Last updated: October 6, 2023
Last year, the Federal Election Commission advanced a program to allow political committee emails to circumvent Gmail spam filters. In response, I explained how to automatically delete political spam in Gmail. Deleting them required the use of Gmail’s filter system. If you are anything like me, you have hundreds of emails to sift through each day. Some I delete immediately, like the aforementioned political spam. Others are automatically filtered to designated “folders” to read later. What’s left behind is a manageable amount of correspondence to peruse at my own pace. Let me show you how to use Gmail labels and filters to save time and improve productivity by reducing the number of emails in your inbox that require your immediate attention.
As a long-time Outlook user, Gmail’s nomenclature for features took some getting used to. For example, Gmail uses the term “filter” instead of “rule” and uses the term “label” instead of “folder.” Regardless of the naming conventions, they mean the same things for all intents and purposes. With that understanding, filtering Gmail by label involves setting up some simple if/then statements using familiar criteria. For example, IF an email arrives from a specific email address or with a specific subject, THEN take a specific action. The specific actions discussed in this article are the automatic assignment of a label to incoming email and filtering email by label.
How to create labels in Gmail
If you want to filter email by labels, you will first need to create labels. The easiest way to create a new label is to click the + sign next to Labels in Gmail’s left navigation.
Input a new label name of your choice, then click Create. In the image below, I name the label Bills (like for the emails informing me that a new cellphone, gas, electricity, trash pick-up, etc., statement is now available).
The option to create new labels also exists by right-clicking on an individual email in your inbox. Right-click on an email and choose Label as -> Create new. (HINT: this is important because the right-click menu Label as option is also one way to manually assign labels to email).
Gmail also lets you create sub-labels or nested labels. For example, say you want to filter your bill or invoice emails under Bills, but also separate them by individual vendor name under Bills. To do so, create a new label like Electric Bills, but this time tick the Nest label under checkbox, and choose Bills from the drop-down list.
Now Electric Bills is filed under Bills or is a sub-label of Bills.
How to create filters in Gmail
Now the fun part. With your labels safely in place, use Gmail’s filter system to automatically filter emails out of your inbox (if you choose) and into the labels. To set up filters, select the Settings cog icon in Gmail’s upper-right corner and choose See all settings.
In the top navigation, select Filters and Blocked Addresses, then choose Create a new filter.
In this case, I input the electric company’s email address into the From field, then selected Create filter.
Let’s choose what to do with the electric bill emails once they arrive. I do not want to see these emails in my inbox, so I ticked the Skip the Inbox checkbox. Next, I want to filter the emails to the Billing -> Electric Bills label I created earlier, so I tick the Apply the label checkbox and select Billing/Electric Bills from the drop-down list. When finished, I clicked the Create filter button.
Now, the emails I receive from my electric company are filtered away from my inbox and into Bills -> Electric Bills under Labels in the left navigation. The number 1 to the right of the label means there is one unread email.
Quickly assign labels and filters
Do you see the tiny square box to the left of the emails in your Gmail inbox? Tick the checkbox for an email you want to label, then click the Labels icon at the top of your inbox to quickly assign a label. Don’t forget to click Apply to save your selection.
To filter a selected email, click the three-dot More menu to the right of the Labels icon, then choose Filter messages like these.
That’s it! Google builds redundancy into Gmail with multiple ways of performing the same tasks. Depicted herein are the easiest, fastest ways to get the job done in my opinion. Once you spend time using the Gmail label and filter system, you’ll be a filtering and labeling freak like the rest of us. Your only remaining task is deciding how to spend all the time you save.
Thank you for visiting Tech Help Knowledgebase to learn how to use Gmail labels and filters to save time.
Henry Irvine, Contributing Technology Writer, translates more than a decade of internet technology experience in product and customer relationship management into practical help and how-to content. Look for him on Bay Area trails, music venues, or sausage shacks when he’s not writing. Don’t call him Hank if you see him. Seriously. Hank on Twitter