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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 6: Master Message Search

Level Easy

Platforms All

Cost Free

In an earlier hack, you created an archive of closed messages for later reference, and your Archive folder has no subfolders in it. That makes a lot of compulsively organized people who like to have a folder for every sender, project, and day of the week anxious. But in contrast to paper documents, you don’t need folders to find where you’ve stored messages. As long as you know a few key characteristics of the message in question, a well-crafted query can pluck out the email you’re looking for immediately — without traversing a six-folder-deep hierarchy.

In the physical world, you can’t throw years’ worth of letters, cards, and memos into a drawer and then pick out the one Tom sent you about that fabulous rental he got in Key West back in 2007 in seconds. However, that is absolutely possible (and simple with a little know-how) in an email folder containing thousands of messages.

Search Criteria

Most email programs have a built-in message search. Not surprisingly, Google’s web-based email product Gmail has the strongest searching capabilities on the market; that said, any decent, modern email client also offers solid searching tools.

Often simple keyword searches are all you need, but you can do even more complex queries with Gmail’s advanced search operators. For example, your search for Tom’s message might look like Figure 1-4 in Gmail’s Search Options area:

Additionally, if you want to search for messages from Tom ...

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