Do You Organize Your Emails With Labels, Folders, or Search? [Reader Feedback]

email organization

We’ve written a good bit about email overload, and given a few tips on how to deal with it. These tips include using Gmail to manage all of your accounts (and even how to avoid Gmail’s infamous delay in checking external accounts), and how to turn the managing of your inbox into a game. When it gets down to the nuts and bolts, how do you manage your account?

There are a few schools of thought out there:

  • Use labels, such as those offered by Gmail, to tag every message with one or more labels;
  • Use folders, as offered by traditional email clients and providers, to place each message into a single, distinct folder;
  • Archive all of your messages into one place, and just use the search functionality of your email client to find your messages; or
  • A combination of the above methods.

I’ve used labels ever since switching to Gmail years ago, and have several filters set up to automatically label a large percentage of incoming messages. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if it is really necessary. Gmail’s search capabilities are very powerful, and taking the time to label every message can be time consuming. At the very least, I think I can slim my labels down to a few broad categories.

What method do you use to organize your email? Is it one of the methods listed above, or do you have your own way of doing things?

Evan Kline

Hello, I'm Evan. I write about tech from my perspective – that of the average 40-something tech geek. You can also find me on Twitter and at my real-life job as a lawyer.    MORE ABOUT ME.


  1. Well yes! Of course I do. I receive plenty of emails in my inbox, being a web administrator, and hence need plenty of sorting to keep my mails at hand and avoid headache and panic at times of need.

  2. I use ActiveInbox for Gmail, it’s awesome.

  3. I put labels on all my messages which I archive but I don’t recall ever browsing Based on them

  4. I use Gmail in combination with Apple’s Mail program. I don’t use folders at all in Gmail which I use mostly for remote access and to filter spam. If gmail starts to get full, I just start purging. I think I’ve done that twice in the last few years.

    I keep all of my Apple Mail Inbox intact during the year except for business receipts which I place in a Mailbox marked {Year] Business Receipts. Once the year is over I place the remaining items from that year into a Mailbox marked [Year}. I usually don’t get around to that until the end of the first quarter, so the last three months are always available in my Inbox.

    To find something, I use Apple Mail’s search facility which is pretty much instantaneous – great when I’m on the phone with an old client I haven’t heard from in a while. I can search my Inbox or one of my archive Mailboxes or everything, and I can refine my search by restricting the search to From, Subject or Entire Message.

    I also use the column headers to sort messages by From or To, Date Received or Sent, and Subject in either ascending or descending order. Normally I keep them in date received order.

    My Inbox only has four column headers: Flag, From, Subject and Date Received, while my Sent box only has three: To, Subject and Date Sent.

    I have never felt the need to tag or label anything, although I do Flag any item coming in that requires some action on my part that I can’t perform immediately. When the task is completed, I remove the flag.

    • Sounds like a great workflow, John. One of the nice aspects of your workflow is it frees you from Gmail’s pretty unique way of doing things. I’ve had a pretty hard time finding desktop clients that match my Gmail workflow. Sparrow is the only one I’ve found so far.

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