I use gmail for all my email communications as it’s very fast and reliable. In this post I want to share how I set up gmail for maximizing my productivity. I’ve been using this setup for many months and it’s working very well.

Before going any further, this is what I was looking for:

  • No distractions like chat, google buzz, and other things.
  • Ability to see in a fraction of second if there is something new I have to deal with.
  • Ability to use filters for automatically give priority to incoming emails.
  • Ability to mark important emails somehow.

Fortunately, I can easily get all of this with gmail.

gmail

As you can see, the page looks very clean, and this is what you can do to get the same:

Labels

Label are useful for grouping related emails. For example when I gave away all my books, I used a label for keeping track of all the communications with the winners.

I suggest keeping a low number of labels and to use colors if some of them are really important.

Another thing that is really important is to hide labels that you don’t have to check every time. You can do this from the labels tab on the preferences:

gmail label preferences

In my case I only show “All mail” and “Zooppa” which is a work account.

Chat

I don’t use google chat, so I just click on the “-” sign on the chat box in order to minify its box. This way it’s still enabled, but you wont be visually disturbed by it.

gmail chat

Labs

There are many features available through google labs. In my case, I only enabled flickr preview and shortcuts, and disabled all the rest. The reason is that I occasionally receive flickr links through emails and it’s nice to have a preview.

gmail labs preferences

Theme

With gmail, you have the ability to choose a custom theme, or even to make your own. I personally use the classic theme, as it’s already clean and it looks nice.

gmail theme preferences

Google buzz

Google has recently launched a new service similar to twitter called google buzz. I personally don’t use this service so I disabled it from the buzz panel. I also cancelled my public profile because I was not using it.

gmail buzz preferences

Email addresses

I group multiple email addresses into one account, so that I can access everything from one place. You can do the same by going to “Accounts and Import” and adding your other email addresses. Remember to forward incoming email from your other accounts before.

gmail account preferences

Filters

Filters are important as they allow you to define rules.

Right now I’m using two filters. The first one is simple and it just puts my work email on a specific label:

Matches: to:(*@zooppa.com) Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Zooppa", Never send it to Spam

This way I don’t have work emails mixed together with other emails. Another filter I use to automatically add a label to all the newsletters and mailing lists (source):

Matches: (subscribed | unsubscribe | subscription) Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label "Newsletter"

This second filter is important because this way I avoid newsletters and mailing lists to take space on my inbox. I can then check these emails once or twice a week (and eventually unsubscribe from them).

gmail filter preferences

Processing emails

This is of course the most important part. This is what I do when I receive a new email:

  • If it’s something I don’t want to read, I archive it immediately without even reading it. This is usually true for newsletters and it saves a lot of time.
  • If it’s something very important that I have to save for later, I apply the star label and remove it from the inbox.
  • If it’s an actionable item, I deal with it or transfer it to my todo list.
  • If I can reply now, I reply now and archive the email.
  • If reading and responding to the email requires too much time, I leave it there for later. If I ever have more than five emails of this kind in my inbox, I know I must deal with them as soon as possible.

The result is that my inbox is usually always empty and everything is in order.

Note that I apply the same approach for every other label as well.

Conclusion

I don’t receive hundreds of emails per day, but this system helps me to keep things organized. I also recommend cleaning up old labels, filters and starred items every once in a while to keep things clean.