Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Using GMail to Search (but not Sort) your Mail

Back to GMail...

I received a couple questions from blog readers and am excited to answer them.  The first has to do with Sorting through your GMail. Thing is, GMail really isn't sortable, but it is highly searchable. Huh??? Read on.

GMail, being powered by the search giant Google, has what I feel to be the most powerful and simple search features of any email client.  You just pop words into the search bar located at the top of any screen and GMail returns your messages containing that word.


But, try to sort your GMail and you'll have a whole different thing happening.  You cannot readily sort your GMail by message size or by subject or by sender.  Here is a huge departure in philosophy from Outlook, where all the column headers are clickable and instantly resort the messages in your view according to the column you click.  (In Outlook, click on the Subject column and all your messages will sort alphabetically by the Subject field.)

So you have to outsmart GMail just a bit, and start thinking like a searcher instead of a sorter.  You can use keywords to search (for example, searching on the term weather would give you all messages with the word weather, or searching on an email address gives you those messages to/from that email address.)

But that search box has more power, in two ways:

First, there is the Show Search Options link out there on the right.  Click it and you will see several additional search options pertaining to keywords, to, from, date and attachments.  This part is fairly intuitive.

Second, if you do not want to use the Show Search Options link, that search box itself can handle many arguments which will help you search your GMail and return the results you want.  For example, if you have many unread messages scattered out over your Inbox and you want to view ONLY your unread messages in your Inbox, use this in the search box:

is:unread in:inbox

Bingo.  You will see all unread messages in your Inbox.

Change the operators to change your search.  You might try:

is:starred in:anywhere

The above search returns any starred message from anywhere within your GMail account.  This is all rather fun once you catch on.  

Or consider:

delta from:matt

Now GMail returns any message with the word Delta from anyone named Matt.  So now I can easily lay my hands on my travel itinerary with Delta Air Lines which Matt sent me.

Just keep thinking about searching, instead of sorting, and you will have it.  I am closing with a great video (less than one minute) which also shows you some of these same features visually.  Just like Life cereal...Try it; You'll Like it.