[Productivity] Email Inbox Management for Graduate Students: Gmail’s Filter Function

A very minor (but also major) productivity tip. If you do not yet use Gmail’s label and filter features, I strongly recommend using it. Being a researcher is similar to running a small business. Setting up a laboratory is similar to starting a business. You need to set your own rules and prioritize tasks when multiple roles are required. Studying in graduate school, you realize that managing emails effectively (receiving, organizing, and responding) is more important than you thought. It’s said that professors receive hundreds of emails a day. It would simplify things a lot by automatically categorizing emails to respond to some and skim others (not important emails) quickly.

From: https://afeelingofsymmetry.com/urgent-vs-important/

As a researcher, managing emails is important. There are various ways to categorize emails, such as urgency/importance, project-based, and subject-based (related to life or research). For example, as an international student, emails related to visa or residency status are urgent and important, so I categorize them as a priority. By dividing the email categories, I can make sure not to miss important emails and prioritize them according to their urgency and importance, thereby reducing the chance of missing opportunities.

Here is my list of categories in my inbox. I have folders for Networking, Opportunity, NYU, Health, Coursework, and Research. Within each folder, they further categorize the emails into sub-labels or mark them with asterisks to prioritize or keep track of them. This way, we can easily access important information and not miss any important emails.

  • The Networking folder is for networking-related emails and you plan to not miss any opportunities in writing, job, and grant/training.
  • The Opportunity category is divided into three categories: writing (journal publication, conference, etc.), job, and grant/training. I don’t miss anything in this category and actively look for opportunities to apply for, mark important ones with a star, or mark them as unread. By using this filtering feature, I miss fewer webinars and can more easily collect scholarships and fellowships. I am not actively looking for a job at the moment, but it’s good to look at recent hiring trends when I want to.
  • The Updates folder consists of less important and urgent items that I will read when I have time. This includes updates on Google Scholar publications (for researchers I am interested in), webinars, and Google Calendar updates.
  • The NYU folder is for emails related to your duties and responsibilities as an international student at the university, including visa-related information.
  • The Health folder is for health-related emails and you move COVID-19 and health insurance-related emails here.
  • The Coursework folder is for emails related to your classes and the Coursework program-related emails are separated.
  • The Research folder is for research-related emails and you plan to label them under your respective lab or project, hiding the projects that have ended.
  • The Letters category collects newsletters from institutions, organizations, and groups that I am interested in, organized by topic. Usually, letters published by institutions and associations do not contain immediate information for me, but they are really helpful in keeping track of trends. So, I don’t read all the letters here, but if the title catches my attention, I will read it.

Finally, the label color can be changed, making it easier to see at a glance.

The “Filter messages like these” feature in an email system allow you to create filtering rules to categorize incoming emails automatically. For example, you can create a rule that categorizes emails containing the word “webinar” as “webinar,” emails from a certain professor as a certain label, emails from a specific organization as a subcategory of “letters,” or emails containing “postdoc” as “job.” This saves effort in organizing emails as the system categorizes them for you.

When creating filtering rules for emails, there are various options such as “Skip the inbox,” “Star it,” and “Mark as read.” Depending on the importance of each email, you can choose the appropriate option. For example, I use “Skip the inbox” for all newsletters and archive them directly to the “Letter” label. This way, I don’t have to worry about them when I am busy. On the other hand, emails related to research or opportunities are not skipped to the inbox. You can manage your emails more comfortably and efficiently by using filtering rules effectively.

Of course, other email services also have filtering rule-creation functions. I highly recommend searching for similar functions in your email service and trying them out.

“Skip the inbox” is the most important principle for creating a zero inbox. If you want to know more about the zero inbox, please refer to the video below.

Inbox Zero Tutorial (Step-by-step Instructions)

  • May 17, 2021