How to Organize and Categorize Messages with Labels in Gmail

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Gmail does not let you put messages in custom folders.  What looks like a limitation is an advantage, however. Gmail has a flexible alternative to folders: labels. Each label operates like a folder. You can "open" the label and see all the messages "in" it.

Are Gmail Labels Better Than Folders?

What makes Gmail's labels better than folders is that you can "put" any message in any number of folders. An email can belong to the "most urgent" messages as well as to a particular project at work, for example.

It can carry the "needs follow-up" and "family" labels at the same time, and you will find it under both labels.

Organize and Categorize Messages with Labels in Gmail

To create a label in Gmail:

Step by Step Screenshot Walkthrough

  • Click more under the list of labels in your Gmail Inbox.
  • Select Create new label.
  • Type the desired label name.
  • Click OK.

To open a label:

Step by Step Screenshot Walkthrough

  • Click the desired label to the left (or right) of the Gmail display.
  • If the label is not visible:
    • Click more below the list of labels.
    • Now click the desired label.

You can also go to any label with a swift keyboard shortcut.

To apply a label to a message (so the message shows up under the label):

Use dragging and dropping or Step by Step Screenshot Walkthrough

  • Check the message in the message list or open it.
  • Click the Labels button.
    • For even faster access, press l.
  • Click the desired label.
    • For faster action:
    • Start typing the desired label's name until it is highlighted.
    • Hit Enter.

    To remove a label from a message:

    Step by Step Screenshot Walkthrough

    • Check the labeled message in the message list or open it.
    • Click the Labels button.
      • For even faster access, press l.
    • Click the desired checked label.
      • For faster action:
      • Start typing the name of the label you want to remove until it is highlighted.
      • Hit Enter.

      Use Gmail Labels Like Folders: Move a Message to a Label

      To label a message and remove it from Gmail's inbox in one go:

      • Check the email in the message list or open it.
      • Click the Move to button.
        • Press v for swiftness.
      • Click the desired label or view.
        • Moving to Spam will mark the message as spam.
        • Moving to Trash deletes it.
        • Note that "moving" to Inbox makes the message appear in the inbox but does not remove the current label.
        • Type the desired label or view's name until it is highlighted and hit Enter for speedy action.

      Use Multiple Labels for Single Emails

      Remember, you can assign any combination of labels to any message.

      Create a Label Hierarchy

      If you miss a folder tree and its hierarchy, you can nest Gmail labels in just the same manner using '/'.

      Change a Gmail Label's Color

      To assign a text and background color combination to a Gmail label:

      • Click the color box next to the desired label.
      • Pick a text and background color combination.
        • To make a label appear dark gray on light gray, click Remove color.
        • See below for adding your own color combinations.

      To add your own color combinations for Gmail labels:

      • When picking a label's color, select Add custom color.
      • Select the desired colors for text and background.
      • Click Apply.

      Filter Incoming Mail into Labels

      Using filters, you can also move incoming mail to labels automatically, even bypassing the Gmail Inbox.