How to Manage Gmail Labels Better (and Why You Should)


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Gmail has a pretty powerful labeling system that makes it really easy to manage your email. With labels, you can make sure certain emails are tagged with not only name but also color. Plus, it makes it easy to organize your inbox so you know exactly where to look for specific messages.

For example, let’s say you receive daily (or maybe hourly) emails from a particular sender, and you not only want to make sure you don’t miss them when they arrive, but you want to be able to find them quickly. (without using a search engine. How do you do that? With labels.

I’ll show you a few basic things you should know about labels. Once you’ve mastered Gmail labels (a feature that’s been around for a long time), you’ll find the cloud-based email service significantly easier to manage.

With that said, let’s get to the labels.

Follow your label

I haven’t touched the label in a while. They are working as expected and it’s been a while since I need to create a new label or manage them. To my surprise, there are a lot of labels that I have forgotten or other services that are automatically generated (when they are connected).

How do you find this information? I will show you.

1. Open Settings

Sign in to Gmail and click the gear icon in the top right corner. From the pop-up menu (Figure 1), click See all settings.

Gmail Settings pop-up menu.

The Settings pop-up menu means you’re halfway to locating your labels.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the window that appears, click the Labels tab to display all your current Gmail labels (Figure 2).

Gmail label manager window.

What you see is only half of the labels I have in my account.

Image: Jack Wallen

When I saw a large number of labels associated with my Gmail account, I knew I needed to seriously cut down the herd. You will probably find the same thing. Here’s what you can do:

  • Scan through the list and click Hide for any labels you think you may no longer need.
  • Scan through the list and click remove for any labels you know you no longer need.

After removing (or hiding) all unwanted labels, you can close the Settings window.

Create a new label

For me, it all starts with the square. So I selected almost all the labels associated with my account (except for the System Labels, which you can’t remove). With that clean intercept, I can then go back and create only the labels I need.

1. Locate a target message

To create a label, find an email in your inbox that will be associated with that label. For example, you receive a daily email from your team manager. Find one of those messages in your inbox.

2. Create a new label based on that message

Once you’ve found the message in question, right-click it and select Label as (Figure 3).

Right click on Gmail's context menu.

Create new labels based on emails in my Gmail inbox.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting pop-up, click Create New (Figure 4).

Gmail Label creation pop-up menu.

You can choose from an existing label or create a new one.

Image: Jack Wallen

3. Set your name and next label

In the pop-up (Figure 5), give your new label a name, and (optionally) choose a primary label for the new label.

The label naming window in Gmail.

A name for our new label is required but the nest is not.

Image: Jack Wallen

Click Create and your new label is ready.

Color coding your labels

One thing you can’t do when creating a new label is to associate a color. I’ve found it’s significantly easier to set a specific color for the label to make it stand out in your inbox.

1. Show folder/label pane

To color code your new label, you must display a list of labels in the left pane. How you do this will depend on whether you’re using the new Gmail interface or the old one. With the new look, I just hovered my cursor over the message button to bring up my folders and labels (Figure 6).

Gmail folder/label pop-up sidebar.

Show folders and labels pane in the new Gmail interface.

Image: Jack Wallen

2. Add color to the label

Find the label you want to color-code and hover your pointer over it to reveal the three-dot menu button. Click that button and then click Label Color. From the new popup (Figure 7), choose the color you want to associate with the label and you’re good to go.

Color picker for Gmail labels.

Add color to labels in Gmail.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that, my dear Gmail friends, is how you can better manage labels in Google’s cloud-based mail service. Enjoy that improved workflow!

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