Two quick tips for managing your overflowing Gmail inbox

Managing an overflowing inbox is not just a Gmail problem, but Google Apps does offer a few ways to get your incoming email under control.

Email is a great communication tool, but that is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the ability to communicate very effectively; the curse is that those communications can overwhelm your ability to manage them. This problem is not peculiar to Gmail, but Google Apps does have a few tools that will help you manage your inbox.

Note: I am using the Google Enterprise edition of Gmail. These features have to be activated by your organization's IT department. Further, this does not necessarily apply to free personal Gmail accounts.

Inbox style

The first tool is a feature introduced on July 7, 2011, called inbox styles. There are now several style tabs displayed across the top of the Gmail inbox, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

New inbox styles

The styles include:

  • Classic
  • Important first
  • Unread first
  • Starred first
  • Priority Inbox

You can read about the styles in the Official Gmail Blog, but the Priority Inbox is really the only one that needs further explanation. With the Priority Inbox clicked important and unread messages appear at the top, then starred messages, and then the rest. You can customize these settings for even more control.

Depending on what kind of messages you receive, you can go a long way to managing an unruly inbox with these inbox style features.


The other Google Apps tool you can use to regain control of an overflowing inbox is the star system. By default you can only mark a message with one kind of star in Gmail. But you can add more stars and other icons to your arsenal through a simple change to the settings.

While in Gmail, click the gear icon in the upper left corner and navigate to the settings screen. On that page (Figure B), you will see an area called Stars. Change the Preset choice from 1 star to 4 stars or go hog-wild and click the all stars link.

Figure B

Change to add more stars

Now you have more choices for marking incoming messages and you can develop your own system for prioritizing messages. This requires a little planning on your part, but it can be very effective when managing your incoming email.

Have you got a clever way to manage your incoming messages in Gmail? Help you colleagues by sharing your best solutions to an overflowing inbox.


Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.


I rarely use gmail (personal). In the enterprise it is Lotus Notes. My other personal addresses (ATT/Yahoo & Hotmail) are the ones running over, but I use Outlook to drop my ATT/Yahoo mail to my computer at home, taking it off their servers. With Hotmail, I just try and read some delete some, move to folders to get them out of the inbox. Too many mailing lists! This business of prioritizing mail or colorizing or sorting, sounds like a big nuisance more work than it is worth, how would you set the criteria? it is not like I get email from my boss on a regular basis. Do I set the high priority to the Tech Republic newsletters? or the ZDnet or PC Magazine or are they relegated to no priority or my digital magazines...? If it weren't for them I would get mail every other day it seems like. The highest would have to be ones involving work to do.


All those emails you don't quite know what to do with - but also wouldn't quite decide to delete - can be archived: in bulk, or by category - each to its own folder. Given the ever expanding inbox capacity in gmail, it shouldn't be a problem. P.


on Gmail is just what the doctor ordered for me. I use Thunderbird to consolidate 2 additional email accounts on Gmail then access all using T-Bird. I have set up folders and rules on Gmail to keep my email sorted. I have found that T-Bird does a spectacular job of identifying junk based on my actions of the past 4 months. My Google calendar is also availble in T-Bird. One other advantage is I can use ANY Internet capable device to access Gmail and all saved mail is available.


One of the selling points of gmail is having a mailbox so large you don't need to delete anything. If your inbox gets full, use the archive feature to hide it from view in your inbox. Then you can still leverage the power of Google's search engine to search your old mail. Doing the servers a disservice? This is the reason they exist. You're doing them a favor by giving them a purpose for existing rather than being repurposed for running FarmVille on Google+ :)


I just delete items as I go along. This way the only things left are messages with good information or attachments. Most things don't need to be kept and you are doing the servers a disservice by forcing them to keep all of your trivial crap.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you got a clever way to manage your incoming messages in Gmail?


Oh, it's servers running farmville, crying out in agony... A fate worse than being stripped for parts, for sure.

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