Managing Gmail Inboxes and Inbox Zero

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Over the summer I took on another couple of freelance jobs, which trebled the number of emails received by my Gmail account. I've moved from forty to around one hundred and twenty. This isn't so many emails, though: some of my clients receive more than this a morning. I'm a keen fan of “Inbox Zero,” that is I don't like seeing unread emails. However, I also don't always want to stop whatever I'm doing in order to read and triage new messages. These conflicting behaviours can lead to email stress! I do have, however, a few techniques that are largely successful at helping me deal with this. I have Gmail automatically assign labels to selected emails and I control how my devices connect and collect messages.

Gmail's labels feature is very powerful and allows me to categorize my messages as and when they arrive. They operate in a similar fashion as folders and for most people, they can be treated as such. I can use Gmail labels in order to divert or triage messages into the correct place for them. It's relatively easy to setup Gmail to apply filters to messages as they arrive but the catch is that I need to apply this filter using a web browser. Currently, it can't be done from the Android Gmail application.

Here's how we apply a label to email within the Gmail account. We need to use the Settings part of Gmail and visit the Labels and Filtering screen. Here, you can create a new filter but the important step is to make sure you click “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)” and “Apply the label” options, making sure you pick the necessary label. This means that these messages don't end up in your normal inbox.

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The other thing that I did was make sure that I make sure my devices will only notify me of relevant messages at any given time. As a rule, I carry my smartphone and tablet to work with me. I'm using the HTC One (M8) as a smartphone and the Nexus 7 LTE as my tablet. The HTC One is only set to notify me if an email is received in my main inbox label. It is set to download email for my other labels not to notify me (more on this later). My Nexus 7, however, is set to download and notify me of all message labels. This means that I can have many Gmail notifications showing on my device at any one time, depending on what labels have received emails. I can also check these notifications in the drag-down notification tray and swipe to dismiss.

Both the HTC and the Nexus have power management options enabled; I'm using HTC's standard power management options and I've installed LeanDroid on the Nexus 7, set to aggressively shut down the Internet connection when the device is idle. This is because I keep the Nexus 7 in a magnetic flip-over case so when it's closed, I can't see the notification LED. Shutting down the data connection doesn't save me any data (it's all downloaded when the device reconnects) but does save a meaningful amount of power during a typical day.

I wrote above that I keep my other labels synchronized on the HTC One despite not tending to use these labels on the smartphone. I do dip into these labels so I'd like them synchronised but I almost always deal with them on my tablet. What I have noticed, however, is the impact on the One's battery when dealing with many more emails. The impact is… trivial. I can't tell if I have one label synchronized or five and my Sent Items. There's no discernable difference to battery life regardless of email volume. Common sense tells me that there will be some difference, but just like my old classic BlackBerry smartphones it appears that Gmail's push messaging system is very efficient.

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