If you’ve been reading our Goal Planning Series, then you probably already know how important it is to get to inbox-zero if not daily then weekly. And, if you’ve actually taken the steps to get to and stay at inbox zero then you deserve a giant “Go you!”  🙌 Now it’s time to go expert level on your inbox. If you master these tips, you’ll fly to inbox zero in no time.

Implement Focus Periods For Efficiency with a False Inbox.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to ignore your inbox notifications so you can just spend a focused amount of time writing emails or responding to the ones already in your box. So hiding your actual inbox during these times of intense “get it done”  is a trick we’ve come to rely on. There are apps and web browser extensions that automate this, but they don’t work across all browsers and mailbox clients, like when you’re working on a mobile device. So we set up a false inbox. It’s basically just an empty folder named: “— Inbox —” Those em-dashes keep it at the tippy top of the custom labels list. Then we just hide the real inbox by sliding the sidebar down until we need it again. That way, we can still search and find what we need and go to the labels we want. But when we’re done, we go back to the false inbox so we’re not tempted to get distracted by the new emails coming in.  If you go longer than an hour before checking your inbox, we suggest putting up a friendly Auto Responder to let your colleagues know not to expect an immediate reply.

Screen Shot False Inbox Gmail
Screen shot of false inbox in use

Color-Code Your Inbox Labels for Quick View Understanding.

We have a few different types of labels (as they’re called in Gmail) that we use. And there’s a little bit of a hierarchy to them.

  • The first type is what we’ll call Status Labels. These are labels like:
    • “Right Now”
    • “Organize”
    • “Waiting”
  • Then we have Category Labels. These are labels like:
    • “Media Relations” “Notes” “Travel” “Clients”
  • Then we have Project Labels which are something like:
    • Client 1
      • Client Project 1
      • Client Project 2
    • Client 2
      • Client Project 1
      • Client Project 2
    • Internal Project 1
    • Internal Project 2

Now, this seems like a good time as any to say how much WE HATE that Gmail took away the ability to use custom #HexColors for email labels (it’s still available for Calendars—thank God). Because if we had a full range of colors, we’d use decreasing shades to tie this all together. But that’s us. We also loved having the “Big Box” of Crayons when we were kids too. We’ve also got an impressive collection of Sharpies, but that’s not unique to PR. We digress. Point is—color code it in such a way that makes sense to you. As you can see above, we also make use of Emoji. Because nothing gets you motivated like the 🔥 emoji does.

Make Those Labels Work (Mostly) On Autopilot wit Email Filters

There are some label types that don’t work well on autopilot. Your Status or Category labels for example may change rapidly or may clump a lot of uncommon things together. So those you’ll have to move to as needed. And if you have keyboard shortcuts enabled (and memorized) you can apply and remove your labels in a snap. (Enable keyboard shortcuts in settings, under advanced).  

Okay, let’s talk about what you can put on autopilot. Project & Client Labels. This takes a little bit of thinking and setup and depending on your workflow you may have to get creative to how narrow or wide you want your filter parameters to be. For us, our work and external projects are all client-based. So it’s somewhat easy to capture what will be related to whom.

Example time!

Let’s say we’re currently working with both a filmmaker client and an actor client. Let’s call the filmmaker George Washington and let’s call his new feature film, “I Cannot Tell a Lie.” Now, our actor client is named Alex Hamilton and he’s in two movies, one is a blockbuster called “The Federalist Papers” and the other is an art film called, “Early Life in the Caribbean”

So we want to set up filters that capture those things and how they relate to each other automatically, regardless of who sent the email.

We know that for now, Georgey will always be associated with his movie and in our example never with Alex or Alex’s films. But Alex will always be associated with both his films but his films won’t necessarily be associated with each other.  

So we’d set up a label named George Washington with a light red background and then set up a filter for this folder like this:

Has the words: “George Washington” OR “I Cannot Tell A Lie” OR “GW@cherrytree.com”

And for Alex’s label our filter parameters would look like this:
Has the words: “Alex Hamilton” OR “Hamilton” OR “AlexHamilton@DidNotShootFirst.com”

And then nested labels under Alex’s top label would have filter parameters that look like this:
Has the words: “Federalist Papers”
Has the words: “Early Life” AND “Caribbean”

Then we’d set it to apply the label we want (or do other cool stuff if you want) and off we go!

And if you do it right, you get something that looks like this:

Email Labels Redacted Client Info
Actual Sent Folder with Client Info Redacted

Aside from the redacted info, can you see how helpful those labels are? You know the status of each, what project or client it goes with, and what type of email it is.

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