31 Essential Gmail Tips

The quick guide to filtering your Gmail, sending and importing from other email accounts, ensuring your privacy, and more.


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Posted December 18, 2008

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If you're one of the millions of people with Gmail accounts, you already know how easy Google's Web-based email is to use. You probably also already know that Gmail organizes messages into conversations, uses Google search technology to search your messages, and comes with an amazing and ever-growing amount of storage space.

However, you may not know that a lot of other unique features are lurking just below the surface. In many cases, a single click in the settings window can turn on features that make Gmail much more user-friendly and set it apart from other Web-based email services.

In fact, Gmail has a lot of features you won't even find in "full-featured" mail clients like Outlook and Thunderbird. Here are 31 of our favorite tips for getting the most out of your Gmail account.

General Account Settings

Some of the most helpful Gmail features are really easy to find: simply click the "Settings" link at the top right of the screen. Under the "General" tab, you'll find a number of tools that can make your life simpler.

1. Language. As you would expect, this option lets you change the default language for Gmail. Not so obviously, changing your default language back to "English (US)" can sometimes fix Gmail bugs. In particular, if you have trouble accessing your calendar from your Inbox, try changing your language settings and see if that solves the problem.

2. Keyboard Shortcuts. To save yourself some time on common Gmail activities, turn on the keyboard shortcuts. Gmail has more than 40 keyboard shortcuts built in, and you can see the entire list in the Help section. Some examples: type "c" to compose a new message, "r" to reply, or "#" to delete a message.

3. Personal Level Indicators. Did Aunt Phyllis send you a personal message or is this just another list of jokes that she sent to her entire contact list? You'll know at a glance if you turn on this indicator. No arrows mean the message was sent to a mailing list, a single arrow means it was sent to your personal address as well as other recipients, and a double arrow means the message was sent only to you.

4. Snippets. In addition to the subject line, Gmail can also show you the first few words of a message. Turn snippets on for a sneak preview or off to see the subject line only.

Gmail Labs

The "Labs" tab on your Gmail account settings has additional features that aren't quite ready for prime time (or aren't used by enough people to warrant inclusion in the normal settings). New features are added frequently, so check back often. In the meantime, these are some of our favorites.

5. Forgotten Attachment Detector. We've all known the embarrassment of forgetting to actually attach the document we meant to send with a message. If you mention an attachment but don't attach anything, this feature brings up a reminder prompt.

6. Mail Goggles. If you're likely to send mail while you have your beer goggles on, Mail Goggles helps save you some embarrassment. If you're not sober enough to complete simple math problems, Mail Goggles won't let you send mail. You can set the feature to work only on certain times and days so that you won't have to do math every time you send mail.

7. Tasks. For those who miss the Task List from Microsoft Outlook, this feature fills the gap. Unlike some other "to do" lists, Gmail lets you convert emails directly into tasks so that you don't have to re-type all the information for a project into a new place.

8. Vacation Time. Do you sometimes forget to turn off the vacation auto-reply feature when you return? This feature lets you set up a start and end date so that you'll have one less thing to worry about on those busy days before and after a vacation.

9. Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat. One of Gmail's newest offerings, this feature lets you send or receive text messages from most US phones.

Labels and Filters

Most email clients use folders that allow you to sort your mail. Gmail takes this concept one step further by allowing you to apply labels. The difference is that while a message can only be placed in one folder, it can have as many labels as you like. For example, if your bank sends you a notice about your auto loan, you can label it "bills" and "car." Then whether you look at all of your bills or all of your car-related mail, the message will appear in both places.

10. Label Before You Archive. When you click the archive button at the bottom of the screen, the selected message disappears from your inbox. If it isn't labeled, you won't see it again unless you click the "All Mail" link on the left side of the screen. However, if you label your message before you archive it, it will show up when you click on the label name on the left side of the screen.

11. Use Filters to Add Labels. Instead of adding labels by hand, let the filter feature do it for you. From the "Settings" menu, click on the "Filters" tab or click the "Create a filter" link next to the search box. You can then apply a label based on a particular from address, to address, subject line, word in the message, or attachment. For example, you can label all of the messages that come from family members as "family," or if you check multiple email accounts from Gmail (see Using Other Accounts below), you can give the messages that come to each account a different label.

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Tags: Google, search, Microsoft, Gmail, Storage

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