Using Labels to Keep a Clean Inbox

using labels to keep a clean inbox

As I wrap up my sixteenth year of teaching, I have been reflecting on all the things I do to lower my stress level. Because teaching can be very stressful, as you well know.

One of my biggest stressors is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to manage: tons of paperwork, stacks of materials to organize, hundreds of papers to grade...and an constantly over-flowing email inbox. 

Here's my biggest problem with school email: there are so many things that cannot be addressed immediately. 

I click through my mail, I read, and I think...
"I'll tackle that one later."
OR, "I can't even THINK about this right now!". 
OR, "I can't delete this until next trimester when we go on that trip."

And this list goes on and on.

Next thing I know, my inbox has 8,452 emails! 
(I didn't check, but I'm fairly certain that's an accurate number. Or even higher.)

I've tried to tackle this problem before, using a few tips that helped me keep on top of my mail. I shared those in this older post: Inbox Overflowing? Quick Tips to Put Your Mind at Ease. And those strategies definitely helped me keep on top of my mail. But there was still all those emails that couldn't be addressed immediately.

So this year I turned to labels.

I am very fortunate my school uses gmail for our work email. Gmail has a very easy way to setup and color-code labels for your inbox. I'd like to share the steps with you here, even if you don't use gmail at your school...hopefully you can use a labeling system as well!

To create my labels, I first thought of some categories that would cover all of the emails I tend to keep. IEPs and Parents came to mind first, as those are emails I haver to save for the entire school year. I decided to make labels for ELA and Math, as we tend to get assessment information and workshop emails I like to keep for those subject areas. Events is a good label for field trips, fundraisers, and assemblies. Students is a newer label I just created, as a place to store any Google docs my students share with me (in case I don't have a chance to add them to my Drive at a particular time):


To create these labels, you will need to click under the More arrow, on the left-hand side of your inbox. Add the bottom of this sidebar, you will see Create new label:


Once you click on the new label, you will find a pop-up screen where you can enter the label name. I write mine in all caps for a clean look that stands out in my inbox:
(I don't nest my labels since I only use six categories...nesting would be very helpful for any subcategories you want to create however).

You can see the new label I created for Report Cards (not actually a label I use, just an example here):


The label won't be assigned a color unless you choose to add one. To do so, click on the right side of your new label and you will see an arrow and a menu appear. Choose Label Color:


You will see pre-selected label colors, as well as a place to add a custom color. I try to select some bright shades with a white font:

The custom colors have a bit more variety, but you can't choose any html color you would like:


For the example, I chose a bright purple with a white text color: 


Once you have set up all of your labels, you are ready to get organized! As new emails come in, you can read them and discard...



Or you can click and drag an email you need to save to the label where you would like to store it:

When you click on a label in your sidebar, you will find all the emails you've saved under that label. If you open a particular email, you will see your color-coded label at the top:

If you'd like to remove a label, click on the right-hand side of the label and select Remove label:

And that's it! Once you have all the labels you need, it will be easier to delete and store ALL of your email...so your inbox will become a calming sight for your teacher eyes:


Color-coded, digital organization in Google is always a huge stress-relief for me. I keep my grade book online and sort all subjects by color (it automatically averages too, which is a HUGE timesaver):

I also color-code my subjects and display all of the important information for my students each day, from materials needed to the steps to take during a class. Not only does it help me know exactly what I am doing in a given lesson, but it also keeps my students on the same page (and there are no more questions about what they need or what we are doing next!):



Do you like to organize your teaching digitally? Please share your tips with us!
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