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7 top tips for Google Mail's Priority Inbox feature

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1. Turn on Priority Inbox

Enabling the new Priority Inbox feature in Google Mail is very easy and you just have to look for the link at the top of the Google Mail page and click it. It's highlighted in red and it's only a beta feature at the moment, but then lots of things are with Google, so that's no surprise.

A Priority Inbox link is added to the panel on the left-hand side of Google Mail and when you click it you'll see that instead of the standard inbox, messages are organised into three sections, Important, Starred, and Everything else.

It is designed to make life simpler by bringing the most important messages to your attentention and moving unimportant messages out of the way so they are less distracting. You can more easily concentrate on the important messages then and waste less time on emails that can wait.

Google Mail Priority Inbox

2. Train the inbox

Google Mail will attempt to classify your incoming emails and automatically put them in the right section - Important, Starred, and Everything else. At first it might not be too successful and it could make mistakes, so check each section carefully just in case.

As you use Google Mail, it will learn from your actions and get better at identifying important messages. For example, any message you star is considered to be important and similar ones will be directed to the Priority Inbox in future. Messages you delete without reading are regarded as unimportant and so will end up in the Everything Else section. Messages you read are also considered to be important and especially ones that you reply to.

If a message appears in the wrong section, you can tell the system that it is either important or unimportant and this helps to train the system. Select the message and click the small plus or minus buttons above the inbox. (You can use the plus and minus buttons on the keyboard too.)

3. Set the default view

When you enable the Priority Inbox you can choose to make it the default view when you log in to Google Mail and this saves you having to select it each time just to see what's important. Click the Settings link in the top right corner and then select the Priority Inbox tab. You'll see a Default Inbox section and you can choose from a drop-down menu what to display first. Choose Priority Inbox.

Google Mail Priority Inbox

4. Override the filters

Filters can be created in Google Mail Settings to automatically sort your email and apply labels, and it is a useful facility for organising messages and keeping the inbox to a manageable level. You can choose whether the Priority Inbox feature is applied to incoming email before or after your filters have been applied. If the filters are applied first, it's possible that a filter may remove an email before Priority Inbox has had a chance to prioritise it, so it's useful to give it priority. On the other hand, you may find it more useful to have the filters do their work before Priority Inbox sorts the incoming mail. It's up to you - try it both ways and see which is best. Click the Settings link in the top right corner and then select the Priority Inbox tab. in the Filtered Mail section, select Override Filters if you prefer.

5. Search for important mail

When you enable Priority Inbox, you'll see that coloured arrows are used to mark the different categories of message. A message that Priority Inbox thinks is important will be marked with a yellow arrow. When you are searching your email for a particular message you can choose to search only those messages that are marked as important. The markers are like labels and you can add 'is:important' to the end of the word or phrase you enter in the the search box.

6. Recover lost messages

After reading an email in the Important category you may discover that it has disappeared and is no longer in the Priority Inbox. It's not really lost and it is simply hidden so that you can concentrate on dealing with unread messages. You'll find it in your regular inbox if you select it on the left.

By default, the Important section lists only messages marked as important and unread. Click the little down arrow next to the Important category title above the message list and you'll see a list of options. You can choose to list all important emails whether they have been read or not, or just unread emails. It's your choice. You can also set the number of messages to show, such as 5, 10, 25 or 50.

Google Mail Priority Inbox

7. Choose new sections

Although Priority Inbox is designed to display only important messages, you can actually choose to display other categories of message. For example, ones labelled family, friends, business and so on. Click the heading of the first section (Important and unread unless you've changed it), then click the More options link. You can now select any of the labels you have created and only messages tagged with them will appear in that section of the Priority Inbox.

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