Star System: Improving the Google Mail experience

Some really nifty librarians here at UM organized a “Project Management Extravaganza” recently.  This was a super successful event that included short lightning talks on different project management tools and methods grouped by topic over the course of three hours.  Many many people came out – from here at UM and from other libraries nearby.

A colleague and I gave a lightning talk about using “stars” in Google Mail to manage one’s email (and track projects) and I’ve found our star system so useful I thought I’d blog about the concept here briefly in case it’s helpful for others.

I set up a star system for myself with following stars enabled:

Star System

They each mean a different thing for me:

  • purple-question:  I am waiting on information from someone.
  • red-star:  I should really do this RIGHT NOW (or at least this week).
  • blue-star:  Hey, here’s an interesting webinar or long article that I do not have time for at all but would like to keep tabs on and not forget about without having to have a million tabs open on my browser.
  • green-star:  This is an email with something I need to reference infrequently, but consistently (conference call details for example).

I have to say, implementing this star system in my email and combining that with an “unread first” email view has revolutionized my ability to stay on top of things.  I’m already a master filterer & labeler (if I do say so myself), but with this system in place, I’ve gotten into the routine of checking regularly at the beginning and end of the day what emails have purple questions and red stars so I can know at a glance how things are progressing.

How do you check how many red-starred items you have?  Or purple-questions?  You type “has:red-star” or “has:purple-question” in the search bar at the top of your email.  This is why I did not pick the “orange-guillemet” icon.  Too hard to spell!

orange guillemet

The keys to implementing my successful star plan were to start this on a Friday afternoon when I was already in “clean up so I can see where I am on various projects” mode, think about the minimum number of types of emails I need to keep track of or reference, and to write it all down.  I wrote out my star system on a little sticky note that I stuck onto my monitor, and started starring things that afternoon.  I’m sure I’ve missed emails from before I started, but once I got things rolling, it was easy to keep up.

A really important thing to do, though, with this system is to unstar things when they are resolved so there are not overwhelming masses of emails in the purple-question or red-star zone.

Anyways – I highly recommend implementing a star system for work emails.  They have really worked for me to keep on top of tasks (my own and others) across all the projects I’m involved in…

What about you?  Anyone else trying to use Google stars to manage their mail?  How is that working?

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2 thoughts on “Star System: Improving the Google Mail experience

  1. Nice post! Thanks for sharing.
    After having learned the way of utilizing different stars thanks to your presentation with Julie W, my inbox has become colorful. And every single message coming from my boss gets “!” mark in bright yellow — it keeps me focused and alert. 🙂

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