Saturday, February 21, 2015

Clearing thousands of Star tags from Gmail - two techniques and notes on Star support in OS X, iOS and Airmail.

Remember Inbox Zero?

Perhaps you’re there. Maybe, by dint of filters, of carefully constructed responses, of terror induced in potential correspondents, you’ve finally achieved productive nirvana.

You’re feeling good about it. Proud perhaps.

I’m here to ruin that. Because beyond Inbox Zero lies Sentbox zero.

In Outlook Sentbox zero means the “Sent” folder has no emails in it save those awaiting a response. They may have a flag that goes red 2 days after initial send. All other Sent emails have been deleted or (most often) dropped into the “keep” bin [2].

In Gmail things work differently. I don’t have/use folders; I make sparing use of a handful of tags. So I need a different way to tag sent emails that are awaiting a response.

There are several ways to “tag” such emails. I could use a Gmail tag/label, or a star, or a priority flag. The Star option is quick and synchronizes well across Google Gmail desktop, on OS X, and on iOS and OS X (alas, Airmail doesn’t quite work [1]). So I went with the Star.

The problem was that I had 4,500 stared emails in Gmail - largely from 2007 and prior. Maybe in those days I used the star? Maybe Google automatically set it? Long ago, but I needed to clear them out.

My web searches for a quick way to clear 4,500 flags failed. using an undocumented? Gmail keyboard shortcuts (edited here):

If you use desktop web UI with shortcuts, search is:starred or whatever and then *a to select all. Gmail then provides a link/offer to select all results, not just those on page. 

Once you’ve selected hitting ’s’ will toggle starred status.

I couldn’t test however, because I’d already used OS X to clear the Stars. In Mavericks maps the Star to a “red” (Default) flag — so I elected all of those and cleared the flag. then updated and cleared the Gmail flags.

No that my Flags are cleared, I can create and clear flags on my Sent emails that are awaiting a response. So now I can implement Sentbox zero-equivalent on Gmail.

- fn - 

[1] My copy of Airmail did not have a STARRED folder mapped to Gmail Star status. I had to create one using an obscure method. Pick any email and “star” it. Assuming preferences has Automap enabled, a new starred folder is created. On restart Starred now shows in the Folders section of the app title bar. Unfortunately it does’t work correctly, items starred in Gmail web app don’t appear in Starred folder — updates are one way from Airmail to Gmail. Fail.

[2] Not filed of course. Subject line is precisely correct and has key words used by search, retrieval will be by metadata search.

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