Modern life means spending a lot of time inside our inboxes. For a lot of people that often means Gmail, because it’s free, with up to 15GB of storage, packed with features, and available on just about every device you can name.
As years of emails have begun to pile up, you might have noticed that Google’s email service no longer offers the slick and speedy experience that it once did. The fix is simple, though it might bring you out in a cold sweat: Delete, delete, delete.
The fewer emails Gmail has to deal with, the faster your inbox, your searches, your labels, and your conversation threads are going to load up on screen.
Admittedly, part of the appeal of Gmail is that you can archive your emails and access them easily whenever you want. But ask yourself whether having 10-year-old messages gathering digital dust is really worth putting up with sluggish speeds when you’re trying to find something that came into your inbox a week ago.
But first, back it all up
Before you start wiping emails en masse, make sure you’re not deleting anything you’ll absolutely need in the future. You definitely don’t want to get rid of important legal documents or crucial communications from friends and family, for example.
Fortunately, Google lets you export and save everything from your Gmail account for safekeeping in the cloud, your computer, or on a hard drive. Go to your Google account on the web, then click Data and privacy and Download your data. Once there, check the box next to Mail, then choose Next step to get your download. You’ll be able to open this file on a third-party app like Apple Mail, Outlook, or Thunderbird, so keep this file in a safe place just in case you ever need it.
With that done, you can get on with the business of deleting.
It’s not how you delete, but what you delete
While you can do your bulk erasing in the mobile Gmail app, it’s best to do it on your desktop or laptop computer.
If you want to throw caution to the wind and get the job done as quickly as possible, click All Mail on the left of the Gmail interface on the web, then the Select box (top left), then Select all conversations and hit the Delete button (the trash can icon).
Remember that deleted emails stay in the Trash folder for 30 days, so you’ve got a month to bring back any messages that you realize you need to have handy. If you’re absolutely sure about it, you can wipe all these emails right away, by clicking Trash, the Select box (top left), Select all conversations, and Delete forever.
If this kind of mass cull of emails seems too drastic for you, that’s fine—Gmail gives you several options for making your deleting a bit more precise. For example, run a search for “older_than:1y” to see all of your emails older than a year, or “older_than:6m” to see emails older than six months.
Another handy search you can use is “larger:10M” which returns emails larger than 10 megabytes in size. It’s a good way of identifying the messages (and associated attachments) that are taking up an inordinate amount of room in your Gmail account.
If you want to adjust the weight, just change the number and unit in “10M” as you see fit—use K for kilobytes and nothing for bytes.
Gmail automatically sorts emails by their importance and labels them with a yellow arrow based on the sender, its contents, and how you’ve interacted with emails in the past. If you’re confident in Google’s AI, you can run a search for “label:unimportant” to see all of the messages that haven’t been ranked as significant and wipe them all out.
Gmail also tries to sort your incoming messages into categories—primary (important), social (social networking), promotions (deals and offers), updates (notifications and receipts), forums (messages from online groups), reservations (bookings for flights, hotels, and restaurants), and purchases (shipping and delivery emails). Run a search for “category:” followed by one of these label names to see all of the matching archived messages.
Using these searches, the deletion method is the same: Use the selection box and the trash can icon to wipe the messages on screen from your inbox. You’ve still got several other options too, including searching for emails from a particular sender or that match one of your custom labels.
Speed things up by going lo-fi
There are a couple of other tricks worth knowing about when it comes to speeding up Gmail. On the web, you might have seen the Load basic HTML (for slow connections) message appear as Gmail loads up. Click it or go to this link to switch to a more bare-bones layout for the email client, which should work faster in your browser—even if it doesn’t look as nice. To switch back, scroll down and next to Gmail view click on standard.
Finally, if you’re on Android, Google provides a Gmail Go app for those with a limited internet connection and a small amount of space on their devices. Like the HTML view on the web, it’s not quite as slick and polished as the standard Gmail interface, but it is more lightweight and should be faster to get around.