Computers

12 tips & tricks to get more from Gmail on the web

Gizmag rounds up some tips to make Gmail on the web work better for you (Image: Ajayptp / Shutterstock.com)
Gizmag rounds up some tips to make Gmail on the web work better for you (Image: Ajayptp / Shutterstock.com)
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Drag and drop emails between tabs, then set a filter
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Drag and drop emails between tabs, then set a filter
Add extra stars to make it easier to sort through your messages
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Add extra stars to make it easier to sort through your messages
Gmail's built-in keyboard shortcuts can help you power through emails
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Gmail's built-in keyboard shortcuts can help you power through emails
The search box lets you quickly find newer or older messages
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The search box lets you quickly find newer or older messages
Offline email capabilities can come in handy when you're disconnected
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Offline email capabilities can come in handy when you're disconnected
Google+ Circles can also be useful inside your Gmail client
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Google+ Circles can also be useful inside your Gmail client
Undo Send, one of the most helpful Labs inside Gmail
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Undo Send, one of the most helpful Labs inside Gmail
Gmail makes short work of importing messages from other accounts
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Gmail makes short work of importing messages from other accounts
Add as many dots in your Gmail name as you like, the email will still reach you
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Add as many dots in your Gmail name as you like, the email will still reach you
Mute conversations you aren't interested in hearing any more from
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Mute conversations you aren't interested in hearing any more from
You can quickly convert emails into tasks from inside Gmail
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You can quickly convert emails into tasks from inside Gmail
A simple search brings up a list of large attachments
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A simple search brings up a list of large attachments
Gizmag rounds up some tips to make Gmail on the web work better for you (Image: Ajayptp / Shutterstock.com)
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Gizmag rounds up some tips to make Gmail on the web work better for you (Image: Ajayptp / Shutterstock.com)

Since it appeared in April 2004, Gmail has become the email client of choice for hundreds of millions of users. You're probably very familiar with it – but are you making the most out of the software? We've put together 12 of the most helpful tips for boosting your productivity inside Gmail and powering through your inbox.

Keyboard shortcuts

Gmail's built-in keyboard shortcuts can help you power through emails
Gmail's built-in keyboard shortcuts can help you power through emails

You may not have realized it yet, but keyboard shortcuts can help you power through your inbox in record time. Use CTRL+ENTER to send a message, J and K to move between conversations, or R to reply, for example. Some shortcuts need to be activated from the General tab of the Settings screen, and you can view a full list here (or by pressing ? in Gmail).

Find old or new emails by date

The search box lets you quickly find newer or older messages
The search box lets you quickly find newer or older messages

Gmail's handy drop-down search box lets you search for emails around a certain date, but you can also type "before:yyyy/mm/dd" or "after:yyyy/mm/dd" in the box instead to find messages before or after a specific day in the calendar. It's handy for finding and deleting all of the emails that are more than five years old, for example.

Enable offline email

Offline email capabilities can come in handy when you're disconnected
Offline email capabilities can come in handy when you're disconnected

You can't send and receive email without an Internet connection, of course, but you can read emails that have been cached in advance and work on draft messages while you're waiting to get reconnected. Open up the Offline tab in Settings to install the Gmail Offline add-on, following the instructions on screen to get the functionality on your computer.

Recategorize messages

Drag and drop emails between tabs, then set a filter
Drag and drop emails between tabs, then set a filter

If you're using the default inbox view (click the small arrow next to Inbox to check) then Google displays a series of tabs ("primary," "social," etc.) to automatically sort your incoming messages.

If you don't like the way it's categorizing a particular type of email, click and drag it into a new tab – you'll be asked if you want to apply the same filter in future, so click "Yes". From that point on, similar messages should show up in that new tab.

Reach for the stars

Add extra stars to make it easier to sort through your messages
Add extra stars to make it easier to sort through your messages

When it comes to sorting through your emails, a wider variety of stars can help you to stay better organized. To add new stars, open up the Settings pane (via the cog icon on the right of the inbox), switch to the General tab and under the Stars heading you can add different colors and a variety of icons. Hover over an icon to see the search term you need to use to find the stars in your email.

Circle your contacts

Google+ Circles can also be useful inside your Gmail client
Google+ Circles can also be useful inside your Gmail client

You might not post much on Google+, but its Circles feature can still be a useful way of organizing your email. Open up the Circles list on the left of your Gmail inbox and you can click to view emails from particular groups of people. It's a handy alternative to the labels systems, as long as you're willing to put in the effort to group your contacts in the first place.

Undo sender's remorse

Undo Send, one of the most helpful Labs inside Gmail
Undo Send, one of the most helpful Labs inside Gmail

If you go to the Labs tab in Settings you can see some experimental Gmail features offered by Google. One of these is the very useful Undo Send tool, and if you choose to enable it you can bring back messages you didn't mean to dispatch. Once it's been activated, you can visit the General tab in Settings to choose the delay interval (5-30 seconds).

Import other email

Gmail makes short work of importing messages from other accounts
Gmail makes short work of importing messages from other accounts

Why not use Gmail's advanced sorting and searching functionality to manage your other email addresses as well? Via the Accounts and Import tab in Settings you can import emails from another account and check it going forward using the POP3 protocol. You can also use Gmail to send messages from a different account if you need to.

Create some new addresses

Add as many dots in your Gmail name as you like, the email will still reach you
Add as many dots in your Gmail name as you like, the email will still reach you

Have you ever noticed that dots don't matter in Gmail addresses? mikesmith@gmail.com is the same as mike.smith@gmail.com, so you can use alternative addresses for different purposes (like signing up for accounts online or registering for email newsletters) and then automatically filter the incoming messages accordingly based on the address used.

Mute irrelevant conversations

Mute conversations you aren't interested in hearing any more from
Mute conversations you aren't interested in hearing any more from

Gmail's default conversation view is great ... until you get drawn into a lengthy back-and-forth between contacts that really doesn't apply to you. With a conversation open, click the "More" button then choose "Mute" from the drop-down list. This means new messages added to the conversation won't bring it back to your inbox – it stays archived.

Turn emails into tasks

You can quickly convert emails into tasks from inside Gmail
You can quickly convert emails into tasks from inside Gmail

Did you know you can quickly convert an email into a task inside Gmail? As with the previous tip, the secret is in the "More" menu above your messages – choose "Add to Tasks" and Gmail creates a new entry in the pop-up Tasks window, together with a link back to the message in question. It's handy if you want to archive a conversation but receive a reminder about it later on.

Find large attachments

A simple search brings up a list of large attachments
A simple search brings up a list of large attachments

Whether you've paid to upgrade the amount of email space you have available or you're sticking with the free 15 GB that Google gives you, large attachments can eat up that space quickly (especially if you're storing messages locally too). Use the "larger_than:" operator in the search box, so "larger_than:10m" finds all emails larger than 10 MB in size.

What else?

Any more Gmail tips we forgot? Feel free to drop us a line in the comments to let everyone know.

2 comments
Graeme Harrison
Yes, very good tips on how best to use an NSA-contractor to maintain your emails. The other way is to use a non-US based email supplier and shift to Enigmail or other implementation of PGP (open source) encryption, to show that you disagree with the over-reach of The Surveillance State (TM). And with the history that Microsoft simply announces that an operating system will no longer be supported, or Visa announces that donations to Wikileaks are no longer possible... do you really want any third party to be 'minding' your private documents. By keeping to a super-stable email program (like open-source Mozilla Thunderbird) one can run on lots of platforms, and avoid all proprietary file formats, and be guaranteed long-term access to your emails. I have the last 15 years of emails (c100,000 emails) and because that is on a Solid-state drive in my laptop, I can search for any emails to/from any given person containing any keywords, and get the short-list displayed in under ten seconds. People need to realise that they either control their own archives, or at some point a commercial supplier will simply determine a 'destroy by' date for them. Have you started putting diary entries in your phone (instead of a diary) only to find that after a while the Apple calendar application deletes all of your older meeting times, without having ever asked you if you no longer needed records of what you were doing on a particular day more than one year ago. For legal reasons (when/if you attended a meeting), and for tax reasons (when you travelled somewhere) most business people do need what 'old diaries' used to provide. By relying on others, we lose our archives!
Judy Pokras
Question for Graeme Harrison: Are you saying Mozilla Thunderbird lets us keep our e-mails forever and for free? I'm very miffed that Gmail stopped my older e-mail account when they began charging me per month and I did not want to pay. I have been using a newer gmail address, but every day I have to waste time deleting al of the e-mails that gmail sends me from the old account (even though I'm not using the old account to send anything). Those e-mails appear to be created any time I use the new address, and keep clogging up my e-mail box. Aaargh. Maybe I need to switch to Mozilla Thunderbird mail?