Get Organized!

DR. FRANK BUCK: Find it faster with ‘Gmail search chips’ (column)

Mention "Google" and we immediately think "search." 

Google revolutionized the process of putting information at our fingertips. Today, we look at a new Gmail feature that makes searching email easier.

Forget the folders

In the "old days," finding information meant creating a logical file structure and then filing information in the correct folders. It's the system we've always used for filing and finding paperwork. It's the system both the Macintosh computer and the Windows operating system introduced into our digital world a generation ago.

The downside of the system is filing takes time. Filing also requires decisions. Sometimes a document could fit into more than one category. Furthermore, a misfiled document is a lost document. 

‘Search’ instead

"Search" is a much better operation. 

My own practice for Gmail messages I want to save is to click the "Archive" icon. To find it, I click "All mail" and search. We're all familiar with the search window at the top of the screen. Enter a person or keyword we remember from the email, and Gmail returns relevant results. Sometimes we get a handful of results and immediately see the desired message. Other times, the search results extend for pages.

Few people even know about a menu designed to give more accurate results. 

Just to the right of the search window is a small, downward-pointing arrow. Click it and prepare to be amazed. 

You can specify the sender (for email sent to you), who the message was for (if you're looking for an email you sent), key words or key phrases you remember from the email, and the date range (in case you have a general idea of when the email was sent or received). 

You can also specify you only want to see emails that had attachments, just in case you remember the desired message included an attachment. Combining several of those criteria generally results in a successful search.

If you are a Gmail user who never clicked that down arrow, give it a try. That trick alone is a productivity boost for most people.

Enter ‘search chips’

Search chips are little buttons appearing just below the search window. You'll see them as soon as you enter anything in that window. Also, the buttons you see change according to what you enter in the search window. 

For example, I searched for "dog," and the search results returned a list of 143 messages. Just under the search window, three buttons appeared: "Any time," "Has attachment" and "To Frank Buck." 

Clicking on "Has attachment" reduced the list to 76 and also displayed additional search chips: "Image," "PDF," "Document" and "Presentation." Clicking on "Presentation" narrowed the search to only the emails with the word "dog," at least one attachment and at least one of those attachments was a presentation. That one addition narrowed the search to five results.

The nice thing about search chips is you don't have to access a menu to use them. They appear automatically as you start to search. They change automatically depending upon the nature of the search. 

Next steps

Open Gmail and enter a term in the search window. You may or may not have search chips yet. As with many new features, Google rolled this one out in phases. If it’s not there for you yet, it will be soon.

Come over and watch a demonstration. I created a video to show you search chips in action. The link to access the demonstration is:

Frank Buck is the author of “Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders.” "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019 and 2020. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.