Minimal Gmail Star Method

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We’re a big fan of to-do systems that use email, since most of your tasks will arrive, and be completed, within email anyway.

Previously we posted a method of using Gmail’s Starred emails, and Gmail Tabs, to set up a separate tab of important jobs. Below we’ll show you perhaps an improvement on that system.

The great thing about this system is that it makes completing your jobs the default action when you look at your email.


This system uses

  • A Gmail account
  • A method of quickly emailing yourself from your smartphone (we use the Captio app, however there are many other methods, including Siri on the iPhone)
  • A bunch of Google Chrome extensions mentioned in this article (depending on your needs)
  • The code included in this article



Many of you will already be using Gmail Stars to sort your email into prioritized tasks. They’re great – you can choose a combination that makes sense to you, and it’s easy to change them without opening mails.

There are a few problems with using them as a proper to do list. Below are some of our solutions.


A Small, Uninviting label

And an overly dominant “Inbox” label. One of the problems with email is to obsess over checking and responding to new emails, whereas older starred tasks are ignored. You can see the priority inherent in the design.

Fear not! Using an extension called Stylebot, you can adjust any CSS that you regularly use in your browser. We have modified the gmail sidebar in different ways. Below are some examples, and some of the code we used is in the attached .txt. document.

(If you need help on how to add code to Stylebot, please refer to their documentation. It’s as simple as right-clicking the Stylebot option, hitting “Edit CSS”, dropping in the code, and hitting Save.)


Option 1

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This is a minimalist styling, that most closely fits with Gmail’s default design.


Option 2

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In this version, the inbox count has been hidded (which is unimportant), and changed to the less addictive “Recent”. Rounded corners have also been added to “To Do”


Option 3

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In this version the buttons have been centered, to match the “Compose” button. The To Do button is even more dominant here.


Option 4

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Very similar to the previous example… here the inbox has been further de-emphasized by renaming it “To Sort” (ugh!), and greyed out to make it less “clicky”.

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Here the “Starred” menu is hidden completely. Instead “Quick Links” to different categories of jobs are used (each different star is a different type of job).

Try playing with the lines in this document to get the wording, coloring, and size that you want.

Gmail stylebot styles

Note – some of this code renames all the folders “To Do”. This wasn’t a problem for me, as I only ever show one label. However you might wish to tinker with this further to remove that problem.


“Making Starred” Your Default View

The more I can focus on my Starred emails, over my Inbox, the better. You can create a bookmark to your starred view of course. To make it foolproof, I use the Requestly Chrome extension to automatically forward me to the right place. Specifically, I send


This still allows you to view your inbox when you select it within Gmail itself.


Moving Items to the Top of Your Starred List

Sometimes items are lost down the bottom of your list, but are important to see and do early. While it would be great if Gmail allowed us to drag and drop our Starred Email view order, there is a workaround.

Streak is an incredibly useful, and comprehensive Gmail Chrome extension. I find just the ability to “snooze’ an email its most useful function, however. If you snooze an email, it disappears for a set amount of time, and reappears at the top of your inbox. Simply set the time for one minute (or one second) to do this more or less instantaneously.

Streak (unlike competitors like Boomerang) is free for unlimited emails – it’s great.


Temporarily Hiding Unimportant Items

Unfortunately you cannot push less important items down your starred email list, either. Fortunately Streak can help here, too. Simply click the schedule icon, write “one day”, “one week”, “one month”, or some other period to snooze for, and uncheck the star.

This method works with selecting multiple items, also.


Adding to Your List Manually

I use the Captio app to send an email to myself from my phone, with just two taps. There are other, voice activated methods that could make this even quicker. Setting up a simple filter to star these incoming emails can quickly sort these into the to-do list.



  • You don’t need to ever copy an email task into your to-do list again – they are in there almost by default
  • The most important things to work on are visible, again by default
  • An attractive, distraction-free design
  • Removes the need to repeatedly ‘check’ your email
  • Quickly and easily add to your list from anywhere
  • A basic ability to move items to the top, and to hide other items



  • The starred emails, while nice and prominent, are unsorted – meaning high priority tasks may be hidden lower down on the to-do list.
  • This is not visible on your smartphone, making it useful just while near your main desktop computer.



  • I use an extension that allows me to pause my email, or have it all arrive only in the mornings and near the end of the day. That way I am in control of my inbox and it remains less of  a distraction. See Inbox Pause for more information.


Our Rating

A really great, frictionless system. We would like to see smartphone and desktop app developers (and Gmail) move towards this a bit more. Particularly with the ability to drag and drop starred emails into an easily prioritized personal order.

Your Thoughts

Have you tried this system? What are your experiences working with it? Any pros, cons, variations, or tips?

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