42 Gmail Tips That Will Help You Conquer Email
Gmail has come a long way. It's not perfect and occasionally prompts ripples of outrage across its user base. But let's be honest: with Gmail you get plenty for nothing.
As a web app, Gmail is a constant work in progress, but the amount of under-the-hood power is pretty staggering. That's what we're here to delve into: all the tools below the surface of the Gmail inbox.
Let's start with one thing right up front: Labs. Not the adorable fluffy dogs, but the "laboratory" of features that are always in testing by Google. You can access Labs by going to the Gear icon () button in Gmail > Settings > Labs. I'm tempted to suggest that you turn them all on since they're almost all useful, but we'll get into the best. (Also, be warned, sometimes the best of them get killed without warning). In addition to Labs, there are plenty of browser add-ons and extensions that can enhance Gmail specifically, far beyond its original parameters.
Not every bit of power-user tech in Gmail requires special accessories. Plenty is possible via the main interface -- or at your fingertips on the keyboard -- without ever making a change to settings or installing something extra. Mastering even a few of them will help you take full advantage of what Gmail has to offer beyond the basics of sending and receiving messages. Let's get started.
Get paid (or send money)
It took a while, but Google Wallet finally made it to Gmail. Click the dollar sign icon at the bottom of a message and you have the option to send money. Or select Request Money to tell someone to pay up.
You and the recipient will need a Google Wallet account with banking info attached; the Google Wallet setting for "Send money using Gmail" must also be enabled. The max is $9,999 going either way.
Don't worry (too much) about encryption
If you're worried about snoops looking at your messages, Google has been encrypting all Gmail messages since 2013. Any Gmail-to-Gmail sending is relatively safe, and Gmail defaults to using HTTPS when you access it online. Every little bit helps.
According to Google's Transparency Report, 88 percent of messages sent to Gmail between May 12 and Aug. 10 were encrypted; it's slightly higher at 89 percent for outbound messages. Gmail warns when you receive a non-encrypted message from outside the Google ecosystem. Pay attention to those messages -- they appear below the subject line -- if you're at all nervous about security and privacy.
Gmail for Android prevents phishing
Shortcut Cheat Sheet
Gmail for mobility
There's a Google-built Gmail app for iOS -- we gave it 5 stars at its debut -- and of course Gmail is the default email on Android systems. But they're not the only way to get Gmail while mobile. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the current best iOS email program is Microsoft Outlook for iPhone, which does a great job working with Gmail accounts.
But that's not all: Google has another app for gmail, called, unimaginatively, Inbox, which tries to make email smarter by bundling messages that go together, making it easier to add to-dos to the inbox, snoozing messages and more. It's available on iOS and Android and on the web; watch the video for deets.
Gmailify your Yahoo or Outlook
You can access Gmail accounts and other accounts, like Yahoo and Hotmail/Outlook.com addresses, Exchange/Office 365 accounts and of course POP3 and IMAP accounts, in the Gmail app for Android. The separate accounts all get the same features as a Gmail account, like the spam filtering and tabbed inbox. The Gmail Android app is the only way to do it -- it's not something you can do in the Web interface for Gmail -- and you need to have at least one Gmail account first for it to work. Click the menu, click the down arrow next to your account name, click + Add Account, pick the type of account to add and enter all the credentials. Then you'll see all your email in one unified inbox on your phone or tablet.
Access Gmail via Yahoo or Outlook.com
If you prefer Yahoo Mail, as some do, you have the option to get your Gmail there (as well as your AOL and Outlook.com messages). In the newest version of Yahoo Mail, click the gear icon > More Settings > Mailboxes > Add Mailbox > Google.
Likewise, if you're an Outlook.com user, go to the gear > Connected Accounts and click Gmail. You can set it to be a send-only account, or import all your Gmail messages.
Import other mail
Sign up for Google sans Gmail
Use multiple Gmail accounts
Send from a different address
Move messages to different accounts
Don't just label spam, block users
Undo the send
This is the most important Gmail setting ever. It came from Google Labs, and has since graduated to a regular feature. Go to > Settings > General tab and check off "Enable Undo Send," and select how long the cancellation period is (5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds). Then, whenever you send a message, you'll see an Undo link in a yellow box floating at the top. If you click it in time, your message will not go out, and you'll get a chance to re-edit it before you try again, or delete it entirely. You can even undo discards, so when you delete a message in progress, you can bring it back and start again.
Drag messages or labels
Preview in a Pane
Dots are an illusion
Add a plus to your address
Power your search
The quick way to do a power search in Gmail is to click the gray arrow in the search box, which produces the search dialog box seen above. But there are many Gmail search operators you can type in.
For example, type "in:trash" and "in:spam" to include those folders in a search (they're usually skipped). Or restrict it to just "in:inbox." Use "label:" followed by the label/folder name to only search that folder. The "filename:" followed by an actual file's name finds specific attachments. You can even search in your Google+ Circles of friends by searching "circle:" with the name of the group.
Use a minus sign (hyphen) to search one thing and not another: "dinner -movie" would only find messages that say "dinner," but skip any mentioning "movie." The other Boolean operator supported is "OR" (type it in all caps), but the full list has many more options.
Untab the inbox
This tip is more about turning off a feature than activating it. The tabbed interface was introduced by Google in 2013 as a way to file items in your Gmail inbox auto-magically. The tabs each have a category: Primary (which is your typical inbox), Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Yes, that's a "category," not a "label" -- they're not the same thing.
If you feel like you're missing some messages, it might be because Gmail is sticking them in the latter categories and you haven't clicked the tabs. You can kill the tabs by clicking the gear icon > Configure Inbox. Pass the cursor over each option to see examples of messages that might end up in these tabs. Note, the categories only affect messages in the inbox -- not what's already archived. (And you don't want to turn on tabs if you're also running the SmartLabels experiment from Gmail Labs, or you may lose your mind.)
Response in a can
Smart Reply in mobile apps
Google's Inbox app has long offered Smart Reply -- a machine learning tech that prepares three, short appropriate replies to messages you receive. A single tap on the offered reply adds it to the response window, where you can send it off or write more.
Smart Reply now extends to the Gmail apps for iOS and Android, so now whenever you're in mobile, you can dash off replies that takes into account the original message, but also how you talk (expect exclamation points if you're that kind of excited typist).
Google stores ALL the images
When you get an email with an embedded image, it's typically like a web page -- the image loads from the source. Not on Gmail. In 2013, it started caching all the images that go through its system. So when you load an image in a Gmail message, it's coming from Google's servers. This is nice because it makes it harder for you to be tracked by web bugs/beacons. It's bad because it also means that if you personally send an image that's proprietary, confidential or risqué, your recipient may not be the only viewer. (NSA, anyone?)
To be safe, go into General Settings and under Images, check "Ask before displaying external images." It'll also help messages load faster. But it won't stop Google from caching images you send as attachments, so only send it if it's not going to be trouble later.
Sign out remotely
Hangout on the phone
Send + archive
Nothing is more annoying that realizing you must label a Gmail message that's already sent. It requires opening up the Sent Mail folder and finding it to assign the label. However, you can label a message before it's sent by clicking the More Options arrow in the lower right of the compose window.
Now, go into Settings and click the button next to "Show 'Send & Archive' button in reply." Now if a reply already has a label -- like one you applied while composing -- you get a new button called Send+Archive (though it doesn't actually say "archive," it shows Gmail's archive icon, like a file box with a down arrow on it.) Click that button and the entire thread gets archived to the pre-assigned label/folder when sent.
Back up every message
Hit the mute button
My God it's full of stars
Stars are how you give a message importance, signifying that it needs to be read later, requires follow-up, asks a question you can't answer at the moment or maybe all of the above. Clicking the star on a message will highlight it and make it easy to find (under the Starred label/folder or search for is:starred).
However, you're not limited to just a yellow star. Go to Settings > Stars and activate the option to use one star, four stars or all the stars -- you just click the icon over and over on the message to cycle through to the one you want.
Need to search on a special star icon? Search "has:blue-star" for example, to find those with blue stars, or "has:green-check" or "has:purple-question" or " has:orange-guillemet" (that's the double carets: ), etc.
How to really select everything
Add to Tasks or Create Event
The first trick for attachments: don't forget them. Thankfully, Gmail will pop up a reminder if your message includes phrases like "I have attached" or "I have included," yet you hit send without attaching anything.
You can drag and drop files from Windows or Mac to a Gmail message. Images will be imbedded in the message unless you drag to the tool bar below the composition window. Don't add too many. There's a 25MB limit per message. If you try to send more, the files go to Google Drive and the recipient gets a link.
If you are a big Google Drive user, attaching items already in Drive is not only a breeze, but doesn't count toward the 25MB limit. Click the Insert Files Using Drive icon in the composition window's toolbar to pick a file to attach. This also gets you around the kind of files Gmail has blocked, such as EXE files.
Want the same thing for your Dropbox account? Chrome users can get it with the Dropbox for Gmail extension.
Establish a delegate
The Gift of IFTTT
Delete big messages
If you come close to using up the 15GB of space Google provides for storage, you may need to delete some messages. Search for "size:xm" where you replace the x with a number. The "m" stands for megabytes. Any message with over 10MB of size probably has some hefty attachments -- save them over to your hard drive (not to Google Drive -- that's space you share with Gmail, so it won't save you anything.)
Another option: run Find Big Mail, a service that automatically creates labels for all your plus-sized messages so they're easy to find. It's free for a single Gmail account; only Google Apps users get charged.
Speed up the slow Gmail
Serve some emoji
Make Gmail handle links
Usually when you click a mailto: link on the web -- the kind that should auto-populate an out-going email message with an address and maybe even a subject line -- the browser will try to default to your email client software. But it can go straight to Gmail instead.
In the Chrome menu (three dots) go to Settings > Advanced > Privacy and Security > Content Settings > Handlers (or type chrome://settings/handlers into the address bar). If mailto isn't listed, look for the Protocol Handler icon that should now appear in the address bar at top -- it looks like overlapping diamonds. Click it, and you can set up mailto to point at "mail.google.com." If there is another program listed for mailto, remove it and replace it.
Unsubscribe to everything
Are you getting a lot of newsletters and other junk you don't want? Most have an Unsubscribe link at the bottom of the message, and you can and should use those. But Gmail on the desktop also sticks an "Unsubscribe" link at the TOP of the message, right next to the sender's name, if it can detect the link in the message.
For easy clean-up, type "unsubscribe" into search, and you'll get a list of every message that has the word listed. Go through them, and it's as close as you can get to bulk unsubscribing without a third-party service like Unroll.me, if you even can trust them.
Archive to inbox zero
"Inbox Zero" is that marvelous zen state one achieves by having absolutely zero unread messages in an inbox. It's not easy, because email messages can be reminders of tasks or events. Worse, inboxes can be just like the inbox on a desk -- piled high with stuff you have to get to, or may never get to.
If you can't bear to mark a message as read in case you have to go back to it, or worse, would never, ever delete a message you might have to refer to later, you can still get to Inbox Zero. Just archive the messages.
That's what labels do -- you are archiving messages under a label to find later. But you don't need a label to archive messages. While reading a message or selecting from the inbox, click the Archive button at the top (the file box with the down arrow) and the messages are stored by Gmail.
You can find them later with a search. There is no "archive" label, but you can look in the "All Mail" link toward the bottom of the left-hand navigation. Remember, archived messages still count against your Gmail storage -- because you're storing them. If you want to actually be rid of them and their attachments, drag the message to the Trash label, where they will remain for 30 days before being permanently deleted.
Better yet, get rid of frequently received and ignored messages that you can't delete -- like receipts, by archiving them automatically using filters. Click a message, then go to the More menu > Filter Messages like this. A form pops up that will auto-populate info about the message (like who it's from); click Create filter with this search, and check the options for where you want that message to archive. Best of all, click "Mark as read" so you never get bothered by it in the future.