How to Use Gmail as If It Had Folders

Use Filters to Auto-Sort Emails into Folder-Like Categories

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Gmail doesn't use folders in the traditional sense, but instead use what they call "labels." When you mark an email as having a different label, it still stays in the Inbox folder but is also accessible from the label folder. One way to make labels more like folders is to auto-move incoming messages into these label categories.

When you move emails out of the Inbox folder and categorize them into labels, they appear separate from the rest of your messages. For example, you might have all your Amazon purchases in an Amazon label and emails from work in a Work label, all of which are no longer cluttering up the Inbox folder.

You can move emails into these folders-like areas manually via drag-and-drop, but Gmail also supports auto-sorting emails into folders through filters.

Directions

To automatically move emails into a separate folder, out of the Inbox folder, requires that you set up filters, which you can do from the search box at the top of Gmail. The first set of steps is to choose how Gmail should decide what emails to move.

Screenshot showing how to search for emails in Gmail
Choosing Which Emails to Filter Into Folders.
  1. Click the small arrow to the far right of the search box located at the very top of Gmail.

  2. Fill out that window with any relevant information. You can use just one option here or all of them.

    • From: If you want the emails to be sorted into folders by who sent them, fill out this field. You can even put multiple addresses here, separated by commas, if you want the same filter to apply to all of those email addresses.
    • To: If you have multiple email accounts set up in Gmail, this field is useful for filtering only some of those messages.
    • Subject: Emails can be moved into folders in Gmail based on what's in the subject line. For example, emails that use "shipping" or "order update" in the subject line could be moved into a folder made just for online orders.
    • Has the words: Include words here that the email should contain in order for the rule to apply to it.
    • Doesn't have: This is the opposite of the other criteria. If the email doesn't have the word "work," for example, you might consider it a totally different message and have it moved elsewhere.
    • Size: Mostly useful for emails with attachments, this will force the rule to apply only to emails that are bigger or smaller than what you set here.
    • Date within: Pick a date and time range so that only emails that fall into that date range will have this rule applied.
    • Search: Using this will force the rule to look for emails only in the folders you choose. For example, pick Spam to ensure that the rule only applies to messages there.
    • Has attachment: Enable this to make sure the email has an attachment before it's moved to the designated folder.
    • Don't include chats: Enable this if you don't want chats included in this filter.
  3. Choose Create filter at the bottom of the pop-out window.

Now that you've decided which emails the filter should be applied to, it's time to designate where the emails should go when they come into your Inbox folder.

Screenshot showing how to make a Gmail filter to move emails into folders
Setting Up the Filter to Move Emails Into a Folder.
  1. Select Skip the Inbox (Archive it) at the very top of the window. This will ensure that the emails never show up in the Inbox folder but instead go to the folder you choose below.

  2. Next to Apply the label, click/tap the drop-down menu and pick a label to have the emails moved into when they arrive in your Gmail account.

    Choose New label... from the very top of the drop-down menu if you don't currently have a folder set up.

  3. Select Create filter to finish.

You can optionally enable the other options on this screen like to mark the email as important, to apply the filter to current emails too, to mark the email as read, etc.

New messages matching your rules will arrive in their labels (i.e. folders) only, skipping right over the Inbox folder. You can access them from the label itself off to the side of Gmail or from the All Mail folder.

Unless you hide the labels from showing up in Gmail, you'll know when emails are in there because they'll have a number off to the side showing the unread email count.

If you access Gmail via IMAP, the same messages will move into their respective folders in your email program. However, this isn't true for POP Gmail. Instead, the emails will be downloaded like any other new message, into the same folder.