Peering Inside My Inbox

Posted by – October 7, 2010

I was talking to my friend John Richards from Perturbed Normal (A near-vacant blog that I think shows promise, but has hardly any posts as of yet).  I often bounce ideas off of him as I trust his opinion and we tend to have more skill overlap than others I know (who else will discuss cryptographic hash functions with me?).

Long story short I was wondering if he had any cool tips for Gmail or Google Reader labels as I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning and I feel there must be a better way that I just don’t see.  We both then agreed (I plan to hold him to it) that we’ll blog about what we have and can find.  So I thought I’d kick things off by showing everyone how I organize my Inbox.

My Gmail label sidebar.


So as it stands at the time of writing I have 13 labels, 2 of which are simply the label of which email address the email was sent to.   One of them is an ‘Employment’ label which I use only once every few years while I look for a steady income source (see:  job).  For all intensive purposes these 3 labels are hidden from left menu.

So the labels I use routinely are:

Accounts – Used to keep all my registration emails for forums, sites, whatever.  This keeps them in an easy to find place if I forget my username or other various details.

Attachments – Ever try searching for an attachment but not sure where or when it was from?  This label helps keep them together.  Gmail has been improved quite a bit though, so you can actually just search for has:attachment and it’s exactly the same thing.  I use it out of habit and laziness.

Backups – Whenever I backup WordPress for example, I can just put my email address and have it mailed there.  It’s a good place to store some backups for things that aren’t too large.  I mostly use a filter to auto-label these emails, but more on that later.

Business – Whenever I do consulting or freelance work I want to hold onto these emails.  This is where they go.  I’m contemplating creating a different email address all together though as I feel this causes clutter.

Family – Anything from or relating to family.

[Employer] – Emails from and about work at my current employer.  Should probably have a separate email for this too, but my employers are also good friends of mine.

Friends – Anything from or related to friends.  I’m tempted to crunch this into a Family/Friends label but I’m not short on room, and better organization is better.

Notifications – Emails from Facebook, Google Alerts, the library or anything else that is a notification of some kind.  This way I can bulk-delete so these don’t pile up, but I also don’t miss bill notifications when things are due.

Receipts – Receipts and invoices for purchases.  Nice to have them all in one spot for easy reference.

Support/Questions – Whenever I send an email to a webhost or practically any business or group.  Sometimes I need to find them further down the line such as the whole Linksys NAS issue I had awhile ago.

I’ve also gone ahead and selected colours that I don’t find offensive.  I tend to gravitate towards colours just dark enough to have white text.  Gives my inbox a nice feel, but depending on your theme the schemes might be different.

Speaking of colours though, I am hesitant to add any more labels because I’ve sort of run out of colours to use.  I can use different shades, but it sort of reduces the ability to know what an email is out of the corner of your eye.  Then again perhaps I’m just being pedantic.  Any ideas are welcome however, as I’ve always been bad at colour selection.


To make my life easier I’ve been creating a number of filters to apply tags and move my email around.  I don’t think many are innovative or anything, but they might help someone out.  Here are some examples:

Attachments – Anything that has an attachment is labeled ‘Attachments’ (duh!).  This is now just a checkbox on the create filter page.

Friends, Family, Work – All email addresses associated with each group get their own filter and labelled accordingly.

Backups – Anything sent to is automatically labeled ‘Backups’.

In case you weren’t aware any mail that’s sent to will filter into your inbox.  This is a good way to mark email addresses to see if businesses are selling your address ( for example).  I think most spammers and businesses have learned this trick though and remove the +Whatever from your email address before they sell it, so your results may vary.

Notifications – All the email addresses I routinely get notices from, whether it’s Facebook or utility companies saying my E-bill is ready get labeled ‘Notifications’.

Text Alerts – I don’t have nor do I see myself purchasing a smartphone anytime soon.  This is mostly due to the horrible oligopoly Canada has in regards to cell phone providers, the data costs are simply way too high.

This means I do a lot of text messaging, but not emailing.  I have some filters that will send critical alerts (such as server crashes etc) to my phone via the email address my provider gives me which I receive as texts on my phone.

Got Ideas?

I’m more than happy to hear if anyone has any ideas on how I can improve my system.  Whether it’s by more labels, or better filters or hopefully something I haven’t even thought of yet.

I’ll try to get to work on my Google Reader labels, but to be honest it’s a big bucket of fail.  In comparison my Gmail is rockin’.

Anyway, your move, John.

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