How to organize email in Gmail: Add labels to emails

Filter emails in Gmail and see only those with a specific label

On the one hand email has revolutionized communications, but on the other hand so much time is wasted dealing with it, especially junk, that it is frustrating. Organize email in Gmail with these tips.

What can you do if your inbox is permanently full of messages demanding your attention? How do you find the time to deal with dozens of emails every day? Do you find the volume of emails overwhelming? You need labels, categories and tabs.

I looked at the benefits of tabs in Show email on tabs in Gmail: The pros and cons and here I will look at using labels to organize and view emails in your Gmail inbox.

Label email messages and you can easily see what is important in your inbox. A disorganized email inbox is a waste of your time and is inefficient. Sort your messages and focus your attention on those emails that require it, not on important things.

Create a label in Gmail

Look in the sidebar on the left in Gmail and find the LABELS section heading.

Create a label in Gmail
Create a new label in Gmail

Click the plus button to the right and a New label panel opens. Enter a name for the label. It is possible to create sub-labels that are nested under other labels and you could create a Personal label and then Family and Friends labels nested under them.

Let’s keep it simple and just create a normal label, not a nested one. Click the Create button after entering its name.

Choose a color for a Gmail label
Color a Gmail label

The new label appears in the sidebar in the LABELS section. Move the mouse over it and click the three dots button that appears. Move the mouse over Label color in the menu and then select a color for the label. Setting different colors for different labels helps emails to stand out in the inbox.

Label an email in Gmail

There are several ways to add a label to an email and expert users could create a rule that is automatically applied to an incoming email to apply the appropriate labels depending on the sender or subject. However, the simplest method is to manually add a label when reading an email.

Select a label to apply to an email in Gmail
Add a label to an email

When viewing an email, click the label button in the toolbar and tick boxes next to the labels you want to add. More than one label can be applied to an email, but most of the time you will add only one.

Another thing you can do with labels is to click and drag an email from the inbox to the sidebar and drop it on a label to add it. This has the side effect of removing the Inbox label, which means that you will no longer see the message in the inbox.

This is a good way to organize your emails. Drag messages to a label and they disappear from Inbox, reducing the number and cleaning up your messages. How do you view emails that have been removed from the inbox?

Filter emails with labels in Gmail

Among other things, labels can act as filters to show only those emails that have a particular one. Just click a label in the sidebar to see all emails that have it. (Inbox is a label and that’s why you see emails when it is selected in the sidebar.)

Viewing emails with a label in Gmail
View emails with a specific label in Gmail

Here is an example of what labels can do and I have set up Google Alerts to notify me whenever certain topics appear in the news, such as Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple, Google, Microsoft. and so on.

There can be multiple messages each day, but I keep them out of my inbox with a label and a rule. All I need to do is select the Google Alerts label in the sidebar to see all the messages. They do not clutter up my inbox.

Labels are a simple and obvious way to organize messages and filter views, but did you know that they can be hidden, and they still work?

You can keep your inbox clean and keep the label list on the left short and tidy by hiding labels and only showing them when there is something new. Let’s see how to set up hidden labels.

Show or hide Gmail labels

Labels appear in the sidebar on the left in Gmail and there are system labels that Gmail needs and there are labels that you create. Inbox, Starred, Sent and some others are system labels. You have to have them.

Go to Settings in Gmail
Show Quick settings in Gmail

Click the gear icon in the top right corner of Gmail to open the Quick settings panel and then click See all settings.

Choose whether to show or hide Gmail labels
Label view options in Gmail

Select the Labels tab in Settings and use the show and hide options to choose whether to show these system labels in the sidebar or not. Hiding a label does not remove it or change any email messages.

See More below the system labels in the sidebar? This is where labels you hide are moved to. Click More under the labels list to view hidden labels and then click one to see emails with that label.

Show and hide labels in Gmail sidebar
Show hidden labels in Gmail

Here I hid Snoozed and Important. They can now only be seen if the More link is clicked. Compare this with the previous screenshot. More becomes Less in the sidebar and it hides those labels when clicked.

Some labels can be set to show if unread and this is very useful. For example, Spam and Drafts can be hidden in the sidebar in Gmail and shown only if there are unread items. It makes the sidebar simpler, cleaner and tidier.

Customize your own Gmail labels

Select Settings > Labels and at the top are system labels. Scroll down the page and your own labels are listed and can be shown or hidden.

Show or hide labels in Gmail
Show or hide Gmail labels

At first sight, this is a bit confusing because there are two columns of view options with show, hide and show if unread. The first column is used to show or hide the label in the sidebar. Show a label and it appears in the LABELS list. Hide it and you have to click More to see it.

The second column of show/hide options determine whether labels are shown or hidden in the inbox. They precede the subject of the email like this.

Gmail inbox showing labels and categories
Labels in the inbox in Gmail

Here you can see a green label and a blue label. When labels are shown in the inbox, it makes messages stand out in the list. You can easily see which messages are important or not so important.


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