"Sort" your Gmail messages with filters and labels

Attach a label to a Gmail filter to make messages easier to find.

There are lots of things to like about Google's Gmail service: It's free (unless you count the text ads at the top of each window; it is available on any device with Internet access, and it's easy to use as a central repository for multiple e-mail accounts .

Unfortunately, there are also many useful features of Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and other standalone e-mail programs that Gmail lacks. One of the features I miss most is the ability to sort messages by sender. I used to have to page through old mail 50 messages at a time to find the one I was looking for. Now I use the service's filters and labels as a sort substitute.

If you're looking for a message from a particular person, select that person's entry in the Contacts list on the left of the main Gmail window, and copy the address in the To: field. Next, click Settings in the top-right corner of the window, and choose Filters > Create a new filter.

Gmail's Create a filter screen
Find all the messages from a single person by entering their address in the From: field of Gmail's Create a filter screen.

Paste the address in the From: field and click the Next Step button. After a few seconds you'll see all the mail from that person listed at the bottom of the screen. Check Apply the label, and choose New label from the drop-down menu to the right. Enter a name for your filter, and click OK. You can select the messages you want to view in the list, or simply click Also apply filter to the xx conversations below to add all of them. Click Create Filter to return to the Filters tab of the Settings window.

The New Label field in Gmail's Filters dialog box
Sort your Gmail messages by applying a label to a filter.

The messages you selected and all subsequent mail from that person will now be viewable by clicking the entry you just created in the Labels list on the left side of the main Gmail window, just below your list of contacts. Of course, you can also create a labeled filter to find the mail you sent to a specific address, with or without certain words in the subject or elsewhere, and with attachments.

Tomorrow: enable the hidden administrator account in Windows Vista, and password-protect the XP equivalent.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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