Email is a bear. The Oatmeal covered it pretty thoroughly. I use a few little tricks with Gmail that many people don't know about, so I figured I'd share a few. Maybe one will help you out.
1. Use filters and create labels. Our inboxes get filled up so fast with so many different things, it's easy to lose an email from your wife or a friend. Filters and labels are sort of like automatically-applied tags. You set them up ahead of time, and then Gmail does the rest.
The easiest way to set this up is to save a search for emails from someone you want to pull out specifically. For me, I want all emails from my wife to be labelled so I can find them later.
I would say avoid using the "skip the inbox" option because it's easy to forget to check for emails from your friend (or wife), and that's bad.
Essentially, just like filters, labels can let you find emails quickly. They just set the email off to the side for a quick reference. I wrote a post the other day about a helpful search, and I've made a label for that so I can find those emails with one click. Note that you can add, delete, or edit any label you have in your Gmail Settings > Labels.
2. Multiple inboxes are your friend. A few updates ago, Google introduced the managed inbox where you were given tabs and emails were automatically filtered into things like Social, Promotional, or Important. Ditch that thing immediately. You miss emails in the long run, and that can be bad. You need a filter and a label for that filter in order to get this to work correctly.
I love this because I can customize what I see when I log in. I use stars to remind me to do things because I can add them in the mobile app as well. They're right there at the top, reminding me to take care of those messages. Using "Add Section," you can apply any filter that you have set up and get it's own section in your inbox. Be intentional about what filters you set because they can really make your life easier.
3. If it doesn't need a response, and you don't need it, delete it. Or archive it. Get it out of your Inbox.
4. Use Google's advanced search operators. You can use a filter for this, but it's more about using the Gmail advanced search operators in savvy ways to narrow down your results. For instance, you can use:
and you'll get any email with an attachment that's a PDF. If you get a lot of one kind of attachment, this is incredibly helpful. Another one of my favorites is to use:
The newer_than:7d returns emails from the past week only. You can search by date, but seeing what's there from recent days is helpful when you're trying to stay on top of correspondences.
There are tons of articles online with more tips, these are just some I use to manage my life. My inbox typically only has a dozen or so emails at a time, which is a pretty big accomplishment. Leave your own tips in the comments.