Gmail for Music Teachers: How You Can Stay Organized When Your Inbox is Overflowing

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Sarah Joncas.

Now more than ever, email is an important way to communicate. Whether it’s the latest deals, keeping up with friends or work-related communication, my inboxes always seem to be full of messages! With so many messages coming in, organization is key. I may not have time to read every message in detail every day, so I use systems that make it easy for me to deal with my most important messages first. Today I’ll share some of those systems with you.

Like many teachers, my school uses Gmail within our own domain. This means my school email doesn’t end with @gmail, but I can log in on the Gmail site. 

All of these tricks work in GMail both within your own school domain, if you have one, and in regular Gmail accounts, so independent teachers and those who use Gmail for personal use can also use these tricks to get organized!

One of the nice features of Gmail is plenty of space to save every email that crosses your inbox, but it quickly gets overwhelming to dig through thousands of messages. I use a system to sort my school communications within Gmail, and it can help you keep your email inbox organized too! Let’s get started with some Gmail organizational tools.

Our Top Search Tricks for Gmail

Sometimes, you just need to find a message fast. You might not know where you put it or what the exact subject line is, but you need to find it now. There are lots of search tricks for Gmail which can help. It’s no surprise that Gmail, a Google product, has search possibilities that make it very powerful. 

My favorite way to search for a message is by sender. If you start typing a name, you’ll see different senders from your inbox and you can select the one whose messages you’d like to see. For example, I send myself some emails from my personal Gmail to my school Gmail, so I can search for my own name and select my email.

Gmail search by sender

This will show me all the messages from that email. Sometimes you might know the domain (site) that a message came from, but not the specific email address that sent it. In this case, you can just type the @ symbol and then the domain. To see all of my Midnight Music emails, I can type @midnightmusic.com.au in the search box.

Gmail search box

You can also search by keyword. If you need an email about band, just search for band and all emails with band in them will pop up. Just like with Google, you can use “and” to indicate both terms are needed (band and beginning will give you results that have both words) and “or” to indicate one of the terms is needed (band or orchestra will give results that have either band or orchestra).

You can also combine the different types of search. For example, if I know I need an email from my principal about schedules, I can search for principal@school.org schedules. This makes it easier to find messages quickly, especially if you get a lot of emails from a particular contact. 

When you’re seeking to organize for the long term, Starring and Labels can help.

Starring: Important messages in one place

One of the most useful Gmail features that a lot of people don’t know about is the ability to “star” emails. Click the star next to a message and it will turn yellow:

Gmail star important messages

Then, in addition to appearing in your inbox, the message appears under “Starred” when you click it in the menu.

Gmail starred messages

Personally, I use starring for 2 purposes: emails that need action and emails that are important. For example, I frequently star messages with meeting agendas until the meeting happens so that I can easily pull up the email to reference at the meeting. I also star emails that need a reply which requires research, like if I’m asked for instrument recommendations. 

The key to keeping the Starred feature useful is clearing out your stars on occasion. Not every message is important forever! To unstar a message, just click the yellow star again and the star will be removed. The message will still be present in its original location. 

Some messages may need to be sorted on a more detailed level than simply important or not. That’s what we can use labels for.

Labels: Sorting What’s What

Gmail uses labels as a means of organizing messages. In my school email, I have labels for different types of communication. For example, all marketing emails get labelled “Marketing” and I only bother looking at them if I know I need to make a purchase. 

I label emails from parents based on the class that their student is in. This helps me reference emails later if need be, and makes it easy to give the correct answers to the correct people. 

In addition to labelling these emails, I use labels to organize emails that function as alerts for other systems, like Google Drive, Google Classroom, and our school’s payment processor. I do keep these emails as a reference just in case, but they’re neatly tucked away where I don’t have to look at them. 

Emails can be labelled manually. To label an email, click the label tag at the top of the email message and select which labels you’d like to give the message from the menu.

Gmail menu bar

However, filters are a real help in labelling emails automatically, so that they’re sorted before you even lay eyes on them! 

Filters: Sort Smart

Filters let you sort smarter – Gmail can sort your emails for you before you even open them! For me, filters help me to prioritize which emails I spend time with. Before I start a filter, I always create the label that I want to filter into – let’s make a Midnight Music label and have all emails from Midnight Music filter in there.

To create a filter, go to the settings menu by clicking the gear icon. 

Gmail search gear icon

Select “Settings” on the menu that pops up. 

Gmail Settings menu

Select the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab.

Gmail settings options

Click “Create a New Filter”.

Gmail create a new filter

What pops up is basically an advanced search window.

Gmail advanced search window

I’ll put in my parameters (in this case, I want to filter all messages from @midnightmusic.com.au, so I’ll type that in the from box). Then click “Create filter”

Gmail advanced search window

I select the “Apply the label” box and pick which label I’d like to apply.

Gmail create a search filter

Then, click “Create filter” and you’re done! 

Conclusion

You’ll notice this article doesn’t tell you which labels to use, or how to sort your emails. One thing I’ve learned is that all teachers work differently, and need to use their own organizational systems to thrive. There isn’t a magic wand to wave for instant organization (I wish!) that’s actually useful. I hope you can find labels that work for you in your unique situation, and you have some new strategies to cope with inbox overwhelm in Gmail. 

Gmail’s tools can be a great help to music teachers in the quest to be organized. I hope you’ll try some of them out for yourself!

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About the Writer

Sarah Joncas is a music teacher from Massachusetts, USA. She teaches kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade chorus, fifth grade band, and percussion ensemble. Before becoming a teacher, she worked with technology and educational software.

In 2014, she was named a TI:ME Technology in Music Education Leadership Fellow, which allowed her to attend a music education conference in Texas and explore cutting edge music teaching technology. She has earned degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter or her blog Teaching Music Musings

Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

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I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

Learn more and take a sneak peek inside