Organising GMail’s Inbox and Weirdness with Starring Items

March 19th, 2009 by Xerxes Leave a reply »

If you’re like me, you’ve already thrown out the system of creating folders and meticulously sorting your email on arrival. It was a frustrating system because it was time-consuming and lets face it, humans aren’t designed to be organised machines. So I love the GMail model where I don’t *have* to file my email I can just read it and forget about it.

My system for prioritising mail works like this:

  1. If its obviously spam, I spam it
  2. If its new, I read it.
  3. After reading, if it was useful information i’ll do one of two things:
    1. If I need to follow up on the item, i’ll mark it as unread
    2. If I need to keep it for reference because I suspect i might need it quickly in the near future, i’ll star it.
  4. All other mail stays in the inbox, or is already covered by another filter which applys a label and archives.

This means that my inbox can usually fill pretty quickly. I like being in control of what I archive and when, but the downside is that my inbox can grow out of control before I take it back. The important point here though, is that the software works for me and not the other way around.

My inbox is generally my default view, but I’ve also used some of the GMail labs features to set-up a system to quickly find the items i’d previously flagged for one reason or another. Using GMail’s QuickLinks lab feature, i’ve setup a search shortcut to my “Unread Or Starred” emails (label:starred OR is:unread in:inbox). Direct access, and i’m happy once again.

Unfortunately, ultimately I get to the point when even I realise just how much crap i’ve accumulated in my inbox. In order to sort out my “flagged” emails from all the other crap in the inbox, I follow the following process:

  1. Open my “Unread or Starred” search link, and apply a label called “TEMP MARK” to the emails. Gmail allows you to have multiple labels per message so no sweat here
  2. Perform a search (or use another Quick-Link shortcut) to the following search criteria (!label:temp-mark in:inbox). This does an inverted selection on my inbox to pick out anything that doesn’t meet my criteria
  3. Hit “Select all” and archive.
  4. Go back to the inbox and remove the temp mark from the current inbox items. mainly for cleanup

Now the astute of you reading this would ask why don’t I just use an inverted query of Unread or Starred (!label:starred AND !is:unread in:inbox) and use that? Well i’ve tried it and GMail screws it up and somehow returns more emails than it actually should. I really cant understand why….

All suggestions are welcome :)

UPDATE
I just spent 10 mins trying to work it out – its so baffling….
My inbox contains 10 items, of which I have specially flagged 7, I would expect the inverted query to return 3. But it returns 5. What are the 2 extra emails? They are emails which were starred from within a conversation and not from the item list. It seems like GMail doesn’t recognise items which are starred within the conversation view as having the label “starred”, so my initial query of “Unread Or Starred” isn’t actually bringing everything back in the first place. *sigh*

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1 comment

  1. Elsee Sea says:

    I’m having the same problem, so it’s not just you. I tried something as simple as: in:Inbox -is:Starred

    Gmail returns all conversations in Inbox that includes any email that is not starred, including, as you’ve noticed, a conversation that has at least 1 unstarred email, whether or not that conversation has any emails starred.

    The key here is EMAIL v. CONVERSATION, imo.