Want a Better Gmail Experience? Try Changing Your Interface

December 16, 2016

Inbox by Google, tabs, stars, Priority Inbox – what are these things and what do they mean?

The short answer is they are different types of Gmail interfaces. They are all very different ways of looking at the same mail.

Most people likely just use the default Gmail interface. But it’s good to go through the different options to see what fits you best.

For example, I never used the tabbed interface, as I liked all my mail where I could see it – until I got to that point where I didn’t want an Amazon-order update email to get the same amount of attention as an email from a friend.

So what's the best interface for you? Well, here’s a brief walkthrough of some common work styles people have and the Gmail interface that serves it best.

If your work style is “If I don’t see it then it doesn’t exist”, you should use these interfaces

Stars: Stars are a visual marker. You can toggle between up to 12 types of Star icons to keep a visual system that means something to you.

To access stars, click the Gear icon and go to Settings. From there, select each type of star you want to use. I suggest starting with a small amount and adding more as you need them.

To use Stars, click the empty Star icon to the left of the who the email is from. Click the stars to cycle through each of your stars you are using. You can even do search Gmail for stars.

Importance markers: Importance markers are a visual signal that a message is important. It means the email is from a sender that Gmail determined was important due to the volume and frequency of correspondence or it’s a sender that you’ve told Gmail is important.

Click the yellow importance marker on or off to toggle a sender or email as being important or not. Gmail will also evolve and learn who is important to you based on your email habits.

Priority Inbox: Priority Inbox shows you important and unread mail at the very top of the list, followed by your starred mail. Underneath that is the rest of your mail. There’s no tabbed interface, you’ll never miss anything and the stuff you really want to and need to read are front and center.

To use priority inbox, click the gear icon and go to Settings. Change to the Inbox tab, and change the Inbox type to Priority Inbox. You can even choose how many of each type of email you want visible.

“I don’t want to see it, but I’m afraid that if I hide it I’ll never get it back.

If this is your work style, you should use the tabbed interface containing Gmail’s primary sort functions.

Gmail sorts your mail into five tabs: Primary, social, promotions, updates and forums (optional).

The tabs are always visible so you can toggle through them throughout the day. Social media updates, message board responses, Amazon shipment deliveries, etc. all appear in the remaining tabs. This leaves your Primary tab for you to focus on what’s really important.

The best part is that you’ll never miss an email that’s been deposited in one of the other tabs. Gmail tells you when new messages appear in them:

To turn on the tabbed interface, click the gear icon and choose Configure Inbox.

“I only want to see it when I need it!

If you’d like to get things out-of-sight and out-of-mind when they aren’t needed, you’re best served using Inbox by Google.

Inbox by Google is your Gmail account containing the same messages, it’s just a different way of seeing them.

You can archive and trash messages in certain categories with a single click. You can also snooze messages to disappear and then reappear when you need them.

To access Inbox by Google, point your browser to inbox.google.com. If you’re logged in, you’ll see your mail with the new interface. If, at any time you decide you’d rather go back to the regular interface, you can still access your Gmail the regular way at Gmail.com.

Those are the different interfaces! I recommend going through them and see what works best for you.

Jess Stratton has taught more than 40 courses for LinkedIn Learning, covering everything from QuickBooks to Outlook to PowerPoint to Twitter. Check them all out here.