Increase Productivity with Gmail Multiple Inboxes


The Gmail team at Google (s goog) has been busy lately, haven’t they?

multipleinbox.pngLast week, Google introduced the Multiple Inboxes Lab, which works for both and Google Apps addresses. This lets you sub-divide your inbox into multiple views; check out Simon’s Multiple Inboxes screencast from yesterday for an overview. I didn’t enable the feature for a few days, thinking that I already had a pretty good system for getting to Inbox Zero and staying on top of what needed to get done. Turns out that multiple inboxes makes a good system even better.

You can get quite creative with the panes you have set up in your Multiple Inboxes beyond the default is:starred or is:unread that it comes with out of the box. Here are two inbox panes I’ve configured that are helping me stay organized.


waiting.pngIt’s too easy to send an email and then forget that you’re waiting on an answer. Set a label (I use “waiting”) for those conversations that are stalled because you need someone else to do something. By making it into an inbox pane it’s in your face all the time, so that the loop isn’t closed.

I only wish there was a way to do a relative date (for example: before:7 days ago) in the search box so I could do a better job of keeping on top of only the most stale responses I’m waiting on as those are the ones that tend to slip through the cracks.

label:read-later label:unread

My goal is always to get email out of my main inbox as soon as possible. Ever get an email that you know you have to read in more depth, but don’t have time to do so at the moment? There may be a task hidden in there, or maybe not. It’s certainly not important enough to set as an actual task yet. So this label is for emails that I need to read later, but haven’t yet.

readlater.pngThe key to this inbox pane is to label the message without marking it as read. Once you’ve read the message, there’s no point of seeing it as a message to read. To do that, select the email, and then the label from the new “Move to” drop down. It’s not actually moving anything – this is Gmail, after all. What it does do is to keep the status as unread while labeling and moving the message out of the main inbox and into the Archive. Now when you read the email, it will automatically be removed from the Multiple Inboxes pane.

Are you using Multiple Inboxes to increase productivity? Share your tips in the comments.


Marsha Egan

Kudos to you for working to keep that inbox empty. It sounds like you’ve embraced the concept of sorting, rather than working.

For those too long to read now emails, I like to set a diary or reminder to make sure I get to it. In the spirit of GTD – getting things done – using that two minute rule to decide what you’ll read and what you’ll triage, you’ll go a long way to managing your inbox.

What we need to avoid is looking at things MANY times, trying to decide whether to handle or when to handle. Make that decision the first time you look at it instead.

Good post. Marsha Egan


This is a great feature, but unfortunately it doesn’t work with the Firefox Extension as it shoves the additional inboxes below the main inbox. And I am SO MARRIED to the Rmilk extension for productivity.

Judi Sohn

I hear you @undelighted (ha!). With all the wonderful attention to email and mobile syncing lately, it’s a shame that contacts are still so neglected. There’s always next week. :-)

David Skarjune

Great Gmail productivity tips, Judi! I’m running a few Lab features, and can’t wait to try this one.
The Inbox can so easily become a dysfunctional gatekeeper when users let it clog. At my last job, the Executive Director had email accounts of exited staff forwarded to her account, with some 300-500 unopened messages in her Inbox on any day. Yikes!
At my current job, I just reworked an “Info” email account that was an alias being forwarded to multiple staff, spam and all. Our agency uses Google Apps with Gmail on top of our own email server. I made a “queue” with a separate account that only shows incoming toss-up questions allowed to sit in the Inbox for 1 business day for staff review, with most of the incoming sorted out before hitting the toss-up queue.


Good article. Any news as to when we can expect Google Contacts to become useful to small business users as it’s pretty limited as it stands. Need to be able to share addessbooks.

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