8+ Tips to Beef Up GMail

I remember when I started using GMail. It was a warm day in April 2004. I couldn’t believe I got an invite, and all because I was using Blogger for my blog at the time. I knew when I first opened it up in my browser that this would be a web app I’d use for a long time. Over the years it has grow, in my opinion, only stronger and I still use it to this day, every day. I have also accumulated over the 7 years of use, a list of tips to make your GMail experience even better- more productive, easier, and even cleaner. Here are some of my favorites.

New Theme: Preview

I want to open with GMail’s newest addition: the Preview theme. This is a theme that mimic’s Google+ and Google Calendar’s redesign, and I’ve got to say it’s super clean.

Preview (From the GMail Blog)

You can see that the spacing is much better, the buttons are a little bigger and better defined, and each subject line is given more screen real estate. Overall, I think it’s a big improvement over old design. To get the new design, in GMail go to Settings->Themes and enable “Preview”.

There is also “Preview Dense,” which removes some extra padding as it was designed for lower screen resolutions.

The People Widget

GMail’s People widget (enabled by default I believe) is a slick little way to get a quick overview of the contact info for whomever’s email you’re viewing.

People widget (From the GMail Blog)

As you can see from the screenshot, you’ve got the person’s name & email address, avatar, and 4 buttons: Google Chat, Email, Phone, and options, where you can edit the contact, view recent mail, and more. Underneath that there is a “Show details” link that will reveal your most recent conversations with that person.

If you have the extension that puts Google Chat on the right side, you will not see this widget.

Rapportive

Do you like the People widget, but want a little more bang for your buck? If you’re a Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Mailplane, you’re in luck! The Rapportive add-on for these apps adds a right sidebar much like the People widget to each conversation in GMail, but there is a lot more information.

Rapportive

Rapportive will also display contact information (phone, email, Google Chat) and recent conversations. However, it adds in a few features, namely: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and some other social networks. Then there is my favorite feature, which is the inline notes feature; it allows you to add and display notes from within the Rapportive sidebar.

Boomerang

Boomerang is a plugin I feel I could probably do an entire review on. This awesome little app allows you to manage your inbox by scheduling emails you send or want returned to your inbox at a later date.

Boomerang

As someone who’s very meticulous about his inbox, I can truly attest to just how useful this plugin is. It’s first major feature is the ability to archive emails and have them returned to your inbox at a later date. I generally like to keep emails in my inbox until I attend to them, but sometimes I know I won’t be able to for a few days. This is perfect for me.

The second feature is for scheduling emails to send at a specific time. You write up the email or response, save it, and schedule it by pressing the “Send Later” button. This is good if, for example, you like to send your follow up emails at the same time every week. Write the email while you’re thinking about it, and schedule it to be sent.

I’m sure you could think up some other reasons to respond to an email but not send it until later as well :)

One Inbox for All of Your Email Addresses

(Sidebar: I was going to name this section, “One Inbox to Rule Them All.”)

I have a ton of email addresses. One for each of my important domains, a personal one, one for the university I teach at, and a few more I don’t use. Thanks to GMail, I don’t have to run all over the Internet to check my many mailboxes.

There are two things you can do to make GMail your one-stop shop for all of your email:

First, forward all of your email to one address (you do this from each individual address inbox). Similarly, you can use GMail to check the other inboxes that support POP3. You do that by going to Settings->Accounts and Import and pressing the “Add POP3 email Account” button.

Add POP3 Email

Next, make it so you can send email as your other addresses in GMail. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Under Accounts and Import, find and press the “Send mail from another address” button
  2. Put in the email address you want to send from
  3. Select if you want to use the SMTP settings for that domain (I usually don’t, though it’s recommended for professional domains).
  4. Get and input the verification code

If you’ve already set up forwarding, you won’t have to leave your GMail inbox to get the verification code!

Once you set up a new email address to send from, you can make it the default one for your GMail account. You can also choose to automatically reply using whatever email address that email was sent to.

The "Send mail as" Area

Use the “+” Sign to Create Multiple Addresses

Ever want to sign up for a new service but were hesitant to use your primary address? GMail offers an interesting feature so that you don’t have to worry about that. Just add a + sign and any word after your username, but before the @ and it’s like you have a whole other email address (ex: [email protected]). Then, set up a filter with that address in the “To” field and filter it however you’d like.

An example is how I use this for newsletter subscriptions. So they aren’t cluttering up my inbox, I sign up for newsletters with [email protected] I have a filter set up so that anything that goes to that address skips my inbox and goes to a label called “Subscriptions.” Then I can read all the newsletters when I have some time!

Forgot Attachment and Undo Send

We’ve all done it, and we’ve all felt stupid after: prematurely sending an email and forgetting an attachment are two things that happen all the time. Luckily, the fine people at Google know this and have created two lab features to help us prevent these little email faux pas.

The first is Forgot Attachment. I actually just read that this lab feature graduated into a regular GMail features, so you shouldn’t have to do anything to enable it. GMail will scan your email for forms of the word ‘attachment’ and then check to see that you have actually attached something. If you didn’t, a little alert box will pop-up asking you if you forgot to attach something. This has saved me countless follow-up emails.

Forgot Attachement

The second is a lab feature called Undo Send. You can enable it by going to Settings->Labs. This feature will give you a window of 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds to undo sending an email (configurable in Settings->General once the feature is enabled). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve used this feature, either because I caught some spelling/grammar error at the last second, or I decide sending the email might be a bad idea.

Undo Send

Default Reply to All and Send & Archive

These two lab features are designed to remove a couple of clicks from your overall inbox experience. The are Default Reply to All and Send & Archive.

As you probably know, if you want to Reply to everyone in an email, you need to specifically click “Reply to All.” Default Reply to All makes it so when you press the “Reply” button, you are automatically replaying to everyone in the ‘To’ and ‘CC’ fields. If you don’t want to Reply to All, simply press the “Reply” button again.

The “Send & Archive” button is one I absolutely love. It used to be the case that I’d reply to an email, let it send, then press the archive button to get it out of my inbox. With the Send & Archive feature, the email is sent and then the conversation is automatically archived. Words cannot describe how much I love this.

Both of these features can be enabled through Settings->Lab.

Bonus: Add any Gadget by URL

This lab feature will allow you to add any Google Gadget right into GMail. All you need to do is grab the URL from the developer. I’ve added Google Calendar and Remember the Milk, but the possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

Obviously there are scores of other additions to GMail you can make between GMail Labs, Google Gadgets, and browser extensions. There are also a ton of little hacks like the + sign one you can do if you can find the right blog post! My suggestion would be to mess around with GMail and check out the Help Section for more tips and tricks. If you have one I didn’t mention here, let us know about it in the comments!


  • http://www.khimoc.com/ Tran Dinh Khanh

    I really really like Gmail new design, but don’t care much more, because I have been using Thurnderbird.

    • http://harmonicdesign.ca website design

      Agreed, I went in and checked out the new “Preview” theme and love it. Shame I use Thunderbird now too haha, but Thunderbird v5 was just released so I’m still happy.

  • http://photocooker.blogspot.com/ Matias

    Nice tips, thanks!

    The link to Rapportive is broken.
    There’s no link to Boomerang.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      All fixed now; thanks!

      • http://photocooker.blogspot.com Matias

        Almost. :) The link in the sentence “The Rapportive add-on for these apps…” is still broken.

      • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

        Oh my. I just fixed that now too. Anything else? =D

      • http://photocooker.blogspot.com Matias

        Oh wow, I found another one. :D The link under the heading “Conclusion” is broken.

    • http://web.appstorm.net/author/jcasabona/ Joe Casabona

      Oops- sorry about that; Thanks Matt!

  • http://Www.vanzantdesign.com Shaun

    Nice article, I like the tip about adding the + sign to use different variations of your email address, that will let me organise my inbox much better.

  • Lyndon Haselhuhn

    Another great tool is followupthen.com. Similar to boomerang!

  • http://about.me/radie Radie

    I know GTD isnt everyone’s cup of tea, but ActiveInbox is pretty amazing and really flexible, you can use as much of it or as little of it as you want. I know its been on the site before, just bringing it back up.

    http://www.activeinboxhq.com/

  • Mike

    I can’t stand the Preview design. The dense version is not as bad, but going from being able to see 20-30 conversations on one screen to only 10-15? Definitely not made for people who handle lots of email.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      I’m using the Dense version right now, and like it. But you’re right; the default Preview design gives you way too few emails on one screen.

    • http://web.appstorm.net/author/jcasabona/ Joe Casabona

      Ah I like the default- then again, I try my hardest to keep my inbox at 0, so I’m generally not looking at 20-30 conversations.

      If I am, I feel a bit less overwhelmed seeing less on the main screen.

      • Mike

        I have the same goal, but my discipline has yet to catch up to my intention.

  • http://thinkontheclock.com Matt

    NIce call out on Rapportive and especially Boomerang. This is huge. Solved a problem I thought I might have, but wasn’t sure.

  • http://www.benpalmer.info Ben Palmer

    I love the new layout although I can only use it in my old personal Gmail account. I moved everything over to Google Apps for Business and for some reason you can’t access the new theme on this (or use it with Google+).

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Actually, I’m using the new Gmail theme on both of my Google Apps for Domains accounts, and it’s working great. You might have to enable beta features in your domain admin, though. But yes, sadly, custom domain accounts don’t work with Google+. So now I’m signed in with my old Gmail address, and have used the multi-signin to add my other accounts at the same time. It works, at least!

  • Al

    Not much to do with the actual article (which was good!), but I thought I’d mention that for the “Forgot Attachement” (heh) screen cap, you could have used the:

    command + shift + 4 + spacebar

    shortcut (which would turn your cursor to a camera), and then click on the window you wanted to capture to get an image of the window without the background (including the window’s shadow in Mac OS X v10.5+).

    • http://web.appstorm.net/author/jcasabona/ Joe Casabona

      Hey Al,

      Thanks for the tip! I had a long list of screenshot shortcuts like that but I forgot most of them (they are really long!).

      I will definitely remember this one though, as I’ll use it pretty often.

      Thanks!

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  • http://www.code-pal.com Sumeet Chawla

    Awesome tips… The theme tip is the best! It totally refreshed my Gmail experience :)

  • http://www.doitwithwp.com Dave Clements

    It’s this kind of ingenuity that means I can never go back to Outlook. Labs like Undo Send and Forgot Attachment have saved my skin many times. And it just keeps getting better.

  • http://www.itrush.com IT Rush

    Haven’t tried the other great features of gmail and looks like your 8+ tips will definitely make me think again.. Cool

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