Using Gmail efficiently

January 7, 2011

Most of us get a lot of email.

If you’re using Gmail, here are a few simple tips on how to get a better overview of your crowded inbox. These all work well for me, but feel free to pick and choose, they’re not related.

  1. Archive anything you won’t need again anytime soon
  2. Star items that you need to respond to
  3. Use labels and filters to help finding messages visually when looking through your inbox

Tips in action



When you archive a message (shortcut: e), it disappears from your inbox, but can still be found under “All mail” (shortcut: g a).

If you fail to do this immediately, you’ll soon end up with a lot of crap littering your inbox. To clean up, move the cursor between messages (shortcuts: j and k), select each message to be archived (shortcut: x), then archive all selected messages (shortcut: e).


If you read a message that you need to respond to, do so right away or “star” it (shortcut: s) to make it appear in the Starred folder (shortcut: g s). When you have some time to spare, just check this folder and be sure to remove the star (shortcut: s) on each mail after responding to it.

Using labels

Set up labels for a few broad categories of mails you get. Don’t be too specific – labels in 15 different colors throughout you mailbox are not helpful.

Mails can be labelled manually, either when reading the mail (shortcut: l + the first few letters of the label you want) or in the overview by selecting them first. This is tiresome and you’ll probably end up forgetting from time to time.

Much better: Have Gmail label them automatically when received. Under “Settings -> Filters”, you can setup multiple filters that match incoming mail by sender’s mail address (full or just domain), subject, content keywords etc.

By the way, an undocumented feature here is that you can use OR to specify multiple values. So this is a valid filter:

Matches: from:( OR OR
Do this: Apply label "Working Bits"

And by the way…

Did you notice that I mentioned the keyboard shortcut of each command above? This is actually the important stuff, the tips were just to get your attention.

OK, not really, but using the shortcuts in Gmail is by far the biggest single productivity gain I have found so far. I never use the mouse anymore – everything I need to do can be done with shortcuts, and it is much, much faster.

8 Responses to “Using Gmail efficiently”

  1. I use these shortcuts a lot every day, they are a real time-saver. I’ve also chosen to enable the Superstars feature from Gmail labs – this allows you to have multiple types of stars, and just typing s multiple times with switch between them.

    Also, applying a “waiting for” label to individual mails is convenient when you are waiting for a reply or a package in the mail 🙂

    • chopmo Says:

      Ah yes, I think I’ll give Superstarts a try. So you use different stars kind of like I use labels?

      I have a slightly scary ability to keep record of all outstanding mails in my head, years back, so I don’t need a label for that 🙂

  2. Henrik Løvborg Says:

    the shortcut to select all mails with a certain label is ‘g’ + ‘l’. I use that often as well =)

    But yeah +1 for just using shortcuts =)

    • chopmo Says:

      Thanks, I wasn’t aware of that shortcut. I must not have checked the cheatsheet (shortcut: ?) thoroughly enough 😉

  3. sycren Says:

    I would say it is better when using a label to archive when filtering. This means that everything is sorted by the labels you define and the inbox is uncluttered and only contains personal correspondence..

    • chopmo Says:

      It’s a good point, and this would definitely remove clutter in my inbox.

      But wouldn’t this mean that I had no single place to read new mail? As far as I know, Gmail does not have an “Unread mail” folder.

  4. chopmo Says:

    Perfect, thanks Laust!

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