filter for each so you can more easily navigate your messages.

If you receive a lot of newsletters and marketing emails, you can automatically archive them so you will never have to see them in your inbox again.

Here are the options for choosing filter criteria:

  • From – Filter messages from a specific email address
  • To – Filter messages sent to a specific email address
  • Subject– Filter messages that use a specific subject line
  • Has the words– Filter messages that have specified keywords
  • Doesn’t have– Filter messages that don’t contain specified keywords
  • Has attachment– Filter messages that do have an attachment
  • Doesn’t include chats– Ignore chats from Google Hangouts when applying filters
  • Size – Filter messages that are larger or smaller than the specified file size

Once you’ve selected the criteria for your filter, you can then choose what Gmail does with emails that match the filter:

  • Skip the inbox– Automatically archives the email
  • Mark as read– Automatically makes the email appear as an already-read item in your inbox
  • Star it– Automatically “Star” the email
  • Apply the label– Automatically forwards the email to a different email address
  • Forward it to– Automatically sends the email to the trash
  • Delete it– Automatically deletes the email
  • Never send to Spam– Prevents Gmail from marking the email as spam
  • Always mark it as important– Automatically marks emails as important
  • Never mark as important– Prevents Gmail from tagging  filtered emails as important
  • Categorize as– Automatically categorizes filtered emails
  • Apply a filter to matching conversations– Automatically applies the selected conditions to every email that match the selected filter criteria.


The “Mute” feature is great if you are part of an email conversation that is no longer relevant to you or doesn’t require much of your attention anymore. Muting a conversation keeps future responses to a thread out of your inbox. You can still view and/or join the conversation by going to “All Mail.”

The thread will only reappear in your inbox if a new message within the conversation is sent solely to you or if your email is added to the “To” or “Cc” fields.

However, it is still advised to review muted conversations every now and then to ensure that you haven’t missed important updates.


Snooze allows you to select another time for the email to appear in your inbox. With this feature, you can temporarily remove emails from your inbox until you want to view them.

You can snooze an email with a meeting agenda to appear 15 minutes before meeting time or snooze an email that requires a less urgent response. This feature is handy if you want to concentrate on a task at hand without distractions from other emails while ensuring you’ll still receive a notification when you have less going on.

Undo Sent Messages

I’m sure that there are times when you accidentally sent out an email that wasn’t totally ready or caught a typo too after sending.

“Undo send” is a great precautionary feature. As the name implies, you can unsend an email. In your settings, you can select the amount of time allowed after hitting send to undo.  The options are 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds.

Regardless, you have to be quick. After the specified time has elapsed, you can no longer use this feature.

Priority Inbox

This is a viewing option on Gmail. It separates your emails into three sections: important & unread, starred, and everything else. It will take a little bit for your inbox to figure out what is important to you but the longer you use it, the better it is at making those predictions and the better it is at customizing your inbox.

Although Gmail’s Priority Inbox is a great way to prevent email overload it gets a bad rap. The reason it’s gathered some unpopularity is due to the visual changes it’s had on the layout of your inbox. Although the new look takes some getting used to Priority Inbox saves a lot of time and energy otherwise spent sifting through unimportant emails to find the pressing ones.

Email isn’t going anywhere (as far as we know) so becoming comfortable navigating your inbox efficiently will make your life a lot easier.  Gmail has handed us tools to cut down on time wasted reading useless threads and promotional junk so we should take advantage of them.

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