new gmail inboxStop being confused about Gmail’s new inbox and do something about it. The new inbox was announced almost a month ago, and I feel like there are still a lot of users that are very, very confused.

I’ve heard people say it actually takes longer to check their email because they have to move from one tab to the next, finding the important emails they need to read first. I’ve heard confusion over how a certain email ends up being sorted to a tab it doesn’t belong in, yet not knowing what to do about it.

With this post, I hope to change that.

Google’s goal for the inbox tabs feature was to give you something that “puts you back in control using simple, easy organization.” But we all know things don’t always go exactly as planned, especially when it can take awhile to get used to change.

You have two options for dealing with inbox tabs in a way that you can actually control:

1. Disable the inbox tabs completely

2. Customize them as needed until they sort email to your liking.

First, let’s make sure we all understand the inbox tabs and what email is supposed to end up in each one:

With the new inbox, Gmail automatically sorts your email into one of five potential tabs, based on the sender. The available tabs are, as explained in the inbox settings area:

  • Primary: Person-to-person conversations and messages that don’t appear in other tabs
  • Social: Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, and other social websites
  • Promotions: Deals, offers, and other marketing emails
  • Updates: Personal, auto-generated updates including confirmations, receipts, bills, and statements
  • Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists

Now, here’s how to live with or without them:

Live with them and customize your tabs

In my personal experience with Gmail tabs, I’ve learned that where Google thinks a message should go and where you think it should go won’t always be the same. There will also be times when people won’t want their email in these given categories at all. Perhaps the majority of your email is from social websites. Instead of having one ‘Social’ tab with hundreds of emails, you could separate emails from different social sites into different tabs.

The one downside to this right now is that while you can make all your emails from Twitter go into the ‘Promotions’ tab and send your promotional messages to your ‘Primary’ tab, there’s no way to rename the ‘Promotions’ tab so that it says ‘Twitter.’ Luckily, there’s an alternative organization method using labels.

One way to make your tabs more personalized is by disabling the tabs you don’t need. To do so, click on the gear menu and select ‘Configure Inbox,’ or click on the plus sign on the right side of your tab navigation. Deselect any tabs you don’t want to appear.

You can also customize which emails appear in which tabs so that even though the tabs have the same default names, they serve whatever purpose you need them to. To do this, you can either drag-and-drop an individual message to the desired tab or right-click on it, select ‘Move to tab,’ and click on the desired tab’s label. To move multiple messages to the same tab at once, click the check boxes to the left of each message, and drag-and-drop them in the correct category.

Once you move a message, a yellow box will appear at the top of the page confirming the move. On the second line, it will ask if you want to do the same for future messages from that sender. To change the filtering of messages from that sender, click yet.

Live without them and disable the new inbox

If you just don’t want to deal with this new inbox, we get it. Personally, I turned it off after a few days of playing around. It’s very easy to switch between the new inbox and any of the other inbox options, although I’m not sure if any customization you applied will be retained if you disable and re-enable the tabs option.

To disable inbox tabs, find the tab settings. You can get there by clicking the plus sign next to the list of all of the tabs in your inbox, selecting ‘Configure inbox’ from the gear menu, or going to the ‘Inbox’ tab of your email settings. By deselecting all of the tabs except for ‘Primary,’ your inbox will appear as it did before these new features were released.

If you have any questions about the new inbox that we didn’t address, you might be able to find the answers you need in Lifehacker’s guide to the new layout.

So, are the tabs there to stay in your inbox, or are you opting to organize your emails in another way? Share your thoughts on the new feature in the comments.