Bring order to your Gmail inbox with label and category tricks

On the one hand email has revolutionised communications but on the other hand so much time is wasted dealing with it, especially junk, that it is frustrating. Organise 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 or even hundreds of emails every day? You need labels, categories and rules.

How to use labels, categories, tabs and rules to organise email in your Gmail inbox

These three things can be used to automatically organise, categorise and label messages so you can easily see what is important. A disorganised 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.

Filter views with labels in Gmail

Gmail labels filter messages to show only those with a label

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 to see all the messages.

Labels are a simple and obvious way to organise 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.

Gmail menu options

The menu in Gmail

There are two menu options that are important for organising Gmail messages, Configure Inbox and Settings. Click Settings first.

Show or hide labels

Customise Gmail labels in Settings

Labels appear in the sidebar on the left in Gmail and there are several predefined system labels. Select the Labels tab in Settings and use the show and hide options to choose whether to show them in the sidebar or not. Hiding labels does not remove them or change any email messages.

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

Show hidden labels

View hidden labels in Gmail

If labels are hidden, they can still be seen and selected by clicking the More link in the sidebar (which then changes to Less). For example, if you need to access draft emails but the label is hidden, click More and then click Drafts. So hidden labels are still accessible. Use this to hide things you don’t often access.

View email categories in Gmail

View Gmail organised by category

Gmail analyses incoming emails and automatically categorises them. These are Social, Updates, Forums or Promotions. To view all Social emails, click Categories in the sidebar and then select Social.  This is a great way to filter messages and you can more easily deal with them by selecting a category.

Customise the categories

Customise Gmail categories and show or hide them

Back in Gmail Settings > Labels you can choose to show or hide labels. If you don’t get emails about forums for example, click the hide link to remove the category from the sidebar. Only shop essential items in the sidebar.

Show email on tabs in Gmail

Organise emails on tabs in Gmail

Selecting email categories in the sidebar is a useful way to filter messages but it is not the only way. You can make Gmail simpler by organising messages on tabs. Go to the gear menu and select Configure inbox. Tick the checkboxes next to the tabs you want to show and click Save.

Use Gmail tabs

Organise email messages on tabs in Gmail

Across the top of the inbox are the tabs and selecting one shows all the messages in that category. Email is automatically sorted and Gmail is quite good at working out which tab a messages should appear on. If you want to clear your inbox of old social messages for example, select the Social tab, select all the messages and delete them.

The first tab, Primary, is your inbox and it shows all the messages Gmail considers to be the most important. It is not perfect, but it it doesn’t often get it wrong.

Create a rule to sort incoming email

Create a rule in Gmail to sort incoming messages

Labels are useful but they can be made even more useful by creating rules to automatically apply them.

Go to the gear menu and select Settings > Filters and blocked addresses. and click the Create a new filter link.

The form above appears and you must enter something that will identify emails, such as who they are from, who they are to, words in the subject or message body and so on.  I want to add a label to all emails concerned with SEO, so I added SEO to Includes the words. Click Create filter at the bottom.

The From box can contain just a domain name like and multiple domains can be used like OR and so on (with a capital OR). This is a great way to highlight emails from a particular company.

Skip the inbox

Create rules in Gmail to sort incoming messages

I don’t want these emails clogging up my inbox so Skip the inbox (Archive it) is selected at the top of the next step. Then the option to Apply the label is selected. Go ahead and create the rule.

Automatically skipping the inbox for messages means that they are visible only when the label is selected in the sidebar. It keeps the inbox clean and organises your messages by label. It works in a similar way to folders, which are often used by other email services for organising emails.

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About Roland Waddilove 404 Articles
Roland Waddilove is interested in technology: Computers, phones, gadgets, software and internet. Long ago he worked on computer magazines, but is now mostly a tech writer for the web.