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Using Gmail Labels and Filters

Improve Your Email Workflow

Admittedly, there are a few areas in life that I am not so organized. Laundry, bills, knowing where my shoes are, what I’m doing two days from now, etc.

Email, however, is not one of those areas. Using Gmail’s Labels and Filters, we can set up an email labeling system that is automatic, easy to use, and will improve the efficiency of your email workflow.

Labels in Gmail

If you haven’t used labels in Gmail before, they’re basically folders. Except your email messages don’t get filed away anywhere. Apply a label to a few messages, click the label on the left, and Gmail will bring up only those labeled messages. Easy and straightforward. Add the ability to create custom colors for each of your labels, sub-labels, and the fact that you don’t have to go folder-diving, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome way to organize your inbox.

Filters in Gmail

Filters are exactly what they sound like – set up a rule to filter all your incoming messages into one place or another. You can tell Gmail to do something to an email that is sent to you from a specified person, or contains a keyword, or lots of other variables. These filtered emails can be given a label, sent it to your spam folder, forwarded, marked as a priority, etc.

Combining Labels and Filters

The organizational magic is the strongest when you get Labels and Filters working together to sort your inbox for you.

1. Create a New Label

Create a new Label on the left hand side of your inbox. Pick a lovely new color to go along with your clever label name. Done.

2. Create Your New Filter

Go to Mail Settings > Filters > Create a New Filter and start setting up your new filter.

Extra Top Secret Tip:

Use the word “OR” to create one filter for multiple email addresses. For example, in the From field, we can use “[email protected] OR [email protected] OR [email protected]” to create one rule that will apply to any of these email addresses. This is great when you want to apply one label to emails sent from members of a workgroup, class, or circle of friends.

A Word of Caution

Be careful not to add too many rules to one filter. For example, if I put “[email protected]” in the From field and “[email protected]” in the To field, I’ll only end up with emails that have been sent and received from this email (like a reply to an email that was sent to me). You can always check to see how the filter will sort messages in your current inbox by clicking the Test Search button. When you’re happy with the criteria for your new label, click Next Step.

3. Choose Action / Apply Label

Now it’s time to apply your new label. Select Apply New Label and choose your new label from the dropdown menu. If you would like Gmail to apply the new label to emails already in your inbox (in addition to new emails that will be sent to you) then select the Also Apply Filter checkbox.

Tying Up Loose Ends

To and From

Like I hinted at above, if you’re trying to set up a filter that will show all emails either sent or received to a single person, you’ll have to create two separate filters. One filter will have their email in the From field, and one filter will have their email in the To field. This is useful if you send them an email, but they don’t reply, for example. If anyone knows a way around this please let me know.

Gmail+ Address

If you’re adventurous, you can set up a separate email account using a gmail + address. Basically, you add a plus symbol and any word to your normal address, and the email will still work. So if my email address is [email protected], I can sign up for a newsletter using [email protected], then set up a filter that sends all emails sent to [email protected] to a certain Label. If that email newsletter starts getting spammy like I may have suspected, then I can change the filter to send those emails right to my spam folder. There’s no guarantee that Gmail will support the + address forever, but its nice to use now while we can.

How do You Use Filters?

If you have any creative uses of Labels and Filters, I’d love to hear about them. I tend to sort my inbox by projects, so that all of the people that I’m working with on a project get filtered into one label. It makes it easy to keep track of what the current status of a project is and having the visual labeling in my inbox helps me out a ton.

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About the Author:

David is an experienced web designer and WordPress developer who runs Healing Arts Web, offering quality custom websites to small businesses and teachers. He is also a musician, avid disc golfer and espresso enthusiast.

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