The Gmail Clean Inbox Workflow

Email is a good place to quickly engage in correspondence without getting completely distracted from your actual work. The Clean Inbox Workflow below revolves around quickly separating the emails you need to deal with from the ones you don’t, while still giving you the ability to find any email you’ve ever sent or received. Here’s how it works:

Step 0: Prerequisite

You might want to go through the Gmail Settings You Should Enable so that your Gmail is “dialed in” for the following workflow.

Step 1: Check Your Email

unreadcount.gifDepending on how many mails you get you may do this once, twice, or a few times a day. Try to avoid constantly returning to your inbox to check for new emails. Statistics show that  10% of received emails are items you need to take action on. The remainder just need to be archived for future reference (if at all). Don’t worry if they pile up, in the next steps you’ll see how to archive (without losing) them.

Step 2: Gut the Spam

Scan through the items in your inbox and click the checkbox next to any that are obvious spam. Once you’ve selected them all, click the Spam button at the top. reportspambutton.gifThis not only removes them from your sight, but it trains the Gmail spam filter to recognize messages like that in the future. (This also has an added benefit for those of you using Google Apps in your school or business, as the spam filter applies what it learns to the organization’s spam filter, so as a group you can help combat spam simply by marking spam as spam).

Step 3: Star the Action Items

Now scan through your inbox again. Gmail is nice enough to not only show you who sent an email, but the first 15 or so words of the email. gmailstar.gifWith this information you should be able to tell whether or not the message is one you need to take action on, or whether it can be archived for future reference. Simply scroll through the messages and click the little star icon for the items you know you need to reply to or take action on.

Step 4: Archive it All

selelctallandarchiveNow that you’ve starred the action items, you can go ahead and archive *everything* in your inbox. This is the step that feels so good. Keep in mind you’re not deleting anything, you’re just moving it out of the Inbox and into the All Email folder. Click the All link at the top of the email list, then the Archive button. You can also do this with with a quick keystroke by typing: “*-a” to Select All, then “e” to Archive (provided you’ve enabled keyboard shortcuts).

Once archived, your Inbox will be empty. It’s like magic!

Step 5: Go To Work

Now it’s time to get work done, which means you need to reply and complete tasks from your Starred folder. Do this by going to the Starred folder and dealing with the emails. Once dealt with, click the Star icon again: the star will go away and the email won’t appear in your Starred folder anymore. You can then Archive it form your Inbox, knowing it’ll always be in your All Mail folder.

Step 6: When You Need to Refer to an Old Email

allmail.gifTo access archived emails, you can browse your All Mail folder by clicking the link on the left of your Gmail. But this folder is most likely to contain thousands of unorganized emails. Instead, remember the Gmail motto:

Search Don’t Sort

It’s easier to find that past email by typing the subject, sender, or any keyword you can remember about the email in the search box and hit enter.


And that’s all there is to it! When you’ve mastered this workflow you’ll be able to keep a clean inbox while making sure everything that needs a reply gets one. replying-to gets a reply.

If you want to learn more:

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