Is your Gmail account out of control? Here are some tips and tricks for organizing what you want to keep and jettisoning the clutter.

Note: Some of these settings are more easily accessible via desktop. But don't worry, once you have everything set to your liking, they'll make your on-the-go life easier, too.


1. Configure your basic settings.

This is the first and easiest task. Click on the cog icon (in the top right corner on desktop; top left drop-down menu on mobile) and choose the layout, theme and the order in which new messages appear in your inbox. You might have to experiment to see which suits your needs. Do you want emails in order? Or would it help you to have related emails grouped together?


2. Get acquainted with the tools.

These icons appear at the top of every email you open on the desktop version of Gmail:  

  • archive (box with a downward arrow)
  • report spam (stop sign with exclamation point)
  • delete (trash can)
  • mark as unread (envelope)
  • snooze (clock)
  • add to tasks (check mark in a circle)
  • move to (folder with right arrow)
  • label (shape of a gift tag)
  • more (three dots) 

On mobile, you'll see archive, delete, unread and more. We won't address all of them in this article, but you might want to experiment.


3. Learn to love labels.

After opening an email, you can click on the label icon at the top and give it one or more customizable labels that will then become mini-inboxes of their own on the left side of your Gmail screen (desktop) or drop-down menu (mobile). If an email relates to a specific project or event, give it that label. Emails can be labeled personal or business — "Vacation" or "Conference" or even "Ideas." Then you can click on the label name at the left of the screen to see everything you've identified with that label. Or you can search for the label from the search bar by entering "label: Conference".


4. Automate.

When you get comfortable with labels, you can automate them. From the search bar at the top of your desktop Gmail screen, click on the show search options symbol (three stacked slider bars). Enter what you want to automatically label — your boss's email address or anything that contains a client's name — and then click "create filter" at the bottom of the box. From there you can automatically add a label to incoming email, and you can also automate other functions — like forwarding personal emails to a different address. To go back in time and add labels, search for the email address or word, then check the boxes on the left of the subject line and add your label. Ta-da!

A word of caution: Before you click "skip the inbox," make sure you will remember to check the labeled inboxes regularly. Out of sight can become out of mind. 


5. Unsubscribe with gusto.

If your inbox has become a virtual junk drawer of sales promotions for stuff you don't need and e-newsletters you don't read, start unsubscribing. Some marketers make it easy; you can click "unsubscribe" right by the sender's email address. Others put it at the bottom of the email, sometimes in very fine print. Some don't give you the option at all, so you can feel righteous clicking the report spam icon at the top of the email. 

Pro tip: Every time you unsubscribe, do a search for past emails from that address and delete them all. This will not only declutter your inbox, but might even nip the temptation to buy something frivolous in the bud.


6. Trash ruthlessly.

Eventually you need to admit you're never going to read all those old emails. Decide just how old is too old, then go to the search bar and search for all the emails that arrived before that date using "before:" followed by the date — for Jan. 1, 2019, the command is "before:01/01/2019". Then you can start deleting individually by clicking the box at the left of the subject line and the trash can icon on the right — or you can click the box just above the first email and trash the whole page at once. You'll even be given an option to trash all of the older emails at once. 


7. Identify the space hogs.

If you are reaching the limit of your Google storage capacity, the easiest way to make space is to get rid of the data-heavy emails first. Gmail makes this as easy as using the search command "larger:" followed by the file size. Start with "larger:10mb" and delete any of the emails that aren't worth keeping. You can save important attachments elsewhere. 


8. Schedule maintenance.

Like everything else in life, maintaining your inbox is easier if you do it more frequently. Set up a regular reminder on a day and time when you can stick to it, i.e., the first Monday of the month or the last Friday afternoon. Google can help you do that, too. 


Click here to sign up for the monthly e-newsletter: