We’ve all had the experience of losing an important email. You can’t find it in your inbox, in any of the folders you might have put it in, and it doesn’t appear to be in your deleted items. In some cases, you might be able to retrieve the information by simply asking for it, but if you’re pressed for time or if you want to avoid blemishing your reputation with the fact that you’re insufficiently organized, that may not be an option.
Fortunately, if you’re using Gmail, there’s an easy way to find any email—and improve your inbox organization while you’re at it.
Introducing Gmail Search Operators
Google is the king of search, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the built-in search function for Gmail is astoundingly robust. As long as you know a few details about the message you’re looking for, you should be able to find it—no matter where it’s lurking.
You can start by clicking the “Search mail” bar at the top of your inbox, and clicking the arrow to the right of the bar. There, you’ll be able to plug in as many bits of information as you can remember, including who the email was from, who it was sent to, what the subject line was, what the body content included, when it was sent, and what size file was included (if any).
Or if you’d rather have a more organic search experience, you can use one of 25 Gmail search operators to modify your search, so you only see emails that could possibly contain the information you seek. For example, you could search within specific labels, search for messages marked a certain way, or even search based on the context of the message.
From there, you’ll be able to peruse the most likely candidates that meet your specific criteria. If you still can’t find the email, you may want to revise or loosen some of your search criteria—it’s possible that you’re misremembering a key detail.
Creating a Filter
After running a detailed search in Gmail, you’ll have the option to create a unique filter for any new incoming messages that meet these parameters. Simply click the “Create filter” button, and choose which action you’d like to take. For example, you can mark all messages meeting these criteria as read automatically, star them automatically, forward them to a specific address, or categorize it in a specific way.
This is highly useful if you plan on receiving messages similar to these in the future, so you can organize them properly (and automatically). You can also set up filters for any other specific messages or parameters you foresee yourself needing in the future.
The key to avoiding lost emails is to have a consistent organizational system in place. Make use of labels, categories, marks, and other tools to ensure your emails are filed away in an appropriate location, and use automatic filters when possible to spare yourself the manual effort of marking them.