How to better organise your Gmail inbox

Is email overload your biggest technological problem? For many people, it is. If you're a Gmail user, there are two very simple tricks you can employ to better filter your email and regain control of your inbox, and they've been around so long that no one really talks about them anymore. That's a shame, because plenty of Gmail users still don't know about them.

Use full-stops

The first trick is to use full-stops in your Gmail address. Gmail doesn't differentiate between a valid Gmail address and the same address with full-stops inserted in it. For example, if your email address is talkingNY@gmail.com, messages sent to talking.NY@gmail.com and talk.ing.NY@gmail.com will both end up in your inbox.

Likewise, if you initially set up your Gmail address as Name.Surname@gmail.com, all mail sent to the same address without a full-stop (NameSurname@gmail.com) will still reach you.

The concept, then, is to give out an alternate email addresses with a full-stop or full-stops in them for different purposes, and then filter those messages into different folders. For example, you might give out the NameSurname email address to your friends, but use Name.Surname for business acquaintances, or confirmation emails from online shopping, or newsletter lists and listservs.

You don't need to do anything to start using the new address(es), but you do have to set up the filters if you want the messages to skip your inbox and go directly to another folder.

To set up the filter, follow these steps:

1. From the cog icon in the upper right, go to Settings.

2. Select Filters.

3. Select Create a new filter (it's at the bottom).

4. In the "to" field, enter the Gmail address with the full-stops.

5. Select "create filter with this search."

6. If you want incoming messages for that address to go directly into a designated folder, select the options "Apply the label" and "Skip the Inbox." You must apply both filters, or else the mail will go to the new folder and your regular inbox.

7. Hit "Create filter" to save your changes.

Say you've started giving out the new email address, but you haven't set up the filters yet because you procrastinated on that step. It's okay – it happens. Gmail has one more powerful option that can help. It shows up just to the right of the "Create filter" save button, where you'll see "Also apply filter to X matching conversations." That option will sweep all the relevant mail to the new folder right away, helping you clean up your inbox instantly.

Use the plus sign

The second trick is nearly the same as the first, but it uses a plus sign followed by a word, rather than full-stops.

If your address is talkingNY@gmail.com, any messages sent to talkingNY+work@gmail.com will still reach you, as will mail sent to talkingNY+LinkedInSpam@gmail.com.

Gmail users familiar with this trick often leverage it when they sign up for new online services. Say, for example, you sign up for a lot of fitness app accounts. Instead of using a unique name for each account, just append +fitness or +RunningApps to the end of your Gmail name when you enrol.

As you start using your new +Word email addresses, be sure to create filters using the steps listed above, substituting the + addresses in step 4, of course.

For more, see our guide to cleaning up your email inbox.