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Add Some SALSA to Your Gmail

by Jennifer Bergland

Let’s all wish Gmail a happy 14th birthday! It had its public debut on April Fool’s day in 2004. Thanks to all of its users, the launch was no joke. There are now more than one billion Gmail accounts. Because it forms such a basic but important function in our daily lives, it is easy for us to take for granted some of the functionality that can really help us organize our work. Let’s take a look at some of the features that aren’t new, but you may not be using. It’s time to spice up your Gmail use with a little organizational Google SALSA:  Searching – All Mail – Labels – Archiving – Stars.


If there is anything Google is known for, it is their search engine. One of my favorite features of Gmail is the ability to use search terms to help locate an email. I must confess that I’m a pack rat and keep far more emails than I should, but it is easy for me to find what I need by using a few Gmail search operators.

The formula to remember is to use the search operator followed with a colon and then insert the term you are searching for. For instance, if I want to find an email from a specific someone, then I type in the following:


If that doesn’t narrow down the search, I might add a few more operators to my search. For instance, if I want to find an email from someone that has a PDF attachment, I could search using this formula: from:friend@tcea.org has:attachment filename:pdf

I could also search for an email sent or received during a certain period of time using the following terms:

  • after:
  • before:
  • older:
  • newer:

Example: after:2004/04/16 (Make sure you follow this pattern. Start with the year.)

Example: before:2004/04/18

Afraid you won’t remember the terms and don’t want to look them up? Google has a built-in search feature with some of their more basic ways to search for an email. Click on the arrow pointing down to display the search fields. Then insert the words that will help you find the email you are looking for.



All Mail and Archiving

Understanding the terms Gmail uses to identify where your email is stored is critical if you want to efficiently handle your Gmail email. Your inbox is what you see when you open up your email. You can remove an email from your inbox, but not delete it from your account. This way you can declutter your inbox but still keep important or useful emails. You do this by archiving the email which removes it from your inbox and places it in your All Mail.  The easiest way to archive an email is to open the email and then click on the icon that looks like a folder with a downward pointing arrow. This is called archiving.



Gmail uses labels to sort your emails instead of folders. Labels provide the user with more flexibility because an email in Gmail can be given countless labels; but in a system that uses folders, the email can only go into one folder. Think of labels as a tag. In essence, you use labels as a way to identify emails by a tag which makes it easy to search for them.

Creating a Label

 The easiest way to create a label or to label an email is when you have an email open. See directions below.


Assigning a Label

Assigning a label is easy. In the inbox view, you can drag and drop a label onto the email you want to tag, or when the email is open, click on the icon of a label and assign it a label.



Stars are made for those who like to organize using color and/or symbols. The default ‘star’ is well…a star.  But you can change the color of the star or select another symbol by clicking through the stars in your inbox. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Google lets you control what order the stars or symbols appear and which ones are included in the rotation. In order to change the order in which the “stars” appear and which ones you want to use, you need to go into your General Settings of Gmail.


Drag the stars between the lists. They will rotate in the order shown below when you click successively.


To learn the name of a star for search purposes, hover your mouse over the image in your settings or in your Inbox. For instance, the yellow star is called yellow-star, and the red exclamation mark is called red-bang. To find all of the emails you have labeled with a red exclamation mark, your search would look like this: has:red-bang. If you ask me, the Stars put the kick in the Google SALSA!

Master Chefs Know to Include SALSA

Learning to master some of the basic skills of Google’s email application will enable you to spice up your Gmail experience. Adding a little spoonful of searching, labeling, colorful stars, and archiving emails into your All Mail will ensure that you master your email rather than it mastering you. Go ahead, enjoy your SALSA!

Photo Credit: Salsa – Marco Verch using CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License


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