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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO GMAIL / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 3: Inbox Management and Labels

Gmail Guide 3

In today’s lesson, we’re going to help you understand how to better categorize your inbox and organize your messages with labels and some predefined but configurable tabs.

Once your Gmail account gains some steam and you begin to receive a bunch of messages, you will want to learn to tame the torrent into more manageable streams. Gmail’s filters allow you to manage your incoming email messages, helping you keep your less important email out of your way and filtered into a label. Before you start learning about filters in Lesson 4, you will need to learn how to create and labels, the Gmail equivalent of folders, and that’s what we’ll talk about today.

First though, we’re going to talk about Gmail’s automated tabs interface, Priority Inbox, and all the settings that they contain.

Automatically Categorize Your Inbox Using Configurable Tabs

Gmail now offers tabbed, automatic categories for your inbox. This feature breaks your inbox into “Primary,” “Social,” “Promotions,” “Updates,” and “Forums.” If you participate in many online services, this feature can be handy.

Basically, messages received for certain types of sites or of a particular content, it can be collected in different parts of your inbox. This can result in a less cluttered inbox.

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Choose Which Tabs are Visible in Your Inbox

These tabs are configurable allowing you to choose which tabs you want available in your inbox. To change which tabs are visible, click the plus icon to the right of the tabs.

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The “Select tabs to enable” dialog box displays. Select the check boxes for the tabs you want available in your inbox.

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NOTE: If you hide a tab, messages from that category will display in your “Primary” tab instead. Also, the text on the tabs cannot be changed and you cannot add custom tabs. Use custom labels instead (discussed in the next section) to further categorize your messages.

You can also select which tabs to display in your inbox on the “Inbox” tab on the “Settings” screen, in the “Categories” section.

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Organize Your Messages Using Inbox Styles and Settings

Inbox styles allow you to organize your Gmail inbox in the way that suits you best. You can organize your inbox using the configurable tabs, as mentioned earlier in this lesson, or into sections such as “Unread,” “Starred,” and “Important.”

Change your inbox type

To change to a different inbox style, open the “Settings” screen and click the “Inbox” tab.

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In the “Inbox type” section, select the type of inbox you want to use from the drop-down list.

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Each type of inbox has its own settings. Once you select the “Inbox type,” the settings for that type display below the “Inbox type” selection. Make your changes to the settings and click “Save Changes.”

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You can also quickly change some of the inbox style settings right in your inbox clicking the down arrow that’s located at the far right of each section heading.

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Gmail Help provides descriptions of the inbox types. Feel free to experiment with the different inbox styles to see what works best for you. You can always switch back to the default if you change your mind.

You can also quickly change the style of your inbox by moving your mouse over the “Inbox” label and clicking the down arrow that displays. Select the desired inbox style from the “Inbox Type” drop-down menu. Notice that moving your mouse over each style provides a short description of each type.

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Organize and Categorize Your Messages Using Labels

We briefly introduced you to labels in Lesson 1 of this series. Labels allow you to organize your email messages into categories. They are similar to folders however, unlike folders, you can apply more than one label to a single message.

NOTE: Gmail supports a maximum of 5,000 labels, including sub-labels. If you exceed this limit, you may find that your Gmail experience is slower, and you may experience errors. Remove the labels that you might not be using anymore. Deleting labels does not delete messages.

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Create a New Label

You can create your own custom labels to keep your inbox organized and even move messages out of the inbox into your labels (acting as folders). We will show you how to create a label nested under another label, like a subfolder within a folder.

To create a new custom label that will be the main folder, click “More” in the list of labels on the left side of the main Gmail screen.

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When the list expands, click the “Create new label” link.

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Enter a name for the label in the “Please enter a new label name” edit box on the “New Label” dialog box. Click “Create” to finish creating the new label.

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NOTE: Because this is the parent label that will contain the sub-label, we will not nest this label.

To create a sub-label under the parent label you just created, click “Create new label” again.

On the “New Label” dialog box, enter the name of the sub-label you want to create in the “Please enter a new label name” edit box. Select the “Nest label under” check box, select the parent label you just created from the drop-down list, and click “Create.”

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You can also create a nested label by entering the parent label, followed by a slash (/), and then entering the nested label name – all in the “… new label name” edit box. For example, we could enter “Personal/Friends” in the edit box and not select the “Nest label under” check box.

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NOTE: The parent label must already exist to create a nested label under it. You cannot create both labels at the same time. In our example, we must create the “Personal” label first before creating the nested “Friends” label.

The nested label looks like the following example.

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The new parent label, with its nested label, is also added to the list of labels available on the “Labels” action button, as well as the list of labels available on the “Move to” action button.

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Apply Labels to Messages

There are two ways of applying labels to messages. You can apply labels to messages while leaving the messages in your inbox. You can also move messages onto labels as you would move them into folders. We will show you both methods.

Apply Labels to Messages While Leaving Them in Your Inbox.

This method allows you to easily apply multiple labels to a single message.

To apply a label to a message while keeping the message in your inbox, select the check box to the left of the message to select it (or open the message). Then click the “Labels” action button and select one or more labels from the drop-down menu.

Remember, you can apply more than one label to a message. The “Labels” menu does not go away once you select your labels, so you can select multiple labels at once.

To apply the selected labels to the messages, click “Apply” at the bottom of the menu.

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The labels then display to the left of the message’s subject line.

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If you have a long list of labels, you can start typing a label’s name after clicking the “Labels” action button to find the label in the list.

Apply a Label to a Message and Move it Out of Your Inbox

To apply a label to a message and move the message out of your inbox at the same time, drag the message to the desired label in the list on the left. As you move the mouse over the list, it will expand to display labels that may currently be hidden.

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Note that you can use this method to identify message as spam, in addition to using the “Report spam” action button. Simply drag the offending messages into the “Spam” label.

Moving a message to the “Trash” label deletes the message. This is the same as selecting a message, or opening it, and clicking the “Delete” action button.

Open a Label

Opening a label is like opening a folder. All messages associated with that label are listed. To open a label, click the desired label in the list of labels on the left side of the main Gmail screen. If the desired label is not visible, click “More” to access the full list.

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All messages associated with that label are displayed. Notice the search term in the “Search” box. Gmail automatically fills in the “Search” box with the appropriate filter to display the selected messages. We will discuss filters later in this lesson.

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Note that if you apply a label to a message without moving the message into that label (and out of the inbox) and then you open the label, the “Inbox” label displays on the message, indicating that the message still resides in the inbox.

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To go back to your inbox, click the “Inbox” label in the list on the left.

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If you want to move the message back to your inbox, simply open the label folder to access the message and drag the message back to the inbox. Note that the message still has the label applied to it.

Remove a Label from a Message

If you decide you don’t want a specific label associated with a message, you can easily remove it.

To do so, select the message using the check box to the left of the message, or open the message. Click the “Labels” action button, de-select the label in the drop-down menu that you want to remove from the message, then click “Apply.”

NOTE: You can remove multiple labels from a message at one time. Simply select all the labels you want to remove in the “Labels” drop-down menu before clicking “Apply.”

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Change the Color of a Label

You can assign colors to your labels so you can easily spot them in your inbox. By default, all labels are colored with a light gray background and dark gray text. The “Personal/Friends” label in the image below uses the default color. The other labels, “HTG School” and “Admin,” have other colors applied to them.

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To change the color on a label, move your mouse over the desired label. Click the down arrow to the right of the label to access its drop-down menu.

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Move your mouse over the “Label color” option and select a text and color combination by clicking on it.

You can also use the “Remove color” option to remove color from the label and revert to the default.

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If you don’t want any of the displayed combinations, you can select a custom combination by clicking “Add custom color”. Select a “Background Color” and a “Text Color” on the “Add custom color” dialog box that displays.

Preview the selected combination where it says “Preview Label Color.”

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Setup One-Click Access to Standard and Custom Gmail Labels

You can easily create one-click access to labels.

To do this, open a label as we discussed earlier in this lesson, then drag the favicon of the page from the address bar to the Bookmarks toolbar. Now, you can click this bookmark to access all your messages associated with this label.

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Hide and Show Labels in Gmail

If you have a long list of labels in Gmail, you may want certain labels visible that you use more often while hiding the rest.

Hide a Label

To hide a label in Gmail, click the label you want to hide in the list of labels under the “Compose” button and drag it to the “More” link beneath the list of visible labels.

NOTE: The “More” link becomes the “Less” link as you move the label to it.

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The label is moved so it is listed below “Categories,” which displays when you click “More” to expand the list of labels. If the “Less” link is available rather than the “More” link, the “Categories” can be viewed simply by moving your mouse over the list of labels.

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Make a Hidden Label Visible

To make a hidden label visible, click “More” (if necessary) to display the “Categories” section. Click and drag the desired label from the “Categories” section to the “Inbox” label.

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The label is moved back to the main list of labels, in alphabetical order.

Hide Preset System Gmail Labels Such as Starred, Sent Mail, Drafts, Spam, or Trash

The pre-set Gmail labels can also be hidden. To hide any of these labels, click “More” under the list of labels.

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Click “Manage labels” under “Categories.”

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The “Labels” Settings screen displays.

In the “System labels” section, find the system label you want to hide and click the hide link in the “Show in label list” column.

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NOTE: The label is not completely hidden, rather, it is moved under the “More” link.

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Access Labels Settings on the Settings Screen

The “Labels” settings screen can also be accessed using the “Settings” button. We will be referring to various parts of the Settings screen throughout this series. The procedure for accessing “Settings” will always be the same.

To access the filter tools on the “Settings” screen, click the “Settings” (gear) button in the upper-right corner of the main Gmail window.

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Then select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.

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Once on the “Settings” screen, you can access settings for “Labels,” “Filters,” “Inbox,” “Themes,” and other parts and features of Gmail.

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Hide Labels with No Unread Mail Automatically in Gmail

With the ability to hide labels and to automatically direct messages into those labels using filters (see the next section), you may be wondering how to quickly tell if you have unread messages in the hidden labels. You can easily choose to show hidden labels when there are any unread messages in them. That way, you don’t miss any important messages.

To setup Gmail so it hides labels unless they contain unread messages, access the “Labels” settings screen using one of the methods previously mentioned.

For each system and custom label you want hidden if it does not contain unread mail, click the “Show if unread” link.

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Notice that in the list of “System” labels you can only hide the “Draft” and “Spam” labels if they don’t contain any unread messages. This feature does not apply to “Categories” and “Circles.”

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You can quickly apply this setting to all your custom labels by clicking the down arrow next to “Show in label list” at the top of the “Labels” section and selecting “Show all if unread” from the drop-down menu.

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Coming up Next …

This brings us to the end of Lesson 3. You should have a fairly firm understanding of how to keep your inbox organized using different tabs, styles, and settings. Best of all, you’re well on your way to mastering your email using labels!

In the next lesson, we’ll broaden our discussion of labels to include filters – such as how to use filters to automatically apply labels, as well as how to take your existing filters and export them to another Gmail account.

Then, to close things out, we introduce the star system, which helps you keep track of important emails.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 02/26/14

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