Do you love your Gmail accounts, but hate the way they're displayed in Apple Mail or your favorite IMAP email client? Coherent and easy-to-navigate folder options await you with this one simple step that most people forget when they set up their email accounts in their desktop client.
The trick is to set up something called the IMAP path prefix (or IMAP root in some clients). It's an obscure feature in most email clients, and you really have to dig around to find it. For example, in Apple Mail, you have to go to Preferences --> Accounts tab --> Advanced sub tab to set the IMAP path prefix.
Now, what you actually put in this box can vary depending on who your actual email provider is. However, if you're either a Gmail or Google Apps user, you'll want to use [Gmail] as your prefix (including the bar brackets). Why? You wouldn't know this by looking at your Gmail.com inbox, but every folder is mapped under a root folder called (simply enough) Gmail. That part was easy, but you're not done yet.
Next, you'll want to visit your inbox on Gmail.com (or gmail.com/a/yourdomain for you Google Apps users). Click the preferences wheel in the upper right-hand corner and choose Settings. Gmail treats folders as labels, so you'll want to visit the Labels tab and scroll down to the Labels section with the folders you've created (or will create). Make a single left-click on the label of your choice to edit how the name is rendered. Simply insert the prefix [Gmail]/ (including the forward slash) in front of the name of the label. For example, the label "Bills" would become "[Gmail]/Bills" when you're done editing it. Complete this for all the folders in this section and then close Gmail. When you're done, your list should look something like this:
The next time you sync your mailbox in your email client (you can force this by closing and re-opening the application if it's already running when you do the above edits), you'll have a tidy list of folders to sort your emails into for later search and retrieval. Most people miss this critical part to organizing their messages in their favorite email client because opting to use an IMAP prefix isn't something that is a standard yet on email client setup wizards. Until it is, you'll have to dig for it. It's also worth mentioning that IMAP prefixes are supported on iOS (and, I would hope, Android devices).
Happy Inbox Zero!