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Gmail: How to organize your emails without folders by assigning labels

How to organize your emails in Gmail even without folders by applying labels, rules and filters. This will save you valuable time and simplifies your everyday life.

„Google is all about the search – even in Gmail.”

Google is the most famous and most-used search engine. Consequently, this was a key aspect in their email program, Gmail, which launched in 2004.  Search, instead of filing, was the baseline. This was an almost revolutionary attitude at the time.

In Gmail, there is no classic folder structure like in Outlook, but instead, labels can be assigned to emails. These can help to provide more structure, allowing emails to be found more quickly, and they can be used like folders, too. While many celebrated this type of email categorization, others didn’t quite warm to it.

The aim of this article is to introduce the history of Gmail and the various ways of organizing emails even without folders.

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The history of Gmail

It all started in August 2001. Paul Buchheit, who had previously experimented privately with email programs, was commissioned to develop a web-based email program. The first tool he successfully implemented was a search engine for his emails.

To develop the feature, he used the extremely fast search feature from Google Groups, which he had previously worked on. Soon, his colleagues also wanted to use this search function for their own emails. However, in order to be able to search for the messages, they must also be saved; but this required storage space! That’s why Google decided to make 1 gigabyte of storage available to all users. That was an enormous amount of storage back then.

For a long time, they kept the development of Gmail secret.

At the beginning of 2004, Gmail was already being used internally by most Google employees. The company decided to go public with it on April 1st. Google is known for its April Fools jokes, so many were unsure whether they could take the announcement seriously. On the day of the launch, Google was unable to build the necessary infrastructure to guarantee the planned 1 GB of storage space for millions of users. Luckily, they were able to provide 1,000 invitations to key opinion leaders. When word got around that Google was serious about Gmail, these invitations were in great demand and some of them were even auctioned off on eBay. So, a virtue became a necessity and Gmail became a huge success.

Gmail began with an email search function; Typical Google! This has since shaped the character of Gmail to a large extent. In addition to searching, Gmail offers a variety of ways to organize your emails, making them easier to find. Learn more about the key features of Gmail below.

How to organize your emails in Gmail

  1.  Assign labels!

There are a few things you should keep in mind when using labels. First of all, it’s important to remember that labels can look like folders and sometimes be used like that, too, but they aren’t folders! The inbox, and any categories that look like folders, are actually labels. An email may appear several times in different “folders”, but it is not a copy; Instead it is always the same email, just with multiple labels applied. So be careful when deleting one!

  • To create a new label, click on More in the menu column on the left.
  • Now select the menu item Create new label under Categories.
  • Finally, enter a name. Now you can choose whether this label should be classified under another existing label.
  • Click Create.
shows how to add new label name to selected email in Gmail

To assign an existing label, you can select the email and then click the label icon in the toolbar above. You can make even more precise settings, such as showing or hiding a label. To do so, select the label sign above and then choose Manage labels.

Picture shows how to manage labels and more precisely
  1. Create filters and rules

To create filters for a certain type of email, select such a message and then click the More button in the top right corner. Click Filter messages like these.

How to create filters and rules for organizing emails in Gmail

Fill in the fields according to your needs and go to Create filter.

In the next step, you can select your search criteria in more detail. For example, you can assign labels to the filter, or choose where and how the emails should be saved.

Check the box next to Apply filter to appropriate conversations, if the filter is to be applied to corresponding emails that have already been received. Finally, click the Create Filter button.

Picture shows the variety of filters and rules you can apply in Gmail to organize your emails
  1. Labelling according to importance and adjusting the priority inbox

Important emails can be displayed in the inbox in a pre-sorted manner. To do this, open the settings via the gear symbol at the top right. Go to the Inbox tab. There you can select Priority Inbox – Customize and select the desired settings.

The so-called Priority Inbox, which can be selected under the Inbox type, tries to automatically recognize important emails by analyzing the behavior of the Gmail user. Gmail remembers emails from certain senders that are read and replied to often as important. The program then displays similar messages at the top of the inbox.

The Sorted Inbox setting, however, takes a little time to learn. Filters and labels can speed up this learning process. With just one click you can mark a message as important by clicking on the small arrow-shaped tag to the left of the message. This then turns yellow.

How to speed up the learning process of the Gmail inbox by applying filters and marking important messages
  1. Mark emails with stars or symbols

Marking email with stars and symbols to organize your Gmail

Open the email settings. After selecting See all settings, stay in the General tab and scroll down to Stars. Here you can choose how many stars or which symbols should be available. Scroll all the way down and save the settings. Mark an email with a star by clicking on the star symbol to the left of the email in the inbox. Clicking repeatedly changes the color or icon depending on what you have selected in the settings.

  1. Tabs in the inbox

In order to have tabs displayed in the inbox, you have to set Default under Inbox type in the settings. You can then choose from 5 possible tabs within the categories. Click Save to apply settings.

Picture shows how to have tabs displayed in the inbox

The advantages of labels over folders

  • Several labels can be assigned to an email, but an email can only be stored in one folder. Therefore, labels are more flexible than folders.
  • As a result, a mail appears in different places; it looks like it is present multiple times, but it is not. This option saves valuable storage space.
  • Working with labels saves you a lot of time and effort needed to create and maintain folder structures and sorting the mails into the correct folders.
  • If you assign a label to an email in a conversation, you label the entire conversation. Gmail automatically learns which emails get which labels.
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Final tips for working with labels

Finally, a few tips on how to deal with labels.

  • Get used to applying labels to your emails right away. This will save you valuable time and energy in the future.
  • Use the filter function to automatically assign a label to specific senders or subject lines. Make sure, however, that you only label those that are important and will be needed later. A label structure that is too complicated can be disadvantageous.
  • Move old emails to the archive to get them out of your inbox.

With these tips and tricks, the inbox in Gmail can become clearer and the flood of emails can be better managed.

And if all else fails, there is still the very reliable search option in Gmail.


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