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This chapter is from the book

Living with Labels

I discussed labels in Chapter 7's "Labels" section, but I want to emphasize here just how important they are to Gmail. There are no folders in Gmail. None. Instead, Gmail uses labels to organize email, which are far better and more useful than folders. Why?

Suppose you receive an email from your coworker Bob about the Zoo project you're doing in cooperation with the Yog-Sothoth firm. You have four folders set up in your email program: Bob, Work, Zoo Project, Yog-Sothoth. Into which folder do you file the message? After you pick one, that's it—even though the email has to do with all four subjects, it can go into only one folder. If you want to find it in the future, you either have to remember which folder it's in, or click one at a time on each folder, or search. The first requires a superhuman memory if you get a ton of mail, the second is silly, and the third can be dog slow on desktop clients.

If you use Gmail, you can assign as many labels as you'd like to a message. In the example in the previous paragraph, you could assign Bob, Work, Zoo Project, and Yog-Sothoth to the message. If you wanted to find it later, you could click any of those four labels, or search—and searching Gmail is fast. If you learn the search operators I just covered in the previous section, it's even more efficient.

So learn to live with labels. They can be tremendously helpful. But, as I've discussed before (in Chapter 3's "Molding Your Email Folder Structure into the One Used by Gmail" section), don't go label crazy. With Gmail's powerful and fast search, you may find that the fewer labels you use, the better. Before adding a label, first ask yourself if you absolutely need it. And don't be afraid to remove labels down the road and consolidate. Instead of Work/PRSA, Work/Science Center, and Work/Zoo, just create a label titled Work and dump everything in there. After that, search becomes your friend. Try it—you may love it.

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