How To: Tame Your Gmail Account

Illustration by Colin McGann.

So we are a lucky bunch at ASU, instead of having some terrible Outlook mail program the administration chooses to go with Google Apps. Gmail is the Google email program, as you more than likely know, and it is highly customizable. I've got a few tricks that will cut down on the amount of work it takes to get to your emails.

1. Forward Your ASU Email to Another Gmail Account

Keeping your emails centered in one location will keep you from forgetting to check that one email account that has the note from the professor saying the test just got moved. The first step is to go to your ASU email, click the "Settings" button in the top right corner, and look under the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" tab. You're going to want to enable POP for all mail, as well as IMAP, and then click save.



The second step is to go to your non-school Gmail account, look under settings, go to the "Accounts and Import" tab and click on the add "POP3 Account" button. Input your ASU email, and make sure that the POP server is "" and that it is using port 110. Once saved, your personal Gmail should grab all of the emails off of your ASU email account and export them to your Gmail.

Finally, you are going to want to again go under the "Accounts and Import" tab in your personal Gmail settings and click the box "Send Mail From Another Account." This should bring up a small window that lets you input your ASU email. This should send an email with a confirmation code to your personal email (because we are now forwarding ASU email there) and all you need to do is follow the link or input the code into the window. Just let Gmail take care of the rest and you now can send and receive all of your emails from one location.

2. Set Up Filters, Labels, and Stars for Different Categories of Email

Gmail's filters, labels and stars confused me for a long time. Instead of using folders, Gmail uses labels, which are little tags that go next to the subject line of an email. Filters are the automatic tagging system that is built into Gmail. Stars are just another annotation that you can give to any email by clicking on the star in the top left corner of an email.

Luckily, after figuring out a few tricks it's not that hard to get a super effective system in place. The main thing to keep in mind is set up a system that works for you. Make tweaks depending on what is best for you.

To begin setting up labels, you first want to go into your Google Labs options (the green test tube, right next to the "Settings" link) and scroll down to the "Nested Labels" option. Enable nested labels and click save at the top or bottom of the page. This option will add a more hierarchical structure to your labels, which will make a huge amount of emails a little more digestible.

Nested labels work by you having a top-label like "School," followed by a sub-label underneath it such as "Spanish 101." If you wanted to make "Spanish 101" a nested label under school in Gmail, when creating the label it would need to look like "School/Spanish 101."


You are going to want to create as few high-level labels as possible, and separate them out into broad topics like "School," "Work" and "Clubs" so that it doesn't get too confusing. When making sub-labels you are going to want to create meaningful localized topics that will be useful. For example, instead of breaking down my "School" sub-labels into classes, I chose to break them down by semesters. That way, I can get a look at the entire landscape of what is happening at any particular time during a semester.

To apply these different labels we are going to use a built in Gmail tool: The "Filter Messages Like This" option. This tool can be found while looking at your ASU account or Gmail by pressing the downward facing arrow on the top right of a message.


This tool pulls out the email address that the email was sent from and puts it right into the Gmail filter creator. By just clicking the next step button and choosing which sub-label you feel is appropriate (you also choose to have all of the previous emails received from this email account to have the label applied). Then all of the emails you receive from that account in the future will also have this filter applied.

The filters creator is a highly customizable tool. You can have many other attributes applied to any email you receive, such as stars, "Mark as Read" and even the option to forward to another account. If you spend some time playing with tools you can make your inbox even more efficient.

Finally, stars are the simplest kind of annotation that you can apply in Gmail. When looking at an email, all you need to do is click the unfilled star in the top right corner and it's applied.


I try to use this annotation sparingly and to mark these like a to do list. Try to keep the amount of starred emails you have down by checking it often. If not, they can quickly overwhelm you.

All of these labels can be dragged out of the Gmail "More" tab found under the "Compose Mail" button.


3. Set Up Multiple Inboxes

The last part of this guide involves another Gmail labs feature called "Multiple Inboxes." By enabling "Multiple Inboxes," you can separate your emails into as many as five different boxes on the main screen. There are about a million different ways to set up how to view your inboxes, but for brevity's sake I'm going to show you a simple four-box set-up.

By going to the "Multiple Inboxes" tab under your Gmail settings you will see a screen with four empty boxes.


If you want to just follow this picture your inbox will be split into five different boxes: Your inbox, your unread emails, your ASU email, your starred emails and saved drafts. The Gmail advanced search operators are really deep and if you want to set up your own custom searches, check out the support page.

Gmail is an incredibly deep Web application and there is so much you can do to make it even more personalized and efficient. By playing with filters and Gmail labs features, and by creating your own system of email optimization, you will be a Gmail ninja in no time.

Geekin’ It is a blog that focuses on technology and geek culture for ASU students. Geekin’ It covers how to use technology to your advantage as an ASU student, as well as comic books, videogames, electrical engineering and geek culture in general. The writer loves Mass Effect 2, Scott Pilgrim, 8-bit music, creative writing and learning how to use an Arduino board. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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