How to Use Gmail as If It Had Folders and Filters

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You can set up Gmail to filter incoming messages to "folders", bypassing the inbox.

Are you disheartened by Gmail's lack of folders? Folders into which you can stick your emails; folders reminiscent of drawers or trusty filing systems; folders whether you can move messages, even automatically?

Well, they might not be called "folders", but Gmail's labels act a lot like folders do. Using filters, you can even have Gmail sort your incoming mail by sender, subject or other criteria to your custom folders—out of the Inbox.

Use Gmail As If It Had Folders and Filters

To make Gmail route certain mail to particular "folders", bypassing your Inbox:

  1. Click the Show search options triangle pointed downward () in your Gmail search field's right end.
  2. Make sure All Mail is selected under Search.
  3. Enter the desired criteria you would like to use for your filter.
    • To filter all mail from somebody, type their email address in the From field, for example.
    • To route all message sent to a particular address you use with Gmail (even not a Gmail address or alias), enter that address in the To field.
    • To file all emails with large attachments, for instance, make sure greater than and MB are selected under Size, and enter a number around 5.
      • Make the line read Size greater than 5 MB.
  4. Click the Search Mail button (sporting a magnifying glass, 🔍).
  5. Verify just the kind of email you will want to file automatically show up in the search results.
  6. Click the Show search options triangle () again.
  7. Select Create filter with this search ».
  8. Make sure Skip the Inbox (Archive it) is checked.
  9. Also, check Apply the ​label.
  10. Select an existing label (folder) from the Choose label... menu or:
    1. Select New label....
    2. Type the desired name for the label (folder).
    3. Click OK.
  1. Optionally, check Also apply filter to matching conversations. to have Gmail move existing messages matching your criteria (as seen in the search results) to the folder.
  2. Click Create Filter.

New messages matching your rules will arrive in their labels (i.e. folders) only. If you keep those labels visible and an eye on them, you will see labels with new messages highlighted.

If you access Gmail via IMAP, the messages will also show up only in the folders corresponding to the labels (and All Mail), but not on the inbox. If you access Gmail through POP in an email program, the emails will be downloaded like other new emails; you can filter them in the email client, of course.

Make a Label Visible in Gmail

To make sure a label is visible—or visible at least if it contains new or unread messages—in Gmail:

  1. Click More under the list of visible labels.
  2. Hover the mouse button over the label you want to be shown.
  3. Click the downward-pointed triangle () that appears to the right of the label's name.
  4. Make sure Show or Show if unread is selected under In label list.