Gmail Labels vs Folders

March 18, 2019 | Posted by: Meghan Donovan

Gmail Labels vs Folders

How to Organize Gmail Inbox

If you’re trying to upgrade the organization of your Gmail inbox it’s important to understand how Gmail labels and folders work, and how they will work best for you.

In this article we’ll introduce you to basic Gmail inbox organization tools, compare Gmail labels vs folders that you might find in an old-school email client, and cover how each available tool will help you to organize your Gmail inbox.

We’ll also provide some tips and tricks to help you achieve the most organized Gmail inbox possible.

Basic Gmail Inbox Organization: Why It's Important

How to Organize Gmail Inbox

In a standard work day how many emails do you receive?

Well, if you’re like the average worker, then you probably send or receive 140 business emails a day.

That’s more than 17 emails per hour during a standard eight hour workday.

Mix in some personal emails, cold sales emails you receive, and junk email, and you could easily have to manage 200 emails in a given work day.

Now consider how much extra work you could do if you didn’t have to waste time sifting through all of those emails to identify the important ones that actually require your attention.

There’s your why.

Now, let’s do this!

Tips For an Organized Gmail Inbox

One of the first things you should do when setting out to organize your inbox is to think critically about how you work, what types of communication you regularly send and receive, and what types of people you communicate with via email.

For example you might regularly send and receive emails to/from:

  • Your Boss
  • Your Co-Workers (in department)
  • Your Co-Workers (in other departments)
  • Your Clients
  • Your Leads

In addition you might also receive:

  • Company-Wide Bulletins
  • Human Resources Emails
  • Payroll Emails
  • Cold Sales Emails
  • Spam

Take a moment to scroll through your inbox and write these general correspondence categories out.

This will allow you to set your inbox up to sort and filter this correspondence to save you time.

When you’re ready to improve your Gmail inbox organization and create labels, folders and archiving filters … these are the 5 steps you should take to achieve inbox nirvana:

Step 1: Choose the Best Gmail Inbox Layout for You

Choose the Best Gmail Inbox Type

How your Gmail inbox looks can be changed .. just click the drop-down arrow next to “Inbox” on the left-hand side of your screen.

There are 5 Inbox layouts available, and you can try them all out to choose what’s best for you.

They include:

  • Default - The standard inbox view which organizes your inbox by the date and time you receive the email. You can upgrade this by selecting different categories for your emails, which will appear as tabs across the top of your screen.
  • Important First - Gmail will predict the most important emails and flag those with a yellow marker, placing them at the top of your inbox. Less important messages are displayed in a lower inbox (which mirrors the default view) at the bottom of your screen.
  • Unread First - Your Gmail inbox view will be split with unread emails in an inbox at the top of the screen, with the bottom inbox including everything else in a default date/time view.
  • Starred First - Again, this layout splits your screen with starred emails placed in a priority inbox at the top of your screen.
  • Priority Gmail Inbox - A combination of all of the views which uses predictive analysis to determine which emails you are most likely to need to interact with based on your past actions. Those emails will then be placed in the top, priority inbox for you.

Step 2: Add the Gmail Preview Pane to Organize Your Inbox

Add Gmail Preview Pane to Organize Inbox

In Gmail’s default view you may only be able to see the sender, subject line, and a short section of preview text. This is a pretty standard inbox view for Gmail and other email clients, but it requires most people to open an email to read the contents.

Save time by adding a preview pane (click the gear symbol in your inbox, and then click “Settings” from the dropdown, then select “Advanced” and scroll to “Preview Pane” to enable this feature.

Step 3: Gmail Labels vs Folders (how to create & use them both)

Traditionally, when you went to organize your inbox, you’d do so by creating a series of folders which you could use when filtering emails and you could place emails into manually.

This functionality remains in Gmail, but Gmail Labels offers enhanced functionality and the ability to organize your inbox even better than with simple folders.

To organize existing emails in your inbox, select them and then click on the Labels icon at the top of the screen (it looks like a shopping price tag). This will allow you to assign that Gmail label to one or more selected emails.

You can also create new custom labels, which I absolutely recommend.

I suggest color-coding your labels as well. This will help you quickly ascertain their priority, and to identify incoming emails by type.

For example all emails from your boss or CEO might have the “VIP” label in the color red so they catch your eye right away and are all kept for reference. “TEAM” might be a green label which is applied to communication with everyone in your department. “HR” could be yellow and applied to all human resources communications, “CLIENT” could be blue and applied to all client communications, etc.

Gmail Labels

The way you set up your labels is, of course, up to you and should be customized to the way you work and communicate.

Gmail Folders

As you create these custom labels, you’ll notice that a corresponding folder will be created and added to the left side of your screen, below your inbox.

These Gmail folders allow you to quickly view all correspondence with a specific label, whether that email is still in your inbox or has been cleared and archived in the folder that corresponds to its label.

Step 4: Set Up Those Gmail Inbox Filters

We all receive regular corporate communication that we don’t have time to read, or that isn’t relevant to our department.

Take a week and pay attention, making a list of the specific emails that fall into this category, and consider other filter categories you’ll need to sort your inbound email, then create Gmail filters to send those emails to a separate folder where they’re accessible to review later, but don’t clog up your inbox.

To do this, open the email, click on the “More” button at the top of your inbox and select “Filter messages like this” from the drop-down menu. Then you can set up a filter based on sender, email subject, keywords, attachments, and other things.

Setting Up Filters in Gmail

Once you have the filter set the way you want it, click “Create filter with this search” and the action that you’d like that filter to take (Move to XYZ Folder), and click “Create filter.”

In this way you can have low priority corporate emails sent to Folder A, weekly reports to Folder B, human resources emails to Folder C, etc. so that your Gmail inbox is organized and clean.

Step 5: Gmail Send and Archive (your new best friend)

Once your Gmail inbox is properly set up and certain emails are properly archived and sorted to specific folders, you should get into the habit of instantly archiving emails as you hit send on your reply.

To activate this Gmail feature click the gear icon, then “Settings” and scroll to “Show ‘Send & Archive’ button in reply” and save your changes.

Gmail Send & Archive

With this feature, every time you reply to a message you can simply send as usual, or you can send the email chain to the archive to clear it from your inbox.

One tip is to label the message/conversation first, so that when you click Send & Archive it will be archived in the proper folder, rather than being sent to the abyss of the “All Mail” archive.

This is one of my favorite features in Gmail and can really help you maintain a clean, organized inbox to cut down on clutter and to free up as much time as possible to do your actual work.

Gmail Labels, Folders, View & Archiving to Organize Your Inbox

Gmail Labels vs Folders - Gmail Inbox Organization Tips

Gmail offers a suite of tools and functions which make it easy to create a system that will keep your inbox organized, save you time, and free you up to focus on important business tasks.

Setting up your Gmail inbox to improve efficiency and organization by leveraging Gmail labels, Gmail folders, and allow you to Send and Archive emails as you reply to them doesn't take long, so get started now!


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