Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Create a File Archive with Gmail

by Andre · 1 Comment

Despite being organized in other aspects of my workflow, my filing system for electronic documents was haphazard. This became increasingly irritating as I moved into freelance writing, where my articles sometimes wound up on my desktop, sometimes in My Documents, other times in a nonce project folder. Since I sent the articles as Word attachments in Gmail, I could always retrieve them with a search. But without remembering the exact filename of the attachment or a couple of unique words in the body of the email containing it, a search often took longer than I had patience for. The lack of a filing protocol was creating too much overhead, so I decided to consolidate and automate the filing process through filtering.

Files_Label - 550

What the filter does

Once this filter is set up, an email with an attached document, spreadsheet, or pretty much any other file gets immediately archived under a “Files” label. There are other ways to keep files in the cloud with Gmail, using Firefox extensions like Gmail Drive or Gspace, but this filter is automatic, and can be applied retroactively to your current archive of emails containing attachments. The Firefox extensions are like FTP clients, requiring you to make a decision on what to upload and what not to. I prefer the set-and-forget approach, except for files exceeding Gmail’s 20mb attachment limit; for the latter I use Gspace.

Setting up the filter

Creating the file archive takes less than five minutes. Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the Labels column and click Edit Labels at the bottom
  2. At the bottom of the Labels list in Settings, create a “Files” label in the Create a new label box
  3. In Settings, click Filters, then Create a new filter
  4. In the From textbox, enter your Gmail address. Leave the other textboxes blank
  5. Check the Has attachment checkbox, then click Next Step
  6. Under the Choose action set of checkboxes, check Skip the Inbox(Archive it) and Apply the label:
  7. After the latter checkbox, select the new “Files” label from the dropdown menu
  8. Recommended: If you want to retroactively apply the filter to all of the emails you’ve sent containing attachments, check Also apply filter to [xxx] conversations below
  9. Click Update Filter

That’s all there is to it. Now, when you click on your Files label, you’ll see a list of every email you’ve sent to yourself or to others that contains a file. Since the emails are archived automatically, you can email files to yourself without cluttering your inbox. You can create more refined filters with the above procedure by create specific labels for each file type — separate “Documents” and “Spreadsheets” labels would correspond to filters for Word documents and Excel spreadsheets respectively. I prefer the simplicity of a single label, but don’t hesitate to customize the process as needed.

Tags: Technology


  • NoahNo Gravatar // Dec 26, 2009 at 8:52 am

    This is almost identical to what I do except I’m not utilizing the filters much. I set a couple up for emails I get consistently from “services” like Google and voicemails from my phone though.

    It works great and the search is very handy! Now I’m just praying Google doesn’t have a server crash…