Do you have a ton of unread emails staring at you every time you see your email inbox? Is the badge on your email app always there, showing a higher number every day? Are you looking for a long-term solution to organize your Gmail inbox?
You’re not the only one. Many people struggle with an overflowing email inbox.
And it’s no surprise – we use our email address for so many services nowadays and they all love to send us emails.
This post is your guide to the best way to organize your Gmail inbox. It’s focused on Gmail because it’s the email provider I personally have been using for many years.
Here is how to organize your Gmail inbox in 3 steps:
- Dealing with an email backlog – all the old, unread, built-up email that is sitting in your inbox
- Having a routine for processing your email on a daily basis
- Setting up filters to automatically organize Gmail
Let’s dive into step 1 first.
1. Dealing with email backlog
Is this a familiar sight to you?
Your email backlog most likely contains many old emails that are no longer relevant and can be deleted.
And I bet you have lots of emails from subscription lists that you’re not really interested in. But they keep sending you new emails that fill up your inbox space.
That’s why we will start by deleting old emails and unsubscribing.
You should unsubscribe from newsletters or companies that send you emails regularly, but don’t provide value for you.
By unsubscribing, you’re basically turning off the faucet by letting less email come into your email inbox.
I will describe two methods below for how you can approach the deleting and unsubscribing process: a quick mass action or a more intentional approach with long-term results.
Method 1: If you don’t want to go through all your emails and take quick mass action
Deleting/marking as unread
As you probably know, Gmail can automatically categorize your emails for you with its built-in categories. These categories include primary, social, promotions, forums and updates, and are divided by tabs.
Now, do you have way too many unread emails and you don’t want to go through all the emails one by one? Then you could consider to just select all the emails that are NOT in your primary tab and delete them all. Or mark them all as unread.
Your primary inbox will also include personal emails. You might want to keep these, so you can’t use ‘Select all’ and ‘Delete’ here.
You’ll have to manually deselect the emails you want to keep and delete the rest or mark all as unread.
Another option is to round up all your unread emails and move them all into a folder (Gmail calls it labels) called ‘OLD EMAIL’, so you can start with a clean inbox.
To mass unsubscribe for emails you can use a service like Unroll.me. They generate a master list of all your email subscriptions and then it allows you to unsubscribe from any of them with a single click.
This will only impact your FUTURE email inbox, it won’t do anything with the emails that you already have in your inbox. You still need to delete those yourself.
However, a huge disclaimer for Unroll.me! Unroll.me shares information from your commercial and transactional emails with brands, retailers and marketers, to provide them with e-commerce insights and help them understand market and consumer trends. Personal information won’t be shared.
Luckily you can opt-out from this data sharing, which I personally recommend you to do. This page explains how to opt-out.
Method 2: If you want to check your emails before deleting and unsubscribing + build up a system
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you will delete everything one by one.
Say you have hundreds of unread emails, but they are from a relatively small number of senders, then you can choose this method.
I did this myself for my 1000+ unread emails. It takes some time (a few hours), but it will also help me to organize my future Gmail inbox.
First of all, if you haven’t, change your inbox type to ‘unread first’. Now you can view all your unread emails in one list. There are no category tabs anymore.
Open the first email on the list. Have you received it because you’re on an email list? Consider if you want to unsubscribe or not.
For most emails from an email list, Gmail lets you unsubscribe without looking for the unsubscribe button in the email itself. Just look next to the sender’s name and email address: there should be an unsubscribe button there as well.
You have now decided whether to unsubscribe or not. If you have multiple emails from the same sender that are unread, consider deleting them all or mark them all as unread.
This can be done very easily. At the top of the email, you will find three vertical dots. When you click there, one of the options is to ‘Filter messages like these’. It will show you all the emails from that sender.
You don’t have to proceed to create a filter. In the background all emails from that sender or list are now shown. Tick the selection box in the upper left to select all your emails. Then delete all or ‘Mark as unread’.
You could also create a filter at this point to deal with future emails as well. I will explain this in step 3: Setting up filters to automatically organize Gmail.
2. Have a routine for processing your email
Most of us check our email inbox throughout the day. It’s what happens when you have phone notifications on and/or your Gmail tab open all day.
But do you know what this results in? It fragments your attention because you’re distracted every time you’re notified of a new email.
And when you check the notification, what do you do? You glance at it, you might open it, skim it through and leave.
You’re just checking your email, not processing it.
This will lead to an inbox full of unread and unimportant emails which will only lead to more and more clutter.
Instead, set a few fixed moments in the day to open your email inbox to process your email. Close your inbox tab after and turn off ALL phone notifications for your email, even the red badge.
What does it mean to process your email? It means ADDA:
- Answer the email if it takes under 5 minutes
- Defer to your Google Tasks or a folder labeled ‘Action’ to reply later
- Delete emails that you don’t want and optionally unsubscribe right away
- Archive the email into its respective labeled folder or just archive in general
Answer emails that take under 5 minutes
If replying an email doesn’t take too much effort, just do it right then and there.
Defer emails that require more than 5 minutes to answer
If an email requires more than 5 minutes to reply or requires another task that takes time, then defer it and schedule another moment to complete it.
You can add the email to your Google Tasks and set a date and time to get back to the email. It will then automatically appear in your Google Calendar as well.
Another way is to move the email to a folder labeled ‘Action’ or ‘Follow-up’. You’ll need to schedule a time where you go back to all the emails that are in this folder.
Delete emails you don’t want and unsubscribe
While you’re processing your email, one of the options is to delete emails. This prevents an overflowing.
If it’s an email from a list that you’re subscribed to, you can also immediately decide to unsubscribe if you want.
When you’re unsubscribing on a daily basis, your inbox will never get full of emails you’re not interested in.
Archive into a folder
Archive the email after reading it. I typically do this for emails that were sent automatically, such as notifications, subscription lists, and webshop invoices.
These are emails that are useful to keep or you want to be able to go back to.
I have made folders and sub-folders for each category, such as Notifications > Bank notifications.
For some, I have made an automated filter, that will even skip my inbox and are marked as unread (see step 3).
When you’re going through your email with the ADDA method, your email inbox will stay organized.
Remember, to stay sane and make it easier for yourself:
- Turn off ALL email notifications on your phone
- Don’t keep your inbox open all day in a tab in your browser
3. Setting up filters to automatically organize Gmail
In this post, I have mentioned filters and automation – let’s take a deeper look into that and see how it can help you to organize emails in Gmail.
By using filters, you can automatically send incoming emails to specific folders, mark them as read, auto-delete, and more.
Open an email you want to add a filter on. Click on the three vertical dots on top of the email (More Options) and choose ‘Filter messages like these’.
It will then automatically fill in one of the fields, which is usually ‘From’ an email address or if it’s a subscription list, sometimes it shows a type of code in the field ‘Has the words’.
In the background it has now filtered all messages with the filled in criteria.
Click ‘Create filter’ to move to the next screen.
Let’s take my bank notifications as an example again. Usually, these are not very important so I’d rather not have them clutter my inbox, but I do like to keep them.
I have checked ‘Skip the Inbox (Archive it)’, ‘Mark as read’, and ‘Apply the label: Bank notifications.
If you’re handling your email backlog, you should also check ‘Also apply filter to x number matching conversations’ so it will move all the other emails from that sender also to the same labeled folder. Otherwise, you’ll have to move them one by one.
You can also create new labels while you’re in this screen:
Filters will help you organize your Gmail inbox automatically. It can reduce your number of unread emails and keep your inbox more clear.
Let’s get started to organize Gmail
Go forth and start clearing out your Gmail inbox!
As I mentioned, it might take a couple of hours to go through this if you have many unread emails and to set up filters.
But it’s so worth it.
You’ll immediately notice how your inbox is more clear and how much easier it is to keep it clear by setting up filters and unsubscribing.
With the ADDA routine, your inbox won’t longer stress you out and it is a long-term solution to having an organized Gmail inbox.
Do you want to learn more Gmail hacks? Let me know in the comments down below.