This week, freelance graphic designer Mariah is here to teach you freelancers how to organize your Gmail inbox!
Gmail + Google Apps is what I use to manage my business emails, so I'm always curious to see how others are organizing their inboxes. After all, an organized inbox leads to a more peaceful business!
If you use Gmail for business then pour yourself a drink, open up your inbox and implement these awesome tips. They'll definitely lead to a more productive, less time-consuming inbox!
I don’t know about you, but for the first six months or so of running my freelance graphic design business, my organizational skills were slim to none. I basically went with the flow, hoping that I would remember everything from day to day.
Long story short – everything got cluttered. My to-do lists were scattered across the house, my brain was in shambles, and let's be real – my Gmail inbox was no exception! It wasn’t until halfway through my first year of freelancing that I decided to get serious about organizing my business. The first place I started? My Gmail inbox.
I was tired of almost forgetting to reply to clients, losing emails with important information in them, as well as just totally spacing projects until the last minute, solely because I didn’t have any organizational steps in place. I knew if I wanted to grow and take on more clients, I needed to get serious about decluttering my business. After a few months of trial and error, I finally have the perfect Gmail inbox organizational system in place to streamline my freelance business!
Below are the strategies I used to organize my Gmail inbox. I wanted to share them with you, so that you too can declutter your freelance business and never miss a client email again!
01. Separate Your Inbox Into Categories
Separating my inbox into categories has been a total game changer. Not only does it help remind me of emails I need to respond to, projects that need to be finished, or emails I need to hang on to for later, but it does so VISUALLY. Making my inbox visual is already a million times more helpful for this graphic designer who literally only forms thoughts in pictures. ;)
Take a look at the image above to see what I mean. I have sorted my inbox into four sections: Needs Response, To-Do, Starred (which are any important emails that need to be easily accessible, not forgotten about, or saved for future reference), followed by the rest of my inbox.
You can separate your inbox into whatever categories make sense for your freelance business. The process is super simple. Here’s how you do it:
First, click on the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner and choose “Settings”.
Once your settings panel is open, choose the tab that says “Labs”, find the "Multiple Inbox Lab" and choose "Enable”.
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE AND CLICK SAVE CHANGES. I literally forget this step every time, hence why I am yelling this at you. :)
Once you’ve enabled the Multiple Inbox Lab, go back to the settings panel, but this time choose the “Labels” tab.
Under the “Labels” category, click the button that says, “Create new label”. In the popup that appears, type in the name of your new label, and click “Create”.
Now go to the “Inbox” tab of your Setting Panel.
Here, I chose "Priority Inbox” in the “Inbox Type” drop down menu.
Now, it's time to add your inbox sections! In space number one, click “Options”, and then click on “More Options”, in order to show the new labels you just created in the drop-down menu. Choose whichever label you want to appear first in your inbox. Continue this step for all four sections. When you get to the fourth option, I recommend labeling it as “Everything Else”.
CLICK SAVE CHANGES AGAIN – and you’re done!
In addition to inbox categories, I also have several labels I use to organize my inbox. I use labels to keep track of all of my digital receipts, all of my client contracts, and any large-scale client projects that I have going on where I may need to easily find all relevant emails for the project.
Adding labels is way easier than setting up multiple inboxes. All you have to do is go to “Settings”, choose the “Labels” tab and click “Create new label” (yes, exactly like you did to set up your inboxes).
Once you’ve saved your new labels, you can easily label a new email by clicking on the little tag icon on the top of the screen of your email (under the search bar), and check the box next to the designated label.
All emails that you tag with this label will show up as a folder in the left-hand menu of your inbox.
03. Create Filters
Another great way to organize your Gmail inbox is to apply a filter to your incoming emails. Filters will scan your incoming mail for anything that matches your filtering criteria. Once something meets the criteria, the filter will automatically mark it with a label, categorize it, send it to a certain folder, star it as important, archive it or delete it.
For example, I personally have a filter that marks any emails from Paypal as a receipt. Other people set up a filter to forward all of their newsletter subscriptions to a designated folder. Whatever you choose to filter, it’s a great way to ensure those emails don’t clog your inbox, get lost amongst your junk email, or forgotten among client emails. Plus, they’re super easy to find later, when you actually need them!
In order to create a filter, click on the gear icon in your Gmail account and choose “Settings". Once opened, click the "Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab. Here, you’re going to click “Create a new filter” in the middle of your page, which will open a pop-up window.
The first step is to fill in the variables that would cause it to be filtered. This could be a certain word in the subject line, a sender's email address, words within an email, etc. The possibilities are endless! Once these fields are filled out, click “Create filter with this search >>”.
The next window is where you will select what you want to do with those filtered emails. This is where you choose if you want to label it, archive it, delete it, etc. Once you’ve finished, click the “Create filter” button and you’re good to go!
04. Canned Responses
Another helpful way to keep up with your Gmail inbox is to create canned responses. If you're ever finding yourself sending the same welcome email, answering the same questions, or explaining the same concepts over and over again, canned responses can save you 10+ minutes of your day every single time you use them.
Canned responses are pre-written email responses that are saved for you to easily select and use when writing an email. Instead of reinventing the wheel every. single. time. all you need to do is fill in a few blanks, plug in a couple new sentences, and you’re good to go!
So how do you set up these canned responses?
First… you guessed it – you need to click on the gear icon and go to the settings panel. Here, you’re going to click on the "Labs” tab, scroll down until you see the "Canned Responses” lab, and choose “Enable”. Scroll to the bottom and click "Save Changes”.
Now head back to your inbox.
Click “Compose”, and type out what you want your canned response to say. Feel free to insert blanks where you should personalize the email or for any other variables that may change each time.
Once your canned response is written, click on the downward arrow in the lower right-hand corner of your email window and choose “Canned Responses >”, then “New Canned Response”.
A window will pop up where you can name your response. Click OK to save it.
Now when you want to use this canned response, click on that same arrow, choose “Canned Responses >” and then pick the response you want to use!
I know I’m not alone in saying I work a million times better at night than I do in the morning. For any of you who are with me on this one, Boomerang is a great way to reply to all of your emails late at night.
As freelancers, we need to set some boundaries for ourselves in order to have lives – so many of us have designated “office hours”. I want my clients to know I will respond to my emails in a timely manner, but I don’t want them to know they can technically reach me at midnight. So, even though I may be actually responding to their emails at that hour, I’ll use an app called Boomerang which will schedule the email to actually send in the morning. Brilliant right?!
Sound like something you need? Install it here.
Now anytime you want to schedule an email, there is a “Send Later” button that you can choose, just below the regular “Send” button.
Once clicked, a tab with several different scheduling options will pop up. Schedule a time, hit “Confirm” you’re good to go! No one will ever know how late you stay up and how long you sleep in the next morning.
Want to learn about organizing client process, inbox, onboarding and more?
Learn more in my course, Organize & Automate.
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Mariah is a freelance graphic designer who specializes in branding and logo design. She helps entrepreneurs unleash their inner Beyonce by creating a flawless visual identity that stands out from their competition. She works one-on-one with clients, as well as runs a design blog for entrepreneurs, bloggers, and marketing managers who are looking to create their own logo and visual branding as well as develop their own graphic design skills.