Become a Gmail Power User with These Lab Features

It’s been a while since Gmail came on the scene and changed web based email. And although the product still resembles the original in many ways, there have been a lot of improvements over the years.

Some of these improvements have made their way to the default client (Tasks for one), but many others still reside under the protection of the Labs moniker. But even though users are told that they use the Labs features at their own risk, many of these have been used by millions and have every appearance of stability.

Here’s a list of the Labs features that can help you make the most of one of the best email clients ever created.

Gmail on the Desktop

First off, many people still prefer the speed and power of a desktop client. If that’s the case, then you can still use Gmail as the heart of your email usage and access your messages via the POP or IMAP protocols.

Take full control.

Take full control.

Advanced IMAP Controls

My recommendation is to use the IMAP option. And if you do, then the Advanced IMAP Controls lab feature is a must. Due to the way various mail clients handle IMAP differently — Gmail chief among them — there can be some quirky behaviour using IMAP. This lab feature gives you the control to make your IMAP configuration work the way you want.

OS X users take note: be sure to check out this post from Joe Kissel for an excellent analysis of what’s going on behind the scenes and how to set up Gmail IMAP correctly on your Mac.

Improved Efficiency

Any good knowledge/web worker knows that time is of the essence. We should always be examing how we can do things faster. This is so true when it comes to handling the large amounts of email we have to deal with.

Use the following labs features to be a speedy Gmail ninja.

Don't dig into the dropdown.

Don't dig into the dropdown.

Mark As Read Button

If you consistently need to mark a large number of email as read, use this lab. Then, rather than being buried a ways down the dropdown menu, the ‘mark as read’ option has its own button on the message toolbar.

Work anywhere.

Work anywhere.


For remote web workers or people who travel often, the Offline feature will be handy. Rather than be forced to wait until your next connection, you can reply and compose new messages wherever you are.

Get all your mail in one place.

Get all your mail in one place.

Multiple Inboxes

Update: our readers are sharp. I goofed on this one — rather than let you access multiple accounts at once, this feature allows you to view multiple ‘lists’ of email in the same inbox. One for a label, one for your inbox, one for your starred items … you get the picture.

Thanks for pointing out the mistake Chelsea!

One advantage I appreciate about a desktop client is being able to access all of my accounts at the same time. But if you’re too in love with the web interface, use the Multiple Inboxes feature to get the same functionality.

Access items fast.

Access items fast.

Quick Links

If there are a few web locations that you need to access frequently when working with your email, give this feature a try. It simply inserts another menu on the Gmail sidebar. You can add a number of links to web sites or even specific messages within Gmail.

Don't repeat yourself.

Don't repeat yourself.

Canned Responses

One aspect of my email sessions is responding to the same requests or questions over and over. It’s essential to find some way to ensure you are not typing yourself all the way to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Don’t be repetitive when you can use a tool like the Canned Responses feature.

No more manual cutting.

No more manual cutting.

Quote Selected Text

One habit I’ve formed is to only include the portion of the email I’m referring to in a reply. Goodbye 3 paragraph signatures …

But cutting out this bit and that can be a tedious, time consuming process. Use the Quote Selected text feature to cut the process to down a a couple of seconds.


Master the keyboard.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Whatever tool you use, learning the keyboard shortcuts should be a high priority. Gmail is no exception. Use this feature to configure the shortcuts to your liking.

What you want, where you want it.

What you want, where you want it.

Navbar Drag and Drop

One aspect of using a lot of the labs features is that your sidebar can get crowded. Use the Navbar drag and drop option to ensure that the order of the items in your sidebar reflects your needs.

Cut out the second step.

Cut out the second step.

Send and Archive

For the longest time I spent a lot of time archiving my messages in Gmail after sending them. The Send and Archive feature is a great way to cut that process in half.

Only see what you need.

Only see what you need.

Hide Read Labels

For notebook users, screen real estate is always an issue. And if you get a lot of email, your list of labels can get pretty long. Use this feature to only display labels that contain unread messages.

If you need to retrieve an unread message in a hidden label, use the keyboard shortcuts you learned from above, or use the more option in the Label menu.


One nice thing about using Google apps, is that they play really well together. And with the focus to move into the enterprise, Google’s ‘main’ — Gmail, Calendar, and Docs — all fit together nicely.

Your calendar at hand.

Your calendar at hand.

Google Calendar Gadget

Use the Calendar Gadget feature from the Labs to view and access your calendar in the Gmail sidebar.

Your files at hand.

Your files at hand.

Google Docs gadget

And the same goes for your Google Docs.

Get ALL your messages in Gmail.

Get ALL your messages in Gmail.

Google Voice Player

A newer entry that is still not available for many of us, the Google Voice Player is a nice way to access your voicemails from the same location as your emails.

Hold the Embarrassment, Please

There are those moments when we make ourselves look silly with the use of email. But the good folks at Google have come up with a few ways to save ourselves some embarrassment.

Never forget.

Never forget.

Forgotten Attachment

There is nothing worse than referring to an attached file — and then forgetting to attach it. This is one feature that has saved my face many times. It scans your message for language that indicates you intended to attach a file.

If you hit send and there is no file attached, you get a friendly reminder. Very nice.

Never regret.

Never regret.

Undo Send

Just like the spoken word, there are those times when an email we crafted should never be sent. Never let anger or inebriation get the best of you — enable the Undo Send feature and give yourself a bit of a safety net.


Keepin' it real, 2002 style.

Keepin' it real, 2004 style.

Back to Beta

Some of us really fear change. It can feel a little weird not seeing the beta label on the Gmail logo. Bring it back with this humorous feature.

How About You?

Do you have any other lab features that have found a warm place in your heart? Share with the rest of us in the comments.


Add Yours
  • I’m loving the new set up. It makes things so much easier when going through your email. I wonder will Google be adding more new backgrounds to the emails also. I invite everyone to join gmail its the best, better than Yahoo and Hotmail. They are the best.

  • Gmail. Power. User.

    Too. Much. Email.


  • Learnt a few new tricks I wasn’t aware of… That ‘remember attachments’ trick looks very useful! Everyone has done that more than once. :)

    I always like seeing what Google brings out in the Labs.

  • I’m fairly sure the Multiple Inboxes feature doesn’t let you view more than one gmail account at once, unless there’s something I’ve been missing in the settings.

    It lets you view certain search queries when viewing your inbox. For example, I have one ‘Inbox’ that only pulls emails that are starred (is: starred). You can display these above, below, or to the right or left of your regular inbox.

  • Use all of those :) and the beta bit should be us not use :s

  • The “Undo Send” and “Forgotten Attachment” have saved me countless times!

  • Good. BTW text in the box below DIGG and DELICIOUS etc. is not visible in my Chrome browser on Mac OS X. Is that just my problem?

  • Nice ones!
    I’ll recommend “Signature tweaks” if you, like me, hates that the signature is placed after the quoted text. With this lab-tweak your recipient always has your info.

    Cheers :-)

  • Default ‘Reply to All’ – very useful feature especially with people who, for some reason, still think that email is the best way to collaborate on projects or discussions. (why do they think that?)

    Inbox preview – is very nice to see what is waiting in the inbox while the site is loading.

    Message Sneak Peek – great for people who have lots of emails and just like to skim quickly when they don’t have much time.

    Multiple Inboxes – actually can be used for multiple emails however not multiple accounts. I have about 15 email accounts attached to one gmail and I have a filter(and)label attached to each account…so you could just make each inbox attach to a specific label thus separating into multiple accounts. However, I prefer just one inbox with all the labels together…still provides me with organization and if I want to look at just one of the accounts I just click the label…that simple.

  • Just installed few of them.. Thx! 😉