Important, all starred and everything else: How I handle my email

Gmail mailboxes

There are a bunch of gurus on the Internet telling how to be productive. One of the main aspects in every article regarding the topic is the mailbox handling. I’m not trying to convince anyone about my method, but I want to share it. I’ve taken suggestions from several friends, and read some articles throughout time. This is how I do it:


  • I use Gmail web interface
  • I keep my personal and professional email separated (For my freelancer jobs, I’m using my personal account, though). I’m using Google Apps for Business in both cases.

Priority Inbox

  • I use Priority Inbox, which needs some training:
    • Direct emails from colleagues, friends, job opportunities, etc.: Marked as important
    • Mailing lists, newsletters and the rest of bulk email: Not important
  • This is how I configure my 3 panes:
    • First pane: Important email
    • Second pane: All starred email
    • Everything else
  • Show up to 10 messages in each pane (at most 30 emails in the Priority Inbox)

Reading email

  • Check Important pane emails (I do that every two hours):
    • If no answer is expected: read and archive
    • If I can answer quickly (or don’t need to prepare or gather information): reply, archive and star if I’m expecting an answer.
    • If I can’t answer right away, or need to prepare extra info: star and archive
  • Same rules ‘Everything else mail’ (I do that three times a week at most)

Starred email

If you follow all the steps above, you will end up having all the work to do in the ‘All starred’ pane. Try to keep the number of emails there below a reasonable number (I easily get stressed if it goes above 20). When you get the replies you were waiting for, apply same rules again: read and archive, reply archive and star (if it needs follow-up).

I ended up using Gmail with no filters at all, however, I strongly encourage to use Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts.

Update 20101027: Google just announced a Gmail Labs feature that will allow you to auto-advance to the next conversation while deleting or muting messages using keyboard shortcuts. Cool!