Feature Friday: Mark Unread In Gmail

This post will explain a lot about my disorganized organization system. I am not very organized. I am a brute force type. My desk is a mess. My computer is a mess. But I somehow power through things and get the important stuff done.

I manage my email via the inbox. I label some messages but rarely use the labels as a place to read and reply to email. I star some messages but only visit my starred messages about once a week. Mostly I attack my email from the top. In reverse chronological order.

So one of my favorite features in gmail is "mark unread." I'll open an email, see it has something important in it, and then mark it unread so I make sure it stays in my priority inbox and that I get to it. I use that feature at least 10-20x per day.

But I can't for the life of me find that feature in the current gmail for android app. I do more email on my phone than anywhere else so I badly need this feature. I'm wondering if its in a place that I haven't looked or it google left it out of the app.

If anyone out there knows how to "mark unread" in gmail for android, please let me know in the comments.

And I'm sure there will be all sorts of great suggestions for getting more organized with email in the comments too. Just don't count on me doing any of them. It's like meditating. I know I should do it. I just can't bring myself to spend the time on it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Marc Guldimann

    Google (mark unread gmail android) says:There is an icon at the bottom that looks like a closed envelope. Click that and it will toggle read/unread. Took me a while to figure that out as well.

    1. fredwilson

      yes!!!!!!!!thanks so much

      1. TSC

        Fred, why not use the star feature?  I used to use mark as read until I realized how much better it was to just star the emails.

        1. fredwilson

          because i only visit my starred emails once a week whereas i visit my inbox many times a day

          1. Andrew Antar

            I used to be a mark-as-unread guy until I told gmail to put the starred section at the top of my inbox. Only recently with the new update are you able to do this, but now starring is my go to to save things that are important

          2. fredwilson

            ooh. i didn’t know you could do that. how do you put starred at the top?

          3. TSC

            In the desktop inbox…Hover over the inbox link on the left and you’ll see a small arrow.  Click it, then click “Starred first”

          4. TSC

            In the desktop inbox…Hover over the inbox link on the left and you’ll see a small arrow.  Click it, then click “Starred first”

    2. Ryan Frew

      On the Droid Bionic there is no “Closed Envelope” at the bottom. Although it’s still easy – just press the Menu button next to the home button. “Mark Unread” is one of about six options that pop up when you’re actually inside the message.

      1. Frankhouse

        From the inbox, press and hold the read message. A menu will pop up with “mark unread” as on of the options

  2. Jonathan Berkowitz

    I’m similar to you in that email is an inbox organization task — that I can’t win. Email is one of those things that just needs to be processed by people.  It’s such a weird communication medium – conversations, notifications, serious alarms – they all come interspersed, without warning and for the most part, look, act and behave the same way.  Yet, at the same time, everyone behaves differently with respect to what they send, how they send it and why. Ugh …

    1. Nicholas Bagg

      Thus impossible to automate? I’m convinced there must be a way.

  3. Himanshu Sahani

    There is a keyboard shortcut for sneak peak ‘h’. I first cycle through all messages using only that and avoid opening conversations and then ‘unreading’ them

  4. mfeinstein

    In the Android Gmail app on my Droid 3, there is an item in the menu when you are looking at the message that says Mark Unread.  If that was on your phone, you definitely would have seen it, so I wonder if you’ve got a different version of the Gmail app.

  5. OurielOhayon

    The gmail app for Android is one of the worst email client i have ever seen: how can you even begin to think that the right way to compose a new message should be a feature hidden 2 clicks away. Fred, i would not be suprised your question does not have a satisfactory efficient answer..

    1. fredwilson

      there is an answer. it’s the envelope icon. i was wondering what that was for!

      1. OurielOhayon

        Fred, there is no such icon on my Gmail native android app. i still have to press1. MENU2. COMPOSEthis is just ridiculousps: i am on a galaxy s2. last os

  6. mikenolan99

    Along the same lines…When Gmail pops my Exchange server at the University, it marks all the items on the server as read…I use gmail for my personal items, and love having the University email in Gmail for archiving purposes, but have to “Live” in exchange when I am on campus…Living in a frustrated 1/3 Exchange, 1/3 iCalendar, 1/3 Gmail existence… it is no way live!

    1. Aaron Klein

      I do not understand why any educational institution is on Exchange.Google Apps is free for education.I have tried many times to get the college I’m a trustee for to switch and I have not given up trying.

      1. mikenolan99

        I am hoping our new CIO is looking at it…I wonder if Google has ever looked at buying BlackBoard or similar company… seems like a great fit.

        1. Josh Kramer

          Google and Pearsons have a joint venture competitor in the works…

  7. Michael Carrano

    When you are reading an email in the Gmail app, press the menu button to bring up the option to mark as unread. I use this all the time.I just wish the Gmail app can sort emails by having unread emails at the top like I have my Gmail setup.

    1. Shawn Cohen

      Yeah, on my MyTouch4G, I hit the physical menu button below my screen and it comes up w/ the option for “Mark as Unread.”

    2. fredwilson

      when i do that, these are my choices:mark not importantmutereport spamsettingshelpsend feedbacki don’t see mark as unread

  8. Scott Barnett

    I have it on my Razr – when I’m in a message, just click the options button on the bottom and it’s one of the options that pop up.  It’s also the first option on my Acer Android tablet… so you must have it there *somewhere*.  It’s pretty obvious on both my Android devices, I can’t imagine you don’t have it?

    1. William Mougayar

      That’s it. 

  9. Brad

    My desk is the same way, I call it organized chaos…. I hear most genius’ are the same…..at least that makes me feel better.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Me too.

  10. Brian Manning

    Our office has had lots of lively debates on best way to organize email. Personally, I never use “mark as unread”. My strategy is this…–using Outlook–setup as many junk mail filters as possible so most email doesn’t make it to my inbox in the first place–go through my inbox every night and either delete, respond and delete or file it in a folder or leave it in the inbox to do later (often I don’t get to every night but I do it at least a few times a week)–this leaves me with an inbox full of important emails that I need to address at some point–many of my colleagues keep thousands of emails in their inbox (important and unimportant), I don’t know how people can manage it this way–my strategy centers around good spam management and the “delete” button, I spend a lot of time deleting–Gmail doesn’t make sorting or deleting emails easy, you either have to check a small box with your mouse or use an awkward keyboard shortcut that is slow and unreliable–in Outlook it’s easy to sort emails by sender or subject line and it’s easy select multiple emails to delete, and you can just hit your keyboard’s “delete” button and they’re goneWould love to see Gmail improve its deleting functionality.  That would make for a good Feature Friday 🙂

    1. Tom Labus

      Less is always better!!

    2. Aaron Klein

      Controlling inbound flow is critical.Unsubscribe.com is awesome for this.There are times that many people do the “Scoble” thing with email – subscribe to a million things and then say “this app sucks, it’s all noise.”I did that once, but the solution was unsubscribing. All of the politicians who try to reach me are unsubscribed, and when they ask me why, I tell them the truth: my inbox is only for must-read messages and I prefer to hear from them via Twitter.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        I like this — referring certain groups of people to Twitter to reach you.  What a great idea!  I just have to figure out how to translate this to my world since politicians aren’t exactly camping on my doorstep, and job candidates don’t exactly want to “go public.”  I am assuming that for you this is based on your roles in the community — e.g., college board president.

        1. Aaron Klein

          I probably made myself sound more innovative than I really am. A while ago, I analyzed my inbound messages and found basically these categories.1. One-to-one communications with individuals I know2. Important alerts for certain types of news or workflow3. Discussion about product, ops, problems, etc. with my team4. Broadcast marketing communication from companies, politicians, causes, non-profits5. Unsolicited one-to-one pitches from prospective employees, salespeople, etc.I basically want to save email primarily for #1 and #2.We use HipChat and Yammer for #3 now and I love both of them. Those two companies should merge. (Found HipChat on @yegg:twitter ‘s blog.)I try really hard to move all #4 broadcast communication to Twitter. Then it becomes “read if you have time” for me.I’m okay with #5 by email. It takes effort on the sender’s part so that limits the volume. I’ve found lots of great things that way. I even give those folks the courtesy of a one-time reply (“not interested but thanks, Brad”). If they send me another one, I just stick them in the “straight to spam” filter. :)So that’s my system, for what it’s worth. It’s working out okay so far…Merry Christmas, Donna!

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Merry Christmas, Aaron!  One of the presents I am giving myself is some time on AVC — have missed you all!How do you actually implement #4 — is it a matter of following them or informing them that this is the way to reach you?  Do they reach out to you individually at that point or just as part of their “broadcast” to their followers collectively?

      2. Josh Gordon

        Tried Unsubscribe.com for a while. It seams like the majority of emails I tried unsubscribing from, they couldn’t actually unsubscribe me from…. which beat the purpose…..

        1. Aaron Klein

          Yeah, that’s the case with about 1 out of 6 for me. I still consider that a win though…

    3. Josh Gordon

      You can customize many of the gmail shortcuts from the settings! to delete a message, all I do is hit the letter “D” — it’s easy

      1. Brian Manning

        Awesome!  Thanks for the tip!

    4. Donna Brewington White

      As much as I try to be open to new things, I have never shifted into gmail for business — use it as my select personal email account (as opposed to the one I use for online shopping and signing onto websites).  Outlook continues to serve the purpose very well for business. I use it very similarly to what you describe — but have to get better about using the delete button.  Picked up some new tips from your comment, thanks.

  11. Pspeen Infoneed

    Coming soon to a phone & computer near toYou a solution that takes care of all your messaging streams, LinkedIn, twitter,etc. My SMAK .com. allows you to organize ,prioritize and reply from one central point. Be on the watch for the beta release soon.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      This is a missed opportunity on your part. Set up a pre-launch site and collect emails of those who are interested. AVC commenter David Semeria did using Launch Rock. Clever idea.

  12. Ela Madej

    I use labels. Plenty of them. In fact, I have labels for all days of week and I label every single incoming email (that I don’t reply to / delete immediately) with a day I want to reply / attack a given task.It just keeps me more focused as I don’t like tons on unread emails in my inbox.  At the end of the week I move all remaining emails to “Monday” next week. Works for me & I have friends who started using that system.I am actually getting better with not replying to every single email (used to think that was rude!), replying very briefly or forwarding to people from my team (btw these guys – disclaimer – click that link if you want to watch out cool motion typography, don’t click it if you’re super busy   – http://vimeo.com/33394858) . Email management is a skill on its own these days. They should teach us that in school.My desk is also very messy, that’s just how I roll 😉 (yay).Oh, one more pro tip that my dad taught me reg. “papers management” – as soon as I revise sth and am done with it, I tear it and leave it on the floor. This is how I know that I DON’T HAVE TO EVER LOOK AT IT AGAIN (just in case I wanted to double-check). Makes my workplace look super disorganized and messy – but works.Happy holidays everyone!

  13. Dave Pinsen

    Interesting. An elegantly simple approach.I started using the folders in Gmail recently — e.g., I got an email this morning asking if we had an Android app on the horizon. That got filed in “Follow up: Android”, so if I ever have an Android app, I’ll email those who asked about it.The one downside of this seems to be that it takes the conversation out of your main email list. That throws me off a little. 

    1. Graham Siener

      You can apply a label without moving it — you want the Label As instead of Move To

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Thanks for the tip, Graham. I’ll try that. 

        1. Graham Siener

          Np. As I mentioned in another post, take some time to play with the keyboard shortcuts — v for move to a label, L to add a label. Huge timesaver.

  14. Graham Siener

    Similarly, with the iOS 5 update mark as unread is now a two click process.  Previously, if you were looking at an email you could click “Mark as unread.”  Now you have to click “Mark” and then click the “Mark as Unread” button (there are two other choices, Flag and Cancel).  I never use Flag, so this is just causing extra work and attention.Fred: not sure you’re using it but you should really get to know the keyboard shortcuts in gmail as well.  Between Shift-U for mark as unread and [ for archive and next I can really plow through an inbox.



      1. Graham Siener

        Actually this is an Apple UX issue…Google is just the conduit.

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  15. MarkK

    iOS is not much better…it has hidden “mark as unread” functionality under “Mark” link. So now my most used feature is 2 clicks away from me.

  16. awaldstein

    Every system I’ve ever tried breaks.I’m just hyper-organized personally so rely on that.My desk is always empty except for essentials which of course, includes Sam the cat.

    1. Aaron Klein

      I’m a weird mix.I really like my desk minimalist and empty except for essentials.It seems to build up a bad mix of papers and post-it notes until I can’t stand it any more and spend time cleaning it off.Rinse, repeat… 🙂

      1. awaldstein

        I’m prone to some piling creep as well, but my tolerance is low. If I don’t deal with anything within a week it just doesn’t seem to matter much.But then again…I misuse my address book as a CRM system and a lot of stuff ends up there.

        1. Aaron Klein

          Well, at least you’ve got the Big Gulp. 🙂

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Love it, Mark.  I’ve got two laptops on my desk.  After responding to Arnold earlier, I realized that my desk is a lot cleaner these days, but not because I am neater, but because I have almost gotten to the point of becoming paperless — I even type random notes these days while sitting at my desk (or the dining table or wherever I am working). Cuts down on the clutter, which I sometimes actually miss.  Thankfully, my bedside table makes up for this. 

    2. Donna Brewington White

      One of those with a clean desk, huh? I always thought that the reason my desk is a mess is that I am so mentally organized — can tell you where everything is in the midst of the clutter.  I am happy when making a mess, but there is also some satisfaction in putting it all back in order again…eventually.  Until now I have been skeptical of people with a clean desk.  Guess I will have to rethink that impression. So are your books and CDs in alphabetical order, by genre?  .

      1. awaldstein

        Hi Donna, been awhile.I’m pretty well paperless, so the clutter is all in my head and in my ‘system’.Homegrown CRM for ideas and categories, word files for everything and a heavy user of post it notes (paperless of course).I just have awful handwriting and taught myself to type (yes on a typewriter) at a very early age.CDs–not a one in my life. DVDs (most all digitized by now). Constant Netflix DVD renter for older obscure movies.Books–mostly on Kindle, although I still buy them as alot of my interests are not available yet. Art books of course.Too much info I’m sure…

        1. William Mougayar

          I guess you have to make room for all these bottles of wine 🙂

          1. awaldstein

            Wine storage and NYC apt living–oy! 

        2. Donna Brewington White

          My work spaces have become much neater by becoming almost paperless. Amazing the difference it makes.It makes sense that you would be very organized, but I have found that being organized and being “neat” are not always the same thing. I ask the question in interviews about whether someone has a clean desk and can usually guess what the answer will be. People who are creative and yet also mentally organized will often have stacks or piles, but typically not a “clean” desk. As more people become paperless, I guess I’ll have to come up with a new question. BTW, I didn’t think of this on my own — it is part of a series of behavioral questions asked by a search firm I used to work for and with which I still do some freelance work. The question alone isn’t indicative, but combined with other questions you do see patterns emerge.BTW, not too much information for me. We hear so much of each others’ opinions and outlook through this online community that it is nice to also have slices of each other’s lives to add to the persona. I tend to pick up tips and new ways of thinking about things as others share details of how they live and work. Plus, when those of us who relate primarily online get together IRL it is part of what helps us to feel like we know each other. You and I may as well be old friends by now, Arnold.

          1. awaldstein

            Interesting. I’ve participated in many executive behavior workshops mostly as part of leadership teams.What’s most critical has been the sum of behaviors across the top teams. CEO and CMO are always tied at the hip. Or should be.And honestly, what you create and the team dynamics that support it are more critical than the details of individual work habits. Behavior is everything. Behavioral scales are always lacking.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Completely agree in terms of what should be most heavily weighted in assessing someone’s effectiveness as a leader and executive contributor. What I am referring to is just one small aspect of a comprehensive interviewing and assessment process for the sake of giving a client as clear and well-rounded a perspective as possible of the person they may be hiring.  Many of the questions taken by themselves aren’t meant to be conclusive in the least — especially the one about a clean desk!  🙂 (Which is actually not a primary question, but one of those probing question used when a candidate tends to answer in the abstract.)  Also, given the number of people that have been elevated to leadership roles because of technical skill and ability rather than actual  leadership ability, some of the seemingly mundane questions – combined together — help to identify those who are truly leaders and those who are not. Which is what this particular firm specializes in. 

  17. PrasannaKrishnamoorthy

    For me on Nexus S ICS, once you open a mail the last icon on the left (or if you select the mail on inbox, the second last icon), is a closed envelope, click to ‘Mark Unread’. If the mail is unread, the same icon is an ‘Opened Icon’ – ‘Mark as Read’

  18. Stu McLaren

    Funny because my favorite feature of Gmail is “Mark As Read”.With that said, my favorite “trick” for coming back to emails I need to deal with is a simple solution called “Followup.cc”.This little features saves me SO much time, frustration and headaches.  Plus, it helps keep me on track by resending me emails on the days I need to follow up.I HIGHLY recommend it because it’s made my email management (and I get a lot like everyone else) much, much easier. 

    1. FollowUp.cc

      Thanks Stu for suggesting FollowUp.cc. One of the nice things is that it does work in any email client, mobile, desktop, web etc.In terms of Fred’s case, he could also set a rule so that reminders from FollowUp get flagged as Important since he uses Priority Inbox.Disclosure: I run FollowUp.cc

    2. Jose Paul Martin

      Stu, have you tried followupthen.com – loving their ease of use as well. 

  19. William Mougayar

    I don’t use the Mark Unread, as I would still have a lot of Unread ones. Instead, I use the Starring feature in Gmail if I want to return to an email I just opened but haven’t acted on. And the nice think is that I can do that from the iPhone too (it’s called Mark–> Flag). Then I return to those. 

    1. Aaron Klein

      On iPhone, you can star+archive in one step too – move the message to the “starred” folder that Gmail provides over IMAP.

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes, I love the sync part between desktop and iPhone.

        1. Aaron Klein

          BlackBerry was the only one who really had a workable version of that for such a long time.It’s amazing to see how it’s possible to squander competitive advantage SO badly.

      2. Phil Toronto

        This certainly works. You can also use “Mark –> Flag” to star the message in iOS Mail.

        1. Phil Toronto

          … and I just remembered I followed up your comment on Bijan’s email post with the exact same advice. I guess I’m a broken record!

  20. Aaron Klein

    On my Android (running Gingerbread) while looking at a message, tapping Menu shows “Mark Unread” as the top middle menu choice.You’ve gotta do what works for you, but I think email is a really bad task management tool. Mainly because you have to reinterpret what the “next step” is every time you look through your inbox.I’m a fan of “Getting Things Done” though I’m not a full fledged disciple. I typically do my deleting and delegating straight from my Android. If I need to reply or task something, I’ll star-and-archive it.Then, when I’m back at my Mac, I’ll pop into my starred folder and zip through all that mail, either replying to it, or dragging and dropping it into “Things” (a great task management app) and recording what the next step is so I don’t have to rethink that repeatedly.That makes it sound easy, but the reality is that it can take me a week to reply to people, especially if they haven’t made their message easy to reply to.

    1. fredwilson

      i reject all dogma in life including these “get organized” dogmas. they might be good for others. but i want to live my life my way.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Yep. You’ve got to make your tools work for you, not the other way around. Have a great holiday, Fred!

  21. Jevon

    I’m glad I am not the only one who uses this “method” of managing replies. It can go wrong a lot and you have to stay on top of it… but eventually it works. I think I would pay $ for a Codeacademy style course that would help me pick up some new email habits. 

  22. sigmaalgebra

    E-mail is a terrific idea and basically just dirt simple, yet all the e-mail ‘client’ software I’ve seen makes a total train wreck out of e-mail.For anyone making significant use of e-mail, much better ‘architecture’ is needed than anything I’ve seen from others.Here’s the ‘architecture’ issue: Sure, the buttons on a microwave oven are easy to use, but that doesn’t mean that we should try to do all cooking just with a microwave oven. Apparently E-mail clients nearly all drank the Kool-Aid of the Xerox PARC ‘direct manipulation GUI’ metaphor like the buttons on a microwave oven. Now we can’t even turn day old French bread into cubes for croutons, dice an onion, or reduce a stock to a demi-glace; that is, even simple things with e-mail we can’t do because there is no corresponding button on the ‘e-mail microwave’. Enough with these brain-dead buttons already.For something much better, just roll back to old ‘office procedures’ of paper mail where there was more to it than just some buttons on a microwave oven.For something still better: Consider a few, simple ‘architectural layers’ where the data is kept in, say, a RDBMS with an EAR schema, and where functionality for desired ‘e-mail office procedures’ can be (1) ‘snapped-in’ all at once or piece by piece and (2) added on by anyone including individual users.A practical problem is that at present it appears standard for an e-mail client to mess up the user’s e-mail data, that is, basically destroy the incoming e-mail and leave something much less valuable. That is apparently what happens with the version of Outlook I have.But there’s some good news: Client e-mail is based mostly just on the IETF RFCs for SMTP, POP3, and MIME, and these are all just dirt simple. Basically e-mail is just lines of text. With MIME, even pictures are just lines of text. E.g., it’s possible to send and receive e-mail just by typing into the simple, old TCP/IP application Telnet.So it’s also possible to write some really simple software to send and receive e-mail. Any such message is just simple lines of simple text and, thus, first-cut, simple to handle. Indeed, as I recall, there are now .NET classes for such simple send and receive.So, the first ‘layer’ of the architecture should preserve the e-mail as it is sent/received and let software in other layers access that e-mail. As far as I can tell, Outlook destroys the actual e-mail and, thus, won’t let me access it. Bummer.Second, the architecture should make it easy to build on the first layer to implement desired ‘e-mail office procedures’.In ones computer usage, e-mail is not something by itself but an integral part of work and the rest of computer usage. Here, at least with the version of Outlook I have, the GUI direct manipulation metaphor has all the ‘mail’ in a few open ‘stacks’ around the office with each mail message in some one stack. Any secretary or administrative assistant who organized paper mail like that 50 years ago would have been transferred to the night cleaning crew or some such.In my computer usage for my work, I start with the hierarchical file system and use it as a work ‘taxonomic hierarchy’. Then each project gets its own subdirectory. E-mail for that project, then, needs to be logically ‘within’ that subdirectory, not buried in one of a few central piles.Back when I was using OS/2, the e-mail program Ultimail got sick after about 50 email messages! It wanted to keep each message sent or received as an icon on the screen! On a 90 MHz processor, 50 icons meant a slow screen!So, I took out an afternoon and wrote my own e-mail software in the simple interpretive scripting language Rexx, which DOES have the standard TCP/IP calls. I used that e-mail software for years and loved it, heavily because it gave me easy ways to implement ‘references’ and various searches. For the references, the e-mail date line was nearly always a good ‘unique key’. So, a ‘reference’ was just such a date line. Then one keystroke in my editor on that date line would display the e-mail message. Worked great.When I moved to Windows, I started on Outlook and curse it daily. I stay with Outlook because it handles some attachments — more popular now — a little better than what I wrote. Otherwise what I wrote is much better. But adding good attachment handling to what I wrote would be maybe only two weeks of work. I keep pushing that two week project to the back burner. But as I do more Windows programming, e.g., with .NET, for my Web site, I get ‘skills’ that will let me do better with a better e-mail solution; so delaying the e-mail work is not so bad.What I do now is use Outlook as little more than just a POP3 client. For the important e-mail sent or received, I keep that in project subdirectories outside of Outlook. While I do keep the Outlook files nicely backed up (itself a case of mud wrestling won), I could lose all the Outlook files and lose little of importance.As we learned with the importance of RDBMS, hierarchies are not as flexible as we would like. So, in addition to the hierarchies, we need ‘references’ or, in DB terminology, ‘relations’. So, sure, it is tempting to store the e-mail messages and related data in a RDBMS.All the computing infrastructure for better e-mail, at least for just one person at a time, is sitting there, rock solid. We just need to exploit it for e-mail. Then we can readily implement whatever e-mail ‘office procedures’ we need and also make e-mail an integral part of all our work, e.g., with references and relations, various searches, means to make other searches easy, maybe various lists and triggers, with easy ways for more functionality, instead of something apart.I receive only a few dozen e-mail messages a day and send only a small fraction of that many, so I can get by with Outlook, etc. But what do people who get hundreds of e-mail messages a day do? Since I’ve not heard of anything very good, maybe there isn’t anything very good.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      I was with you until paragraph 5.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Sounds like you would have preferred that I use fewer TLAs (three letter acronyms)!I was assuming that the AVC.com audience would know about the acronyms.  But, at the cost of greater length, here’re some explanations:Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS)Say that ‘computing’ started with stacks of punched cards.  So, each card looked like a line of typing 80 characters long.  Then commonly on a computer a ‘file’ was logically such a list of lines or stack of cards.  More recently a ‘file’ has usually been logically just a sequence of bytes; and, when a file is to be regarded as a list (sequence) of lines, special characters such as line feed and/or carriage return are used to indicate ends of lines.  Then data to last when the power was off was stored in such files on magnetic disk.So, part of designing some application software was saying what data was wanted, where that data was in the files, and in what format.A ‘tree’?  Have some points call ‘nodes’.  Between some pairs of nodes have a connection called an ‘arc’.  Those nodes and arcs together are a ‘graph’.  A ‘tree’ is a graph where between each pair of nodes there is exactly one path following the arcs.  Trees are ubiquitous in computing.May want to access the file directly with a ‘key’, that is, as from an ‘index’, say, like a telephone book or an old library card catalog.  So, for efficient direct access files with keys, use some ideas of ‘multi-way branched balanced trees’ worked out by Bayer and McCright at Boeing and later called ‘B-trees’.  ‘Balanced’?  In a tree, some one node is called the ‘root’.  For any other node, its ‘depth’ is the number of arcs on the path between that node and the root.  A node is a ‘leaf’ if only one arc touches it.  A tree is ‘balanced’ if the depths of all the leaf nodes are about the same, that is, none of the leaves have much greater depth than any of the others.  E.g., for a company, have a tree where each person is a node and except for the CEO there is an arc from each person to their manager.  So that tree is the ‘organization chart’.  Then that tree would be ‘balanced’ if each non-manager was about the same number of levels down from the CEO.  Of course, such a ‘balanced’ organization chart would severely constrain executive staffs, e.g., shapely secretaries specializing in doing their nails, and, thus, be unpopular!If a tree is not balanced, then some operations on it can be slower than necessary.  But by inserting and deleting many nodes, a tree can become badly not balanced.  Bayer and McCright worked out a simple means of continuing slight adjustments of such a tree to keep it nicely balanced.Likely something much like B-trees are still in the lower level software of database (see below) software.Bummer:  Someone wants to slightly change the applications software so needs to change all the file reading/writing.  And for file X and programs A and B that work with file X, if for program B add some more data to file X, then maybe program A is broken and can’t just ignore the extra, new data.So back in the 1960s, maybe earlier, people worked on ‘database’ which was a ‘software layer’, ‘middleware’, between an applications program A and a file X to make changes and other work much easier.Relevant?  Sure:  We’re talking about the data from e-mail and various filters, lists, searches, references, etc., and that data is plenty complicated enough to justify thinking about ‘database’ as people have had to since the 1960s.Soon the main database ideas were (1) hierarchical (like the ‘hierarchy’ of an organization chart, a tree, or the now common file systems), (2) network (anything can connect to anything else), and (3) relational (based on the idea from set theory in mathematics of a ‘relation’).  Nutshell database architecture advice:  Use hierarchical if you understand your work; resort to network if you have to; give up and use relational if you have no idea what you are doing!A relation?  In set theory, an ‘ordered pair’ is, say, (a,b) where a is the first element and b is the second element.  If want to follow the old norm of defining everything in terms of sets, then have the set {a} with just the element a, the set {a, b} with the elements a and b, and then define (a,b) = {{a},{a,b}}.  Then can extract the first element via the standard set operations of intersection and union, and similarly for the second element.Then a ‘relation’ is a set of ordered pairs.  Simple, precise, but not very intuitive!So, ‘relational’ database is based on such ‘relations’.The most common relation in relational database is the one between keys and records, e.g., between names and phone numbers in a telephone directory.In the 1970s, Wang and others at Berkeley and Blasgen and others at IBM’s Yorktown Heights lab worked on software for relational database, that is, ‘relational database management systems’ (RDBMS).The main idea for letting relational database handle anything for some given data is to have some ‘tables’ (relations) where each row of the table has a key and a record and in the application the record is a function of the key, the whole key, and nothing but the key (called ‘third normal form’).  Then with some relational operations can build additional tables as needed.  So such tables in third normal form have effectively ‘decomposed’ the data of the application in a way that still permits doing essentially anything with the data (I’m not an expert in database theory).From the Wang and Blasgen work came various commercial products more popular ones of which we might list as DB2, SQL Server, Oracle, MySql, and maybe a few more.Might insert, SQL abbreviates ‘structured query language’ which is the computer programming language for interacting with RDBMS.If want to do much with e-mail, then an obvious first step is to plan to put the mail sent or received in relational database and then let operations on the e-mail be relational database operations.Entity-Attribute-Relationship (EAR)Maybe a bit closer than relational database to the needs of applications is ‘entity-attribute-relationship’ (EAR) data modeling.  There is a nice description in just the first few pages of:Jeffrey D. Ullman, ‘Principles of Database Systems, Second Edition’, ISBN 0-914894-36-6, Computer Science Press, Rockville, MD.So, in the business or in the applications program for the business, list the various relevant ‘entities’ — people, products, customers, payments, etc.  For each entity, list its ‘attributes’, basically all the data relevant to it.  E.g., for a product, list its UPC, price per single unit, and shipping weight.  Then list relevant ‘relationships’ among the attributes. e.g., for a widget, the warehouses where it is stored.Given an EAR model for an application, RDBMS can be used to do the implementation.Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)Long the main standards organization for the technology of the Internet has been the IETF.Requests for Comments (RFCs)Long each of the contributions to the IETF standards were published as RFCs.  Likely the full collection is athttp://www.ietf.org/rfc/Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP)The IETF standard SMTP is the basis of Internet e-mail.  It really is simple.  There are several relevant RFCs adding details and complexity.Originally SMTP said that an e-mail message consisted of just old, standard 7 bit ASCII characters in lines ended with an end of line and had two ‘parts’, the ‘header’ ended by a blank line and the ‘body’.  The header lines had lines for To, From, Subject, Date, and some more.  We’re talking SIMPLE.Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME)So, with SMTP, how to send a picture, sound recording, etc.?  The answer was MIME:  The idea is simple:  Take all the bytes of a picture (JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, whatever) and regard them as a sequence of bits.  Take each 6 bits and regard it as a number from 0 to 63.  For each of the numbers from 0 to 63, represent it by one of 64 printable characters in the old 7 bit ASCII ‘encoding’.  From some old software I wrote, the 64 characters areABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/Send these printable characters as just lines of ASCII characters.  If the number of bits is not a multiple of 6, then there is a simple fix for the last few bits.  In this way, a picture becomes just lines of printable characters easily handled by software and networks.  This translation to the 64 characters is called ‘base-64’ encoding and is the core of the MIME standard.Also with MIME, the e-mail body is broken into ‘parts’ separated by a special line given in the header.  Each part can be just text or base-64.Computer Security Outrage 294,589,228,188That for years handling such simple lines of text in e-mail client software commonly resulted in computer security problems rates as one of the more inexcusable screw-ups in computing, a real black mark on technology — just outrageous.Client E-mail DesignSo, with these IETF e-mail standards, we know what data we start with for e-mail:  Each e-mail message is just a sequence of bytes.  In one step more detail, each message has header lines, a blank line, and a body consisting of MIME parts.  The header lines are To, From, Subject, Date, etc.So now we know what we might index for fast searching, sorting on time sent, domain name of the sender, etc.So, we begin to see what our EAR model should be for an ‘e-mail client’ for one user:There are discrete e-mail messages.  Some are sent, and some are received.  So, in the data base we should store each e-mail message sent or received just as it is sent or received, just as a sequence of bytes.  Simple.  Dirt simple.  Don’t mess with it.  Definitely don’t throw it away (listen up Outlook).For more, the header has discrete lines, and we can parse and index some of those.  Each body part has a name and a type, e.g., Sandra_birthday.jpg, and we could parse and index those.  For the body parts with text, we could parse the words and index and/or manipulate the words.Now we begin to have a basis for search, filtering, references, lists, triggers (RDBMS has some powerful support for triggers) and whatever additional operations or functions one might want.The basic EAR model could remain, and other operations and functions could be ‘snapped in’ via software that assumes the EAR model and connects with a generic UI.End users could get more functionality by writing simple scripts that make use of standard operations and functions based on RDBMS and the EAR model.  JavaScript with some functions for UI and RDBMS might be a good way to implement the scripting.Then from a huge range, whatever features a user wants could be implemented.Data backup and recovery would be handled by standard RDBMS functionality.Yes, the client side of the UI could likely be just via HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

      2. Donna Brewington White

        And I’m sure the rest of it was good stuff too.  

    2. kidmercury

      this comment is too short. if you could elaborate it by several more pages that would help. 

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Kid, I’m surprised at you!I could easily understand that Dave needed lots of details on RDBMS, EAR, and some simple client e-mail software architecture, but I never would have expected that you would too!If you need still more help, then maybe the new Cornell school of science, engineering, and technology will give some courses, you could read the IETF RFCs, look at Wikipedia, or do some Google searches!And definitely help Dave!Ah, it’s possible to learn something everyday!

      2. fredwilson

        i’m not used to sarcasm from you kid. 

  23. sfopeter

    You have to choose “Deselect All” to get “Mark Read” or “Mark Unread” to come back after doing a read/unread operation. It is super annoying. 

  24. Sean Killeen

    From this thread, which seems to misunderstand the feature as a problem — http://www.google.com/suppo… …1. Open an unread email in Gmail2. Exit the email, returning to the Inbox3. Long press on the same email4. Select Mark as Unread5. Exit Gmail6. Wait a minute 7. Suddenly a new mail notification appears…

  25. JimHirshfield

    Not such a bad system; I do that myself.I used to print out emails I wanted to get to later, then snail mail them to myself, but that got too expensive. But it was so nice to get so much mail./joking

  26. Andy Werner

    Menu – Mark Unread in my HTC Desire HD.

  27. Baltimore Injury Attorneys

    I use “Mark as Unread” frequently so that my girlfriend doesn’t know that I know her email password.

  28. mcschan

    In your inbox (or whichever folder), select the email(s), click on the menu button and you’ll get a Mark Unread button in the menu

    1. fredwilson

      that doesn’t work for mebut i got the answer above.it’s the “envelope” icon

  29. andyswan

    Just do what you do, Fred.  You don’t need a system for this shit.Chaos breeds creativity and keeps the brain strong. Embrace it!

    1. fredwilson


  30. acrookston

    I did this for a while but having unread count on my iOS devices was stressing me out so now I do inbox zero. Very very similar but instead of (un)mark as read I archive all mail if it doesn’t need attention and leave them in the inbox if I need to reply, read or whatever with them.Gmail/google apps really helps here too. Even if you archive mail you needed you can still search/find it in the archived stuff and when you get more comfortable you can start archiving to topic folders (tags) or set up auto tagging (ie PayPal receipts into economy tag). And on its you swipe email to archive!

    1. fredwilson

      i can’t get to inbox zero. every time i clean out my inbox (by archiving all unread mails), i have 1000 unread within 24 hours. my inbound flow is impossible to deal with. and that is just what gets into my priority inbox.

  31. Sasha Chh

    Hit menu, then click mark unread, very intuitive and highly useful.

    1. fredwilson

      doesn’t work on the new gmail app for ice cream sandwichbut i got the answer above. phew!

  32. Rijk van Geijtenbeek

    I also use ‘unread’ as a simple todo list, but it helps that I use the mail client built into the Opera browser. It allows you to *not* mark messages as read automatically as soon as you see them… Now I also read mail on an Android phone (HTC), I am glad it is easy to mark messages as unread again after seeing them.Disclosure: I work for Opera Software

  33. Rohan

    I guess email management is a very personal thing isn’t it? What works for you will likely not work for anyone else..And whatever you seem to be doing seems to have worked reasonably well. So, no ‘generic’ suggestions here unless you have some specific question (and in this case, looks like it has been answered) Happy Utah! 😉

  34. Rohan

    And a quote of the day for everyone..’Good relationships are like the needles of a clock. They only meet for a short while but always stay connected.’ 🙂  Happy weekend folks!

  35. Deboprio Ghosh

    look Fred,the net result of your bruteforce way of doing things = loss of productivity.now you can think of doing things incrementally better or you can take different approach.so what do we have?Corporations have discovered yammer – a social communication toolsurely a better way to sift out non essential stuffs.BUT …Communication != productivity. if one thinks about it. its about productivity and not merely communication that matters.Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer, etc. They are awesome tools, but the problem is none of them allow you to work with your connections. Social Networks are just platforms. Their value is derived from what is shared on top of them. Most Social Networks today share very basic things like images, status, comments, links, etc. Now consider how people work. We mostly work with Tasks, Events, Issues, Ideas, Decisions, etc. Let  me share with you an use case.Lets take an example of an Office Get Together. On Facebook you can simply create an event and get people to RSVP. But as anyone who has arranged such an event knows, that in real life things are a little more complicated.Every event has tasks associated with them. These tasks have sub tasks, issues, decisions, ideas associated with them. But this additional information is never captured and tracked. Social Networks today help you get connected but do not make you productive.We actually need a  tool for  that lets us connect with your friends, co-workers, vendors, partners, customers, etc. and to actually work with them. This will allow smoother interaction between people and improve their productivity. and ofcouse keep the un-necessary stuffs away.Cheers,:-) 



      1. ShanaC

        I’m waiting for the bronze revolution.

  36. rtadam

    I use the “Star” feature in Gmail rather than “mark unread.”  This way the emails I need to follow up on are automatically pushed to the top section of my Priority Inbox.

    1. William Mougayar

      Exactly. That’s I said I do for the same reason. You can also click straight on the Starred folder.

      1. candice

        Problem with that is you have to un-star things.  That turns into too much managing of stuff.  Mark as unread is more efficient for me.  I am only as organized as absolutely necessary.And I don’t know why Fred’s droid doesn’t have mark as unread, mine is brand new and shiny and it works fine.  Perhaps his gmail version is different?

        1. fredwilson

          i agree candice. the issue is the new gmail app for ice cream sandwich messed around the the mark unread feature. but i’ve found it thanks to this community!

        2. William Mougayar

          Yes & No. I only star 3-4 emails per day if that. So unstarring is not a burden.

  37. matthughes

    I’m much more efficient using ‘Mark as Unread’ and good old fashioned search.Time spent on labels and folders is a huge time-suck.

    1. fredwilson

      i am almost there. but i do label anything to do with our personal finances. i guess that signals something about me.

      1. matthughes

        Now I’m worried about what it signals about me that I don’t label personal finance items.

  38. kenberger

    I know you now have the A to the Q you asked, but what i’ve done is to ignore the native gmail app for my google apps work account and use K-9 mail instead. Advanced and robust, and solves annoying issues when using >1 gmail accounts registered on the official native app (such as Market constantly reminding you to update apps under BOTH acct usernames !*&$%)Even better if you use Exhange is TouchDown, the most robust Android email client out there.

  39. ShanaC

    I didn’t even know there was a mark unread in the android app.And I am not loving the new layout.  I preferred words on my buttons, not pictures that I need to sort the meaning of.  

  40. Donna Brewington White

    Fred, it’s been interesting following along with your gmail journey.  This is one time when I am happy to wait for someone else (you) to get it all figured out (with the help of the AVC community).  Meanwhile, very happy with Outlook. As someone who resonates with your self-description, I think there is something to be said for “disorganized organization systems.”  I am all for self-improvement — maybe too much so — but sometimes I think I have spent too much time trying to change myself rather than just creating systems that go with certain natural tendencies.  It helps to be able to see how others “more like me” have created systems that work for them — especially when they have managed to be quite successful.  

  41. Rahul Deodhar

    try the forward button too – in old Android the mark button was hidden there.However, marking unread seems to confuse my priorities. I look at unread emails as quick scan. I use read emails as to-do. Rest I archive.Just once archive all the emails and get your inbox clean. Thereafter when you read an email keep it in inbox if you want to work on it later (let it remain unread). So you will have:1) real unread count 2) important emails in the inbox 3) clean inbox

  42. Tom Reardon

    Lots of comments however here is the answer to your question.Phone = HTC Incredible 3g.  With an email open for viewing, tap your menu button on your phone, you will see email commands such as; reply, reply to all, forward etc   and Mark as Unread.  Simple hit that Mark as Unread button and the email will be so.Merry Christmas,Tom

  43. Aamir Siddiqui

    I did not check all the comments, but you can make emails as “unread” on gmail on android. You need to select the email, and press MENU button, that shows different options, one of it is MARK AS UNREAD. Hope that helps!

    1. fredwilson

      that is for the old app. the new app that runs on ice cream sandwich does it differently. fortunately the answer was provided in the thread. phew!

  44. Didier | eGear.be

    It’s funny that I use the exact same ‘system’ to manage my mailbox.

  45. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    I have three desks shaped in a “U” laying on its side.The front desk, is for meetings, it is organized and very presentable.  On the side is my computer desk, and its messy but only with stuff relating to computer work, then behind me is my “work” and it looks like hell….Flanking my desk behind me are two two drawer filing cabinets with bookshelves on top, the bookshelves hold “projects” which are nothing more than piles of stuff all relating to something on my “things to do” list….So, basically, I can come in sit down and swivel 360 degrees and decide where I want to work and what I want to work on….Emails I handle the same way, three files and then “delete” If I read one then it goes to a file….

  46. Steve Hallock

    Not sure if you’ve found an answer in these 105 comments but it’s the closed envelope next to the 3 dot menu on the bottom.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s the answer. I got it a few times but thanks anyway. I am feeling better already

      1. Steve Hallock

        Aside from a few weird UI choices like this one, I’m majorly impressed by the phone. Google sent me a GSM version. Clearly the Android team worked super hard on this update

  47. someone

    I haven’t filed or tagged a message in about five years. too much hassle. on Gmail I just archive everything I read and never delete ANYTHING. in Outlook, I have a filter rule that puts a copy of EVERY message in an “ARCHIVE” folder. then, when I’m done with something in the Inbox, I just delete it! the copy stays in ARCHIVE. if I need it, it’s there for me. (personal mail goes to Gmail, professional email goes to Outlook)I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve had trouble finding a message. 

  48. pamela castillo

    ‘Mark as Unread’ and a few stars here and there is how I manage my email too! My label-addict husband pokes fun, but hey, this system works for me.My rules are (especially on the go, since I check most of my email via the phone):- If it will take less than one minute two respond, I respond right a way.- If it will take longer (some research, links, or just a regular keyboard), I mark as unread and deal with it when I have a pocket of time.- Super important emails get a star AND a ‘Mark as Unread’- Emails that I need to refer back to in the near future get a star.- And I use Rapportive and Boomerang with my Google Apps email for extra help.- In case of emergencies, declare email bankrupcy (saving this one for a rainy day).

    1. fredwilson

      we use the same MO pamela

  49. CourtneyBoydMyers

    haha i am so on your page here…

  50. Guest

    Someone has answered the mark as unread question, but I think you’ll benefit from this (relatively) simple script, that allows you to snooze an email and have it come back to your inbox some number of days later:http://googleappsdeveloper….

    1. fredwilson

      ooh. i have to try that outthanks

  51. NICCAI

    I use Star for follow-up. It’s easier and typically has less taps.

  52. Toby Ruckert

    Not related to the subject of Gmail or how to best organize email, but your last sentence was inspiring to write a blog post about it – http://bit.ly/xPd9yv

    1. fredwilson

      hi toby. i left you a question as a comment on your post.

      1. Toby Ruckert

        Hi Fred, good point you’ve raised there – thanks – I’ve just replied.

        1. fredwilson

          thanks for your answer. the reason i asked is i do yoga regularly but do not meditate

          1. Toby Ruckert

            That’s great – what style do you do?I do both – asanas and meditation, because I feel they address a different issue – i.e. flexibility in the body, energy and focus from yoga asanas but a “holiday of the mind” (which otherwise never rests) in meditation.

          2. fredwilson

            any style that gets me on the mat for an hour or more