Multiple Inboxes

This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series Gmail Master

One of the most interesting new features in the Gmail Labs is called Multiple Inboxes. If you need more information on Gmail Labs, check the Gmail Podcast Archives for plenty of details on what it is and how you can enable dozens of useful features. Multiple inboxes gives you a very nice way to see items that would normally be cluttering up your inbox in separate window panes on the same screen. Combined with labels and filters, multiple inboxes makes for a very powerful organization tool.

Begin by enabling the Multiple Inboxes feature under Settings> Labs. You’ll notice your main conversation index now shows a sort of split-screen view of your normal conversation index as well as search results on the right. By default it comes up with search results for starred and draft items. To change this, go back in to Settings and you’ll see a new tab labeled “Multiple inboxes”. There you will see five lines, labeled “Pane 0-4” that you can put in the search conditions you want to display. You can also set a maximum number of conversations you want to display and if you want the panes displayed above, below, or to the right of the inbox. Now, back at your inbox, you’ll see a whole new layout. Using filters, you can immediately label and move messages to their own window for better organization.

At the top of each pane you can find a link on the right labeled “View All”. When you click on that link the particular pane will take over and take up the whole index.

Be careful not to get carried away with Multiple Inboxes. While they can be a powerful feature to keep you organized, I found the more I tried to configure them with filters, the less organized I became. I thought it would be helpful to take some of my more common messages and bypass the normal inbox by applying them to a label and making them appear in one of the other inboxes. For example, all my incoming notifications from Facebook would simply “appear” in a facebook pane. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a keyboard shortcut to move me to another pane (yet). Maybe something like g 0-4 would be helpful to allow me to select, label, archive, and delete conversations in those other inboxes. Try out the multiple inboxes and see what works for you.

I have to say, I’m rather impressed with some of the other changes in Gmail recently. The user interface has been cleaned up and a couple new features added. The buttons on the main index have been given cleaner look. Archive, Report Spam, and Delete are still there, however More Actions has been divided in to “Move to”, which allows you to apply a label and move the message out of the inbox, and label which simply applies a label. “More Actions” is still available, but has been tidied up to simply include “Mark as read”, “Mark as unread”, “Add to tasks”, “Add Star”, “Remove Star”, “Create an event”, “Filter Messages like these”, and “Mute”. For you keyboard shortcut nerds, “v” activates the “Move To” menu, “l” for the label menu, and “.” (period, or dot) still gets “More Actions”. It’s been a challenge to retrain my fingers, but I’m learning.

I’ve got dozens of labels and scrolling is quickly becoming impractical. Another nice feature about these new menu options is auto-complete. As you start typing the label name, Gmail will narrow the search down. Once again, I highly recommend keyboard shortcuts for moving between your messages with j and k, select them with “x”, move or label them with “l”, or “v”, archive them with “y”, or delete them with “#”. Applying labels with auto-complete makes organizing your messages a snap. I can quickly narrow down 100 new messages to 10 that I really need to read and reply to in a few minutes.

After seeing some of the recent interface changs, it starts to make the filter and label management screens look a little clunky. Keep watching the Gmail Podcast website and listening to the Gmail Podcast, you never know what’s coming next…

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