Home & Office

How to better manage Gmail labels (and why you should)

Once you've mastered Gmail labels, you'll find the cloud-based email service to be considerably easier to manage.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer on
Getty/Picture Alliance

Gmail has a pretty powerful labeling system that makes it really easy to manage your emails. With labels, you can ensure certain emails are tagged with not just a name but also a color. Also, this feature makes it easy to sort through your inbox so you know exactly where to look for specific messages.

Say, for instance, you get daily (or maybe hourly) emails from a specific sender and you want to not only make sure you don't miss them as they arrive, but you also want to be able to quickly find them (without having to resort to using the search tool. How do you do that? With labels. 

I'm going to show you a few of the fundamental things you should know about labels. Once you've mastered Gmail labels (a feature that's been around for a very long time), you'll find the cloud-based email service to be considerably easier to manage.

With that said, let's get to the labels.

Keeping track of your labels

I hadn't touched labels in some time. They were working as expected and it had been a while since I needed to create a new label or manage them. Much to my surprise, there were so many labels I'd either forgotten about or other services created automatically (when they were connected). 

How do you find out this information? Let me show you.

1. Open Settings

Log in to Gmail and click the gear icon in the top right corner. From the pop-up menu (Figure 1), click See All Settings.

The Gmail Settings pop-up menu.

The Settings pop-up menu means you're halfway to locating your labels.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting window, click the Labels tab to reveal all of your current Gmail labels (Figure 2).

The Gmail label manager window.

What you see is only half of the labels I have in my account.

Image: Jack Wallen

When I saw the vast number of labels associated with my Gmail account, I knew I needed to seriously thin the herd. You'll probably find the same thing. Here's what you can do:

  • Scan through the list and click Hide for any label you think you might no longer need.
  • Scan through the list and click remove for any label you know you no longer need.

After deleting (or hiding) all of the unwanted labels, you can close out the Settings window.

Creating new labels

For me, it was all about starting from square one. To that end, I culled nearly all of the labels associated with my account (minus the System Labels, which you can't delete). With that clean slate, I could then go back and create only the labels I needed.

1. Locate a target message

To create a label, locate an email in your inbox that will be associated with that label. Say, for example, you receive a daily email from your team manager. Locate one of those messages in your inbox.

2. Create a new label based on that message

Once you've located the message in question, right-click it and select Label As (Figure 3).

The Gmail right-click context menu.

Creating a new label based on an email in my Gmail inbox.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting pop-up, click Create New (Figure 4).

The Gmail Label creation pop-up menu.

You can select from a current label or create a new one.

Image: Jack Wallen

3. Name and next your label

In the pop-up window (Figure 5), give your new label a name and (optionally) select a parent label for the new child. 

The Gmail label naming window.

A name for our new label is required but a nest isn't.

Image: Jack Wallen

Click Create and your new label is ready.

Color-coding your labels

One thing you cannot do when creating a new label is associate a color. I've found giving a label a specific color makes it considerably easier to make it stand out in your inbox.

1. Reveal the folder/label pane

To color-code your new label you must reveal the label listing in the left pane. How you do this will depend on if you're using the new Gmail interface or the old one. With the new interface, I simply hover my cursor over the mail button to reveal my folders and labels (Figure 6).

The Gmail folders/labels pop-up sidebar.

Revealing the folders and labels pane in the new Gmail interface.

Image: Jack Wallen

2. Add a color to a label

Locate the label you want to color code and hover your cursor over it to reveal the three-dot menu button. Click that button and then click Label Color. From the new pop-up window (Figure 7), select the color you want to be associated with the label and you're good to go.

The color picker for Gmail labels.

Adding a color to a label in Gmail.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that, my dear Gmail-using friends, is how you can better manage the labels in Google's cloud-based mail service. Enjoy that improved workflow!

Editorial standards