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How to use Gmail more efficiently (2013) (klinger.io)
100 points by craigkerstiens 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

My inbox is always 0 shortly after I check it without filtering any emails that aren't automatic.

No fancy layouts required. It really just boils down to if I open gmail then I'm agreeing to myself that I'm spending whatever time it takes to address everything right now.

This is coming from someone who usually wakes up with 10s of emails since I offer personal support for 30,000+ people who take my video courses. A lot of these questions are quite technical too (Docker / Flask / programming things) and require writing custom responses and sometimes troubleshooting. I do this a couple of times a day but the bulk of the emails come up at night since that's the longest period of time where emails go unchecked for ~8 hours.

I wouldn't ever consider ignoring or not replying to an email from a person who isn't spamming me. To me that's almost the rudest thing you can do online.

For the people who struggle with email, how much email do you get and what's the nature of those emails?

In my experience, people don't struggle with email, they struggle with discipline and/or method. End email is a symptom, like a messy computer desktop.

>It really just boils down to if I open gmail then I'm agreeing to myself that I'm spending whatever time it takes to address everything right now.

Funny. For me, this was one of the reasons email kept piling up - not feeling I'd have the time to address it. And then there was the other related problem: For most of my emails, I do not know how much time each can take without opening it.

>I wouldn't ever consider ignoring or not replying to an email from a person who isn't spamming me. To me that's almost the rudest thing you can do online.

It used to bother me, but I've gotten over the feeling. I no longer find it rude when I don't get a reply. However, mentally I do categorize people as repliers and poor/non-repliers, so I know how much or how little effort to put into writing an email for each category.

The reality is that it's cheaper than it should be to send someone an email. I put in more of my effort to reply to well thought out emails vs quickly written one-two liners. For the latter, it's almost always the case that I'll expend an order of magnitude more effort in responding than they put into their email, and I don't appreciate the asymmetry.

And also, a lot of people still get way too much mail - and despite what many here think, it's not all in their control. I'm not going to fault someone for not responding because my email got lost in all that noise.

I don't know if I "struggle" with email, but emails often stay in my inbox for days or weeks. I sort and organize them a bit, though.

I'm a researcher and most of my email is from frequent collaborators whom I know well, or automated academic stuff.

Reason #1: Some emails I expect to not be able to respond to for some time. We're discussing a project and I need some hours to think about it, read papers, etc. before I respond. These threads go for months (with many meetings interspersed).

Reason #2: I like email to double as reminders or to-dos (though I also keep a to-do list). So for example an automated email reminding me to review a paper by May 20. I won't archive that until I've done the review.

(Edit: I like the idea of sorting every email when I open my client, if not archiving it. I just don't get enough email for this to be a problem.)

> I wouldn't ever consider ignoring or not replying to an email from a person who isn't spamming me. To me that's almost the rudest thing you can do online.

I agree with this. I realize there are some people who get literally thousands of emails per day, but for the most part it really breaks the social contract of the Internet.

If I get email questions about blog posts I've written or videos I've created then I just answer them and then usually anonymize the person and dump them online so that other people can then find the answer via Google or whatever, e.g.: https://www.fwdeveryone.com/t/WT-4NHhJQiyCa5mbDOhuGw/long-re...

What about emails/conversations that span several months?

It's no different. If I see a reply from those people I reply back when I enter gmail.

Snoozing now fulfils most of these purposes for me - instead of having to keep "awaiting reply", etc. visible at all times, they simply disappear until they need my attention again. Starring them as a reminder as to why they need my attention is a good idea though.

The main feature I'm still missing is an easy way to add my own TODOs there. I currently send emails to myself, but that's quite cumbersome (press `c` for compose, enter my own email address, <Tab>, type reminder, <Ctrl>+<Enter> to send, `x` to select that email, then `b` to snooze it to the desired time - in Inbox, this would be `t`, type reminder, set snooze time, <Enter>).

My gmail has a little tasks component on the right now. Not sure whethere that is stored though.

True, but that's not integrated with the email workflow, i.e. I can't process external TODO's (i.e. emails) and my own in the same workflow, without taking my hands of my keyboard.

I think that is part of the GSuite. I don't see it on my non-GSuite gmail.

Or maybe it is slow to roll out to old accounts.

It's not GSuite-only, it's available on my Gmail acc from 2009.

The past few months I've transitioned to using Gmail almost exclusively on my phone. Various aspects of the redesign utterly crippled its desktop usability. The inbox now takes three to five times as long to load as it did before. All the functions are now tiny minimalistic icons and more often than not I have to use a tool tip just to figure out what a button does. It needlessly crunches the folders into a two inch column on the left side, forcing multiple mouse clicks just to expose the option to get to your spam folder despite the acres of whitespace directly below their tiny truncated list.

I have moved to Thunderbird on the desktop since the redesign. Nowadays I don't even miss the original gmail webinterface anymore.

Oh, the folder crunching is annoying! I even went so far as to reduce the numbers of folders that i had so that they all display without any crunching, AND without my needing to apply another click just to expand the view to see them...Then i asked myself WTF? I'm changing my way of working because of crappy UI decisions by gmail designers? But instead of re-building up more folders, just kept with the minimal amount of folders...and then i tried to use search...Meh. Now, I'm trying to get to inbox-near-zero (achieving true zero is silly and excessive i think). My becoming ruthless with incoming emails (again only to near-zero) has felt ok - not great, but ok. none of this is because of some great feature from gmail mind you. (Gosh, i really wish i could use native thunderbird on the desktop of my work's computer!)

>How to use Gmail more efficiently

Step 1: Switch to basic HTML mode

Seriously though if you use the normal mode, there is a split view that allows you to have a preview pane that makes gmail a lot more bearable. Ever since the last big update it is painfully slow to load for me. Pinning the tab in Firefox and adding preview pane made it almost usable.

I just ditched Gmail for fastmail because the user interface was finally so bad it was unusable.

Fastmail’s web UI is the only one I’ve ever used that feels as snappy as a native desktop application. It’s so nice.

My initial reason for leaving Gmail was equal parts de-Google-fying my life, and the terrible no good UI changes in Gmail.

After using FM, just the UI improvement alone was well worth the effort it took me to update my email address everywhere I have an account.

I wish there was a css extension for Gmail's basic mode.

I have a huge problem with email, in my previous job I basically never had to use them for real, so I don't really know how to keep track of them in an organized way. I just changed job and now I get a LOT of email, in 3 weeks, more that I have ever seen.

My inbox is a mess, just collecting more emails every day. Something like this would probably be useful.

Are the "multiple inbox" still available today? Is it basically the labels?

Read Evaluate Act Delete

Yes, multiple inbox is still there. It's basically last n mails in a certain label.

I see why I can't find it. My company gmail has blocked labs, apparently.

So, If I understand correctly, the suggestion is basically to keep a:

1) "todo" label 2) "awaiting reply" label 3) "delegated" label 4) "info" label (regarding meetings, flights, etc)

in your inbox, use special stars to star the emails and then archive all emails with the corresponding label (which reflects the star).

Once a conversation is done, archive the email removing the labels and stars?

It seems confusing to me. What am I missing?

blog author

you can use stars OR labels - no point using both

you have extra inboxes for each kind on the side

you read in your inbox you act (potentially reply, potentially mark with star/label, always archive)

if it's a todo you dont get to now you put it in the todo label if you replied and want to make sure you dont lose track -> awaiting reply if you handed it off to someone and want to keep track -> delegated if it's about some future meeting (or flight, hotel, etc) -> purple star (forgot what i called it)

you always archive this way your main inbox is empty and you know what you looked at by adding (or removing) label they end up (or get out) in the little boxes

at some point you might go through your todos - handle them remove the star/label

at some other point you might browse through the awaiting replies and realise they are done or no longer needed -> remove label

(and so on)

works really well for me


I have attempted this at least three times over the last few years, but ultimately given up.

As a system it feels like it's just the right amount of simple, but as a UX it's horrid. I shouldn't have to give up inbound mail autocategorisation or lose my keyboard workflow, especially since I've been spoilt by awesome extensions such as mgsloan/todoist-shortcuts for my other workflow tool.

New gmail has improved a lot of things, but it's disappointing that this isstill the nearest we've got to 'good' in the last 5 years.

There are a few products out there trying to fix Gmail in the same way.

KanbanMail (https://kanbanmail.app/) and Drag (https://www.dragapp.com/) spring to mind. Both give this same kind of task separation.

there were a lot of different tools when i wrote this post several other inbetween

main reason i never switched (even with all compromises) is that i didn't want to be forced to switch back if i pick the unlucky one (eg google inbox)

I decided to implement this today and struggled with gmail consistently trying to force the priority inbox on me with each reload. I eventually went through each of my existing categories and wiped them clean, literally 10 years of miscellaneous labels applied to 92,495 emails(1), and that finally got it working correctly. Maybe it just needed some time to reflect, who knows.

The shocking thing about this is that gmail is FLYING now - the difference is night and day. I've been fairly despondent about g mail performance for a while now, but I'm just about speechless. I would love to know if anyone has noticed anything similar.

(1) Emails, not threads.

I've been doing Inbox Zero in Gmail for about 2 years now using 3 simple tags. I highly recommend it. It's made me feel more in control and less forgetful. If anyone wants to know more, I wrote up the process here:


I've been doing this system for nearly 5 years, and have sent it to dozens of people who have email issues. It hasn't been perfect, but it's the closest thing I've found.

I’ve been using ActiveInbox to achieve the same thing. It’s not perfect - and has been a bit buggy with the redesign - but its been an effective tool for me.

Klinger, how would you suggest a person that has been "ignored" (with just cause) begin recompense?

Such as in the VampyrLee instance.

Met Andreas in Budapest like 4-5 years ago, showed me this post, using Gmail this way since then, and it's a bliss. Thanks Andreas.

Same here :)


What about all the emails you are part of as a CC recipient, but maybe you will never write in the conversation? How do you catalogue them?

Read them and archive them. If you need to be able to find them quickly later, you could use the purple star.

i approach it the same way

or mark as "delegated" if someone else of my team is handling it and i might want to keep track


> Unfortunately the other features won’t work as well because the gmail app doesn’t support them.

That’s kind of a deal breaker for me.

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