The Keyboard is King — Gmail Shortcuts Reviewed

I’ve heard it said before that every time your hands leave the keyboard to use the mouse, somewhere a baby kitten dies. Okay, that’s a silly joke and an exaggeration. But spend any time with an expert in various fields in which a computer is a major part of the day and you’ll see the element of truth here.

Whether a designer or developer, someone working in the movie or music industry, or an intern for a larger corporation, experts learn to do their jobs more efficiently. You’ll find that he/she knows the shortcuts of their preferred application like the back of their hand.

Gmail is no different in this respect.

In fact, it excels in the area of keyboard shortcuts when compared to other web based email applications. The nerds and geeks who work at Google are the exact types who I refer to above, so it’s only logical that Gmail has strong support for keyboard usage.

To start it off, Gmail has a great option for viewing the more common keyboard shortcuts from anywhere in the application. Simply press Shift + ? to activate the following overlay:

Gmail provides a very helpful list of available shortcuts.

Gmail provides a very helpful list of available shortcuts.

If you’re a Gmail user and want to learn to work faster, here are some of the better options for increasing your efficiency.

Basic Navigation

Many of you may have seen these before, but do you use them regularly? Even if you are a more savvy Gmail user, it’s good to review the available shortcuts from time to time. The examples here can make a huge difference — learn them, try them out and make them more a part of your routine.

Basic Navigation

One note worth pointing out here is muting option (m). It allows you to set Gmail to automatically ignore further updates in a conversation(s). Rather than show as unread in your inbox, updates to the conversation(s) you use this shortcut on will simply be automatically archived. Read Google’s help on the subject for more details.

Label Navigation

If you’re like me, you religiously label and archive every message that comes into your inbox. If that’s the case, then the following shortcuts will take you quickly to the major ‘labels’ that Gmail users:

Label navigation

And above those shortcuts, make use of the option to quickly access the labels you’ve created. To do so, simply type L — this inserts the cursor in the label search box. Then type in a few letters of the label you are looking for and Gmail automatically whittles down the list, guiding you to the label you are looking for.

Small steps, but very effective.

Special Commands

There are a couple of shortcuts that either are not documented in Gmail’s help or that I thought warranted special attention. They are seen here:

Special commands

The first is the ability to quickly delete any message(s). Simply press Shift + 3 (or #) to delete a single message or a group of selected messages.

The second is the ability to undo. If you’re familiar with the shortcut, the z is often associated with the undo command. In Windows, it’s Ctrl + Z and in OS X it’s Command + Z. Gmail makes it even easier — simply press Z with any action that offers the Undo menu and then previously executed command is reversed.

An example: say you had used the previous tip for deleting a group of messages and then realized that you had included an important message that you need to keep. Simply press z to undo the deleted action and start again.


Since Google is all about search — or were at one point — it also makes sense that their email client has strong search capabilities. And although this does not exactly fall into the category of keyboard shortcuts, I had to include some of the ways to become better at searching in this app.

Again, it’s easy to forget all the multiple options available if you don’t do it often. Use some of the operators below to improve your searching habits.


If you regularly spend even 2-3 minutes searching for that one email, make sure you’re using the powerful search capabilities in Gmail. Perhaps you can do it faster with a smarter search query.


Practice leads to improvement. If you’re serious about knowing your tools more intimately, take the time to learn the available shortcuts. Incorporate one or two of these shortcuts above each week, using it enough to change your habits.

It will pay off in very little time.