Want to make Gmail faster in your email program? Looking for clarity and important mail alerts only? Find out here how to configure Gmail IMAP folders so exactly the labels you use most show up in the most efficient manner.

First, the Toad Elevating Moment

If you wonder (like you should), “The Toad Elevating Moment” was among the names not chosen for the highly influential and forever rewarding British comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

It returned as the title for a skit on the show, though. Fittingly, The Toad Elevating Moment brings us a man who only speaks the beginnings of words, one who only says the endings of words and, as luck would have it, another man who sticks to pronouncing the words’ middle parts. —G —oo —d —Eve —ni —ing!

Now, want Gmail to say only the important bits when sending emails to an email program? Here’s the Gourd Elevating Moment:

How to Configure Gmail IMAP Folders for Email Programs

Time needed: 10 minutes.

To select the labels available as Gmail IMAP folders so you can access them in email programs (and services) that connect to your Gmail account through IMAP or OAuth:

  1. Do enable IMAP access in Gmail.

  2. Click the Settings gear icon (⚙️) near your Gmail’s top right corner.

  3. Select Settings from the menu that has appeared.

  4. Go to the Labels tab under Settings.

  5. Check Show in IMAP for all labels you want to access as folders if you set up Gmail in an email program.

    Of course: Uncheck Show in IMAP for labels you do not want to show up in email programs.
    Tip: Do disable unneeded labels. Messages with multiple labels will show up as copies in all Gmail IMAP folders. This means email programs will download multiple copies, which slows them—and you—down without need or profit.
    Hint: Changes take effect immediately; you do not have to save them.

How to Configure Gmail IMAP Folders for Email Programs: FAQ

Which labels should I enable as IMAP folders?

Your Gmail Inbox will always be available via IMAP or OAuth as the inbox folder.

Other labels you should typically enable as Gmail IMAP folders:

  • Sent Mail: allows you not only to access past sent emails (and your email program build coherent threads) but makes sure a copy of each email you send from an email program is available in Gmail on the web as well as in other email programs set up to access Gmail.
  • Drafts: lets you synchronize drafted messages and continue where you left off across devices.
  • Spam: while not all that useful, it is to be hoped, for reading messages, this folder lets you mark junk emails that made it to your Gmail inbox from any email program: simply move them to the Spam folder.

Labels that are not crucial but often very helpful:

  • Trash: keep deleted emails synchronized so you can always recover; also lets your email program delete messages by moving them to the Gmail Trash label.
  • All Mail: to archive messages in Gmail IMAP, move them to the All Mail folder. This removes them from your inbox while keeping a copy in Gmail. Do note that the All Mail folder will contain all messages and can get very large unless you limit the number of messages available through IMAP.
  • Important: contains the messages deemed important by Gmail’s filters. This lets you mark messages important by copying them to the folder and, possibly more—ahem—importantly, lets you set up email programs to notify you only about new messages in the Important folder, not all messages arriving in your Gmail inbox.

A label you might think could be helpful but is typically best left unchecked:

  • Starred: lets you keep a tap on starred emails; note this works; Gmail IMAP does support your email program’s flag or star, though: if you flag or star it here it will also be starred there—and vice versa.

(How to configure Gmail IMAP folders for email programs tested with Gmail in a desktop browser; updated October 2017; title image: StockUnlimited)