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Do you spend a lot of time in your mail? Try these 6 productivity tips

March 10, 2020

These tricks help simplify your inbox and make it easier to deal with a mountain of mails.

8 min read

There are few situations as daunting as returning from an expected holiday week and finding your email inbox with hundreds, or even thousands, of mails to open. Regardless of whether you are the type of person who does not support having a single email without reading or if you are one of those who can happily ignore 20 thousand emails, it is likely that your email will cause you at least some stress. A 2012 McKinsey study, often cited, found that workers spend 28% of their workday in email and articles on how to make your email habits more productive abound .

Do you spend a lot of time in your mail? Try these 6 productivity tipsDo you spend a lot of time in your mail? Try these 6 productivity tips

I can't stand having a single unopened email at the end of the day, so I was eager to find new ways to make my inbox work better. I decided to try some of the most popular tips to save time in Gmail and see if they worked. Here are 6 that I recommend:

Segment your inbox

In my opinion, the easiest and fastest way to keep your inbox under control is by using the Gmail tab system. Instead of all your emails appearing in the main tray, they are segmented into 5 different categories: Main, Social, Promotions, Notifications and Forums. Once you choose the categories you want to use, Gmail will automatically filter your emails in different tabs. In Main you will find the emails that Gmail considers most important, Social will contain everything related to social networks, Promotions has the majority of newsletters and shopping emails, Notifications covers everything related to what you have already worked on (for example if you use Google Docs, the comments, edits and suggestions of the shared documents will be categorized here) and Forums contains the conversations of the email lists or online forums.

The classification system is not perfect (and some people claim that it actually makes them waste more time ), but for me this is the easiest way to eliminate the clutter from my inbox. As someone who often receives proposals and promotional emails, this system has helped me to know when a person sends an email to hundreds of people, instead of being an idea or request made just for me. To activate this function in your inbox, all you have to do is click on the “gearwheel” icon and select “Set inbox”. Here you will see the option to choose the categories you would like to use — I only use the first four.

Use folders and tags

If your inbox is bursting with “to review” mails, you probably need to improve the organization of your folders and labels. I have a strict rule regarding my main Gmail tray that must have less than 50 emails at all times, so I categorize them as soon as I receive them. The easiest way to do this is to analyze the type of emails you receive most frequently. I have different folders for each writer or collaborator with whom I work, another for emails related to future meetings or events, one more for the stories in which I am interested in working. I also have a folder called “to do”, where I put everything that eventually needs to be resolved. So I clear my inbox and I know where to go if I need to check some pending.

Use filters

If you receive emails from a shared address or general email associated with your company (for example or ), you should know that using filters is a way to keep your inbox clear. Often these types of emails become the easiest way for sellers to contact you and the amount of inquiries you receive can be overwhelming. If that is the case, setting up a filter for that email address can be an excellent option for you to avoid seeing those queries in your inbox every day, every day.

For example, I receive messages that are sent to a shared email address, but they were filling my inbox. So I created a filter for everything that was sent to that email and now they provide my inbox and go directly to a folder in my email that I check every few days.

To do this, click on the small triangle in the Gmail search bar. Enter the information of the emails you want your inbox to skip, then click on “create filter”. This will display options on where you want the emails to go and what should happen to them.

Activate automatic advance

One of the features that has always frustrated me about Gmail is that when you archive, postpone or delete a message, instead of taking you to the next email in the list, you return to the inbox. Maybe some people enjoy seeing how many messages they have to see, but personally I prefer to check my emails one after another. Fortunately it is very easy to change this default Gmail setting to “automatic advance”. Click on the gear icon, go to Settings, then Advanced Settings and click to “enable” automatic advance.

Create response templates

Automatic advance is just one of the many useful tools you can find in the advanced Gmail settings. If you receive many emails from people you don't know or emails with queries, consider creating response templates. I found myself writing the same answers over and over again, so I decided to check if there was a way to simplify it. It turns out there is. In the same advanced configuration menu, click on “enable” templates. The next time you find yourself writing the same answer, create a template.

To do this, write the text. Then click on the three points in the lower right corner, which appear after you enable the template function. Place the cursor on “templates”, then on “save draft as template” and “save as new template”. Then choose a name. From now on it will appear in “insert template”. My standard answer is called Standard and I use it whenever I need to respond quickly.

Use the unread message icon

Actually this only applies to people who prefer to keep the number of unread messages as low as possible, but one of the tricks I liked the most was the unread message icon. It is another tool that you can find in the advanced settings menu. Click to “enable” and you can see in the browser tab how many unread emails you have in your inbox. If you regularly have thousands of unread messages, this will probably not help you.

Email preferences are incredibly personal, but I found that reviewing everything my Gmail inbox can do was a quick and relatively simple way to be more productive in my email. I recommend that you try some of the functions and thus find which ones are right for you.

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