Quickest way to mark a gmail email with a label?

Ultimately what I want to do is to quickly go through unread emails and mark them “to handle later.” I like to clear out my unread emails so that I have a list of emails that I need to take care of. I’d like to do this with a quick keyboard shortcut.
Note, marking the ‘important’ doesn’t work since gmail has its own rules for what’s important, same thing with flagging.
I was thinking of just using one of the categories - say "red’ or I can just make a label. I’m fine with whatever but I just want it to be quick to mark them.
This has to be a common request, so I’m probably missing something simple.
Thanks for suggestions.

I do that also. I have a category “For Later”, and just use an assigned shortcut (Ctrl F2) to mark each message. Then I also have a search folder for that category so I can easily find my “For Later” items.

You can assign shortcuts in the category setup.

Flagging works great for me as it also shows up in the Agenda pane

How do you avoid gmail flagging certain things by default? Currently it looks like things are flagged that I know I never explicitly marked as “flagged” ?

I think you may be confusing flagging with the Gmail “Important” flag.  The Gmail important flag is placed there by Gmail based on their algorithms (you can defeat this, search for “gmail important” in this forum).

The flag appears when you hover over a message in the message list.  Clicking on this will flag the message and flagged items will also appear in the agenda pane.

Ah ok thanks. I figured it out. The “flag” is driven off of items I “starred” in gmail. I guess a lot of them I had mistakenly clicked the star on in the gmail web client - which explains why I was confused, since many of them flagged/starred weren’t really that important.
Thanks for the help. I think I will definitely use the flag/star concept.
What I’m going to do  now is use the flag (star when on mobile)  for “emails to address” and then I’ll mark certain ones with a category “important” (more so that they I never mistakeningly delete those.) The latter would be more of reference emails for future referal.