Back in 2001 or 2002, I took a stab at making client side software once again with an Outlook Add In called Inbox Buddy. Developed by myself and my co-founder, Inbox Buddy acted to dynamically organize your Outlook Inbox. The single best feature in Inbox Buddy was that it color coded your email based on observing your messaging patterns as well as a content analysis and a small training step. It is now almost 20 years later and I am still missing Inbox Buddy.

Note: Inbox Buddy failed not because it was a bad product but because Outlook’s plugin architecture at the time, well, sucked monkey chunks. Also I made the foolish decision to target Outlook 2000 instead of subsequent releases which had a better approach to plugins. And then I started a blog search engine and got really, really busy … Ah, well, live and learn. Sigh.

Color coding is an incredibly powerful tool for organizing information and one so damn simple that everyone misses it. Recently I thought to google for “Color Code” Gmail and, surprise, surprise, this can be done albeit manually.

I found the Zdnet technique either confusing or not entirely accurate with the current version of Gmail so I wrote up my own description.

The way that this works is:

  1. You create a label that represents the context of the mail you want to color (I have two, personal and ADL for my new gig at the ADL).
  2. You set the color of the label.
  3. You create a filter or filters that apply that label.

Step 1: Create a Label

Open Gmail and in the sidebar of labels, example the More link at the bottom of the sidebar. Scroll all the way down and select the Create New Label option.

Step 2: Color the Label

Scroll to the label you just created and select the 3 vertical dots option to get a context menu about the label. Select the Label Color option and then choose a color for the label.

Step 3: Create a Filter

At the right hand top of Gmail there is a gear icon. Select the Settings option from the menu. From the Gmail Settings window, select Filters and Blocked Addresses option. Scroll to the bottom and click Create a new filter. Enter an email address or domain name in the From field (or write the filter however you like) and select Create filter. On the second screen, select Apply the label and choose the label you just created. You might also want to select the Never send it to spam option. Finally you should generally always select the Apply to existing conversations option so the label is applied to all messages in your inbox.