Career & Finance

9 Gmail Hacks That Keep Me Organized as a Working Parent

gmail hacks for working parents"
gmail hacks for working parents
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

If there’s one form of technology that’s caused me an inordinate amount of stress in my adult life, it’s email. Sending them, responding to them, forgetting to send them—it’s never-ending. It’s also inevitable. My jobs have always required spending a good amount of time in ye ol’ inbox, and that’s not going to change any time soon. And now that I’m a parent, I feel the added pressure of fielding communications from pediatricians, daycare, and so on. 

As a freelance writer, I use the same email account for my personal and professional communication. For some, this might seem like a chaotic choice, but it works well enough for me. However, it does mean that I have to keep my inbox *super* organized so I don’t miss anything. Over time, I have developed a few strategies—AKA Gmail hacks—to help me stay sane.

That said, the biggest tip I’d give anyone is just to really explore all of Gmail’s capabilities and experiment with what works for you. Much like organizing a house, there’s no one “right way” to set it up, and everyone has idiosyncratic preferences. But even just based on talking to friends, I think a lot of us underutilize all the options available to us. 

Below are nine Gmail hacks that make my work and personal life infinitely easier.

1. Snooze Messages

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest fears is totally spacing out on an important email because I saw it and then promptly forgot about it. Given how often I check emails on my phone while watching a toddler, this could easily happen. I find it helpful to snooze messages I can’t deal with at the moment. That way, I don’t have to see them for a while (out of sight, out of mind!), but I know they’ll pop back up later as if they were just being sent at that time. 

Usually, I select one of the default settings (like tomorrow at 8 a.m.), but you can also choose a specific date and time. I also snooze a lot of the “fun” emails I subscribe to because I don’t want them distracting me during the workday, but I do want to revisit them when I have time.

gmail hacks
Source: Annie Atherton

2. Mark Messages as “Unread”

Other times, I use “unread” as a way to keep from forgetting about something. So, if I open an email but don’t want to respond to it right away, I hit the little envelope symbol up top to “Mark as unread.” It’s so simple, but it helps ease that back-of-the-mind anxiety that it would otherwise get lost in the fray.

3. Schedule Emails

While email norms may have relaxed, I do think there’s something to be said for respecting the boundaries of evenings and weekends. So, even though I sometimes work at night or on a Saturday, I rarely hit “send” during those times. Instead, I’ll schedule it to go out during business hours.

gmail hacks
Source: Annie Atherton

4. Use Templates When Appropriate

When I used to work in sales, I had to send lots of the same kinds of email messages. Eventually, I learned the beauty of templates. There are a bunch of apps and tools out there for people who send a ton of emails for work that are worth exploring if you work in an industry like sales or PR, but you can also save simple templates in Gmail. This also works if you only want part of the email, like the first few sentences, to be templated.

For example, if I pitch a potential client about content writing, the intro is always a brief introduction and description of my background and skills. So, while I may personalize the rest of the message, I can save myself time and effort by using a template for the first bit. 

Next time you write something you want to save as a template, click the three little dots stacked on top of one another at the bottom of the message, then select “Templates.” Note: If this doesn’t appear as an option, you may need to go into your settings, find the “Advanced” tab, and select “Enable templates.”

adjusting settings
Source: Annie Atherton
creating email templates
Source: Annie Atherton

5. Use Labels and Folders

I don’t use folders as religiously as some folks, but it’s helpful for some things. For instance, as a journalist, I get a lot of messages from PR people. Very few of them are relevant to me at the moment, but I don’t want to totally lose them in case I want to look at them later (for instance, if I’m looking to write about kid toys and want to refer back to something someone sent me four months ago). So, I automatically label all of those types of messages as “PR inquiries,” which saves them to their own folder. I also have a few labels just for fun, like “Happy Box,” which is where I save any particularly sweet messages or positive feedback

6. Customize Your Settings

I highly recommend going into Settings and playing around with the different options. I used to have my inbox set up as “Default,” with “Promotions” and “Social” checked as categories. Gmail does a pretty good job of auto-sorting those, so I wouldn’t have to see Facebook notifications or promo messages from stores unless I wanted to. Though I don’t do it that way anymore, it was a huge improvement from when I didn’t have those separate tabs.

Then, I made the more radical change to separate my “unread” and “read” messages. This strategy may not be for everyone, but it was life-changing for me. Like, I can’t imagine functioning anymore without having my inbox set up this way. To do this, I went into “settings” (the small gear icon in the top-right corner), and then selected the “Inbox” tab. Under “Inbox type,” I chose “Unread first.”

gmail hacks
Source: Annie Atherton

Now, when I look at my inbox, all of the unread messages are grouped at the top, and everything else is below. I can hide or expand either section by clicking on it. So, if I only want to look at the messages that have not yet been opened, I have the option of hiding “Everything else” and just looking at a super clean, non-overwhelming inbox.

unread email
Source: Annie Atherton

For me, there is a huge psychological benefit to not staring at a ton of messages. I know that there are only a few “unreads” I need to deal with, and I’m not worried about them getting buried in my inbox and forgotten.

Now, if you’re thinking “I have 1,369 unread emails, this plan will never work,” I can tell you that I was in the same place before I started doing this. But there is a surprisingly easy way around that. For me, most of my unread messages were spam or promotions from stores, so I knew I’d never read them. But I didn’t want to mass delete my entire backlog, in case there was something important or sentimental that I wanted to refer back to in the future.

What I did instead was mark all of those unread messages as “read.” On the left sidebar, select “All Mail.” Then, check the little box towards the top to select all the messages on that page. You’ll see that it says, “All 50 conversations on this page are selected,” and right next to that, “Select all [some huge number] conversations in All Mail” written in blue. Hit that and then find the little envelope icon towards the top to “Mark as Read.” That’s it!

email inbox
Source: Annie Atherton
gmail hacks
Source: Annie Atherton

If you’re really exasperated with your inbox, you could also just create a whole new email account to start fresh. I did this about 10 years ago when I decided I needed an email that didn’t have my high school graduation year in it (LOL). What helped was setting up the old account to auto-forward to the new one. That way, I didn’t have to worry about still checking the old account or missing any messages sent there. To this day, some old friends and acquaintances still email me at the old account, but it’s fine because their message just pops up in the one I now use.

7. Make Scheduling Meetings Easier

If you hit the three little dots at the bottom of the email, you can select “Set up a time to meet,” then your GCal will appear on the side. You can easily see when you’re free, select multiple times for your recipient to choose from, and embed them into the email itself.

scheduling hacks
Source: Annie Atherton

8. Ruthlessly Unsubscribe

This isn’t exactly a “Gmail hack,” but it bears stating that one big sanity-saving strategy for me is to make an almost daily ritual of unsubscribing from email lists. I find that every time I buy something, that store starts to send me promo emails. Not only is it distracting, but it tempts me to spend on stuff I don’t need. While I try to always take the extra moment to check (or un-check) the box to let the store know I don’t want promotional emails before hitting “buy,” they seem to creep in regardless. So, it’s an ongoing effort, but I think of it as digital weeding.

9. Get on the Same Page With Your Partner

This is more of a parenting hack than an email one, but my husband and I use GCal a lot to stay on the same page. Any time one of us makes a plan that’ll affect the other one (which is basically anything outside the work day), we create an event for it in GCal. Whether it’s for relatives visiting, a night out with friends, a doctor’s appointment, or what have you, there’s no squabbling later about the other person being blindsided when they realize they’re on the hook for solo parenting. (JK, there will always be squabbling, but at least no one can say they weren’t warned!)

Some parents even create a shared family email address for all kid-related communications. I haven’t tried this Gmail hack, but it could work for some families.

There are dozens more Gmail hacks than what I’ve shared here, especially if you get into the realm of integrating with other apps such as Trello. Because it’s such an individual process, there’s no way to know which you’ll like without trying them. For me, the effort of continually figuring that out has been well worth it.

Annie Atherton

Annie Atherton, Contributing Writer

Annie is a mom and writer covering parenting, culture, women, and work. In addition to The Everymom, her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the BBC, Insider, Seattle Magazine, The Seattle Times, Travel+Leisure, Romper, and Scary Mommy. She’s particularly interested in questions of how people can design their lives and traditions in accordance with their values.