A Better Alternative to Gmail’s New Tabs

Anyone who uses and accesses Gmail online (as opposed to using a program like Outlook in your computer) has noticed Gmail’s new tabs across the top of your Gmail messages. The tabs are Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forum. Gmail has begun automatically organizing your messages into these categories which may or may not be helpful to you.

You can train Gmail’s new system so that certain emails get organized in the correct Gmail tabs, or you can turn off Gmail’s tabs and create your own automatic organization system with multiple inboxes.

One reason to use multiple inboxes over Gmail’s tabs is that you can see your messages in each of the inboxes on the same page.  With Gmail tabs, it’s too easy to forget that you have to click on the tabs to actually see your messages. Another advantage to creating multiple inboxes is to more specifically categorize and separate your incoming email messages; the Gmail tabs feature does not allow you to make up your own labels for the tabs.

What kinds of inboxes might be useful to organize your email? You could have an inbox for messages from your friends, another for messages from family, one for messages from a club and one for messages from your work.  You can create up to five custom inboxes in addition to your main Inbox.

How to Create Multiple Inboxes

  1. Decide on the categories for your inboxes (i.e., Family, Friends, Work, etc.)
  2. Create filters for each category
    • From your Gmail screen, click on the Google-Wheel-e1376931536996 and then Settings.
    • Click on the blue Filters tab across the top.
    • Click on Create a new filter across the bottom.
      • If you are creating an inbox for messages FROM certain contacts, begin typing each contact’s name in the From field. Select the correct email addresses that appear in the pop up box. If you add multiple email addresses, Gmail will insert a comma between them. This is important: after you enter your list of addresses, you need to use the arrow keys to go back through the list and change each comma to ” OR ” and delete the comma at the end of your list (there should be one space before and after OR). Unfortunately, you cannot do this using Contact groups that you have created.
      • If you are creating an inbox for messages that are being sent TO one of your email addresses, like a work email, enter that in the To field.
      • If you are creating an inbox for messages related to a club or organization, you may choose to use the Subject or Has the words field for selecting those messages.
    • After you enter your selection criteria, click on Create filter with this search.
    • On the next screen, check Skip the Inbox (Archive It).
    • Check Apply the label and click the arrow beside Choose label…
    • Click New label…
    • Enter a name for your Custom inbox (i.e., Family Inbox, Friends Inbox, etc.) and click Create.
    • Check Never send it to Spam
    • Check Also apply filter to matching conversations
    • Click Create Filter.
  3. You should be returned to the Filters screen in Settings. You can repeat the above instructions to create more filters for other inboxes.
  4. When finished creating filters, click on the blue Labs tab across the top.
  5. Scroll down to find Multiple Inboxes and click on Enable.
  6. Click on Save Changes at the bottom.
  7. Create your custom Multiple Inboxes
    • Click on the Google-Wheel-e1376931536996 again and then Settings.
    • Click on the blue Multiple Inboxes tab across the top.
    • You will enter the following in the Pane fields:
      • In the Search query field enter label: followed by the label you created from one of your filters (i.e., label:Friends Inbox, label:Family Inbox, etc.). If you can’t remember the exact names of the labels you created, they are listed on the left side of your screen.
      • In the Panel title (optional) field enter just your label name (i.e., Friends Inbox, Family Inbox, etc.)
    • For now, leave Maximum page size at 4. You can increase or decrease that later.
    • Select the placement of your custom inboxes. I prefer mine above my main Inbox, but you may prefer to the side or beneath your main Inbox.
    • Click on Save Changes.
    • Enjoy your organized, easy-to-read Gmail screen!

For Those Who Like Gmail’s New Tabs

If you prefer using Gmail’s new automatic inbox tabs but find that email from a particular sender is in the wrong tab, simply drag the message onto the top of the correct tab. Gmail will ask if you want all email from that sender to be categorized to that tab.

10 replies
  1. George
    George says:

    Thanks for the article. I know it’s implied in your 3rd paragraph, but just a reminder that it’s an either-or situation – multiple inboxes OR gmail’s tabs. I setup multiple inboxes and they didn’t appear until I had turned off gmail’s tabs completely.

    • Lynn Huffman
      Lynn Huffman says:

      Hi Thomas,
      I may be misunderstanding you, but what I’ve done on the iPhone for my filter-created inboxes is go to Mailboxes and Edit the list to move those folders to the top, just after the Inbox. Yes, it does require me some extra steps when checking mail, but it’s relatively quick since they are then all grouped at the top of the Mailboxes screen.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Erin Henshaw
    Erin Henshaw says:

    Help! The second part isn’t working for me, I have created a filter for all of my messages, but I can’t seem to move this filter up to function as a second inbox…it stays below (even when I choose the “above main inbox” option.

    • Lynn Huffman
      Lynn Huffman says:

      Hi Erin,
      I don’t know what to suggest. After you click on Save, have you tried doing a screen refresh or completely closing Gmail and then opening it back up?
      Let me know and thanks for reading!


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