Jumping a Gmail search hurdle

While I’ve been in email limbo for much of this month, I’m getting closer to finding a way to manage email effectively that I hope I’ll be happy with.

On the road to that solution, I experienced one small (to some) and big (to me) issue that I could not figure out how to resolve – and no one else I asked seemed to know either – which was how to select or filter all emails in the Gmail inbox by date.

So, for instance, if I wanted to see all received emails before January 1, 2009, how would I do that? No way via any of the search options, geared as they are to names and keywords.


Your only date choice there is a drop-down to choose a time frame, with a maximum date range of one year, wholly not what I needed.

You might be wondering why this was such an issue. Well, I’ve had a Gmail account (now known as Google Mail in the UK) since October 2004. Most of the email I’ve received since then is still in the account, some 46,000 emails (but only 36% of the available storage space: a definite proof point of Google’s view that you never need delete anything with Gmail).

The trouble I encountered with that was when I changed settings in Outlook to synchronize Outlook with Gmail via IMAP rather than with POP as I had been doing for years.

The first time Outlook synced with Gmail by IMAP, it tried to retrieve all 46,000 emails in the inbox. And of course Outlook crashed, multiple times, failing with every sync as it suffered severe email indigestion.

Clearly, now was a good time to tidy up the Gmail account, get rid of all that email (of which I have local copies in archived Outlook PST files). Hence looking for a way to select email by date and either move to Archive or delete in a way that was easy, such as I can do in Outlook.

The way that enabled me to do it finally emerged in a Twitter discussion yesterday when Neil Dixon came up with the solution.


Others were close with the answer – notably Jonathan Beckett and Darren Price – but Neil’s was the first to suggest something that worked!

So my steps were these:

  1. In the Gmail Search box, I typed “before:2009/01/01” (without the quotes) to select all email in the Inbox before that date, ie, December 31, 2008 and earlier. Note no spaces at all: treat the string of characters as a single word.
  2. In the subsequent results page, I clicked the option ‘Select All’ which did that for that screenful of results.
  3. Once selected, this text appeared at the top of the page list: “All 20 conversations on this page are selected: Select all conversations that match this search.” The latter sentence is a hyperlink; clicking on it did what it said – selected every email prior to the specified date, not just what you see on your screen.
  4. At this stage, you can then do many things including delete everything or move everything to your Archive.

That’s one big hurdle jumped on the way to email nirvana. :)

Plus is shows how useful Twitter can be, certainly producing faster results than I would  expect to have received if I had posted my dilemma in the Gmail Help Forum. That forum is a terrific resource, I hasten to add, but my experience with Twitter as a help resource for my particular issue shows how simply magnificent that community often is.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chip Griffin

    If only I had explained myself better I could have saved you a lot of time and headache! What you describe in detail is precisely what I was talking about in my comment on your earlier post. A good lesson in clarity for me!

  2. neville

    I re-read what you said in that other post, Chip: I think you explained your thoughts pretty well.

    It’s only now that things are beginning to look clearer to me. I needed a lot of hand-holding with understanding Gmail :)

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