If you’re anything like me, a disorganized inbox hurts your head.
With communications tools like Slack, Facebook’s Workplace, and Microsoft’s Teams in your toolkit, your email inbox should be more manageable than it was a couple of years back.
But even if you’re a pro-Slacker, these Gmail hacks will turn you into a productivity guru and leave your colleagues wondering how the heck you get so much stuff done.
For me, Gmail is the best email provider, bar none.
Not necessarily because of Gmail’s interface, but because of all the cool things you can do in and around it, like integrating other software and using their associated tools.
So go forth and conquer your inbox!
Turn on Canned Responses
Canned Responses do what it says on the tin (pun intended)!
This feature lets you save and reuse common email templates at the push of a button.
For example, if you do a lot of outreach, or you send a lot of emails with similar content, save the template as a Canned Response. You can also use this feature to send automatic replies by applying email filters (more on that later).
That way, you can churn out more emails than ever before. Spamtastic.
Disclaimer: Spam is bad and makes people mad.
Turn it on: Go to your settings > Click Labs > Search ‘Canned’ > Select ‘Enable’
Set up Priority Inbox
It’s not rocket science, but this feature is a simple and efficient addition to your Gmail inbox.
Priority Inbox is a setting which helps sort your emails according to the following priorities:
- Important and unread
- Everything else
Turn it on: Settings > Inbox (tab) > Inbox Type > Choose ‘Priority Inbox’
Sign up for ActiveInbox
You’re probably using DaPulse, Asana, Basecamp or some other tool to manage your tasks and projects.
They’re all great, but what if you could manage your tasks directly from Gmail? Well, you can!
In ActiveInbox’s words, “ActiveInbox helps you optimize your output to optimize your income, by turning Gmail into an elegant task manager, so you can take control right where your tasks originate.”
My favorite features are:
- Give email tasks due dates which pop up again on the day they need to be done
- File away emails to keep your inbox clean knowing that you’ll be reminded in due course
- Add subtasks to your emails so you can see what it’s about without reading the email
- Send later function which allows you to write an email and send it at a later date
- Reminder to follow-up with people after a certain amount of days’ silence
Rumor has it that ActiveInbox may also add the ability to sync ActiveInbox tasks with your Google calendar. Here’s hoping.
If you do use ActiveInbox, turn off Priority Inbox (above). Otherwise, things get too cluttered.
Check it out: ActiveInbox
Snapmail is like something out of Mission Impossible. Well, not quite, but it’s pretty cool.
How many times have you sent three emails and a WhatsApp message to give your friends or family your credit card details? Or do you often send emails which you don’t want to get into the wrong hands? Well, now you can make them self-destruct.
Snapmail encrypts your message and sends the recipient a link to it. Once they click on the link, they’ll get a notification saying it will self-destruct in 60 seconds.
Time to get the hell out of there.
Don’t worry; it’s a very peaceful self-destruction. Sadly, Tom Cruise won’t be visiting your office.
Become a secret agent: Snapmail
Create Rules to Automate Delivery
I use Google Alerts, Mention.com, Ahrefs, and Moz to monitor brand mentions, competitor mentions, and anything else I want to keep a close eye on.
That produces a ton of emails I don’t want filling up my inbox every day.
Instead, I set up automated rules so the notifications go directly into specific folders that I can sift through and cherry pick from later.
Here’s how: Open an Email > Select ‘More’ > Choose ‘Filter messages like these’ > Follow the Steps
Use Alias-Based Filters
Going one step further on the automation front, Gmail allows you to set up alias email addresses by adding ‘.’ or ‘+’ to your existing email address.
What use is that?
For example, if your email address was email@example.com, you could sign up to a newsletter with ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Then set up a filter for the email alias ‘email@example.com’ which automatically adds the label of your choice or delivers all of your newsletters into a particular folder.
Here are some other things you can automate with alias filters:
- Tell Gmail to never send messages to spam
- Star it
- Forward it
- Mark it as important
- Automatically respond (as long as you have set up Canned Responses)
Try it: Sign up to a newsletter > When the confirmation email is delivered, click the down arrow next to reply > Select: ‘Filter messages like this’ > Follow the steps
No one likes spam, the food included. What even is that?!
Unroll.me is another way to cut down the volume of emails heading for your inbox.
It allows you to see a list of all your subscription emails instantly. Then you can unsubscribe from the spam and add the ones you like receiving into a daily or weekly roundup.
That way you get one email which features messages from all of your subscriptions, rather than an individual email from each one. Hello, Inbox Zero hero!
Give it a whirl: Unroll.me
Organize Your Folders
This one’s a no-brainer, and you probably have it in play already.
Create meaningful folders and subfolders and file emails away once you’ve dealt with them. That way, you keep on track towards the holy grail of Inbox Zero, and it helps you find emails you need to look for later.
If you’re using ActiveInbox, you can file away your emails even if you haven’t dealt with them yet. You’ll get notified again on the due date you’ve set.
Become a Master of Spelling and Grammar
No matter how good your writing is, we all make mistakes.
Grammarly is like your own personal proofreader. The Chrome extension means you can use this tool directly in your Gmail compose email window.
This way you’ll never hit send again without knowing your message is faultless. Take that, Grammar Police!
Add to Chrome: Grammarly
Remove Formatting Option
How annoying is it when you paste some text from a web page into your email, and it brings all the formatting with it? Or when you change the font size and style only to hit send and see in your sent items that the formatting was still off?
Worry no more! There’s a little-known button in Gmail which removes the formatting without the need to use a Text/Edit pad.
Find it: It’s hiding in your formatting toolbar at the bottom of your compose email window.
Keep Gmail Open in Two Tabs
This one sounds a bit strange, but trust me. Give it a go for a couple of days, and you’ll see how much it can help.
How many times have you had to save an email as a draft to go fishing for another email address or more information you need to reference from another message?
This little trick means you have one tab open with Gmail for searching and finding things, and the other tab open for composing your email.
Simple, but mighty productive!
Turn on Undo Send
Have you ever accidentally sent the wrong email to the wrong person and gone redder than a tomato as soon as you hit send? I have. If you have too, give us a laugh in the comments below.
Now you can avoid the awkwardness and blushing by turning back time. Didn’t Cher write a song about this Gmail hack?
Undo Send allows you to cancel an email you just sent within 5, 10, 20 or 30 seconds depending on which setting you choose.
Using this, when you send a message, you can stop it by clicking ‘Undo’ which appears just under the search bar.
Turn back time, find a way: Settings > General (tab) > Tick ‘Enable Undo Send’ > Save Changes
Create Contact Groups and Send to Many at Once
If you ping emails to the same group of people on a regular basis, set up contact groups.
That way you just need to type the group name into the ‘To’ field rather than typing in every single email address.
Marketing Tip: You can also export the email addresses from your groups. Good to know if you want to use them for email marketing or a Customer Match campaign on Adwords (you must have more than 1000 emails in your list for the latter).
Set it up: Contacts > Choose ‘New Group’ > Name it > Add Contacts
Set up Gmail on Your Phone
Depending on the phone you have, you could either add Gmail in the Mail settings or download the Gmail app.
I often start the day by opening Gmail on mobile and sifting through to delete the crap and file away the things I don’t need to reply to. That gives me some time to think about how to attack the more time-consuming Inbox arrivals.
Try Gmail’s Inbox App
Design-wise, this app is super cool and much better on the eye than the standard Gmail app. It also has some brilliant integrations with things like Google Trips.
There is a desktop version, but using that version means you can’t use some of the other Gmail hacks mentioned here. For that reason, I prefer to dabble only with the mobile app.
- Add your to-dos to your inbox (you can also do that directly in Gmail)
- Snooze messages and reminders to whenever you choose
- Plan your travels with Google Trips
Download it: Inbox by Gmail
Use Gmail Offline
The only thing I liked more about using Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail was the ability to work offline. But then, I found ‘Gmail Offline’.
This Chrome Extension allows you to access read, responded to, searched, and archived mail even without internet connection.
Trains, planes, and automobiles can now all be places you get your Gmail on.
Add to Chrome: Gmail Offline
Get Dropbox for Gmail
Another Chrome Extension, another Gmail hack.
Using this, you’ll no longer need to add large attachments to your emails. You can quickly share large files and save space.
It also makes it easier for the recipient to know there is something else to open as the Dropbox link embeds within your email copy rather than getting pinned at the end.
Super handy when you’re sending family photos to your Grandpa, for example (no offense, Gramps).
Switch it on: Dropbox for Gmail
Access G-Drive Files Quickly from Your Inbox
There are a few ways you can access Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Folders on your G Drive. But by far the quickest way is to search for them directly from your email search bar.
It’s the simple things in life which give the most pleasure. Okay, this isn’t that exciting, but it’s another time saver. At this rate, you’ll be retiring early!
Search Gmail from Your Chrome Browser
If you’re not already using Chrome, you should be (in my opinion).
It’s fast, has a ton of brilliant extensions, and you can even search and find Gmail messages directly from the address bar.
Set it up: Chrome Settings > Manage Search Engines > Scroll to the bottom
Now add the following information in each of the three fields:
- Add a new search engine = Gmail Inbox
- Keyword, add = gi
- URL with %s in place of query = https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#search/%s
It’ll look like this.
Once that’s done, head to your Chrome address bar and type ‘gi + whatever you want to search for’, et voila!
Note you must have a space between ‘gi’ and your keyword(s).
Send Your Email as a Text Message
Are you sick of sending emails and never getting a reply? Maybe not everyone’s as organized as you are and chances are their inbox looks like a barrage of unread emails, urgghh!
This clever Chrome extension allows you to send a text message version of your email directly from your Gmail inbox. Yes, it may annoy the recipient when they get multiple messages from you, but will they reply quicker? Let’s hope so!
The software creator says “90% of the time, a text message gets read in under 3 minutes.” Keep this in your arsenal for moments of urgency.
Try it: Send Your Email to SMS (text)
Make Use of All the Associated Tools
If that wasn’t enough productivity tips already, add access to an array of useful tools you get with a Gmail account, and you’ll be the ultimate master of getting things done.
Let’s see now, you’ve got:
- Google + (is anyone still using that?!)
- And more
Say goodbye to clunky Word and Excel (sorry Mr. Gates). These are better tools than their Microsoft counterparts (for most tasks).
Give it a Skin
Okay, so this one’s not much of a Gmail hack, but it makes staring at your inbox all day a little more bearable.
Choose a theme like a beautiful sunset, a wild woodland, a crazy cat or one of your own images (keep it clean).
Anything to inspire you to achieve Inbox Zero on a daily basis.
Style it up: Settings > Themes > Set Theme > Pick Your Theme
Over and OutHopefully, these tips will help you get the most out of using Gmail.
Or if your company is still using a different mail provider and you’re stuck with clunky Microsoft Outlook or Mac Mail, send this to your boss and sell the dream.
Let overflowing inboxes be banished to the archives, forever.
What other Gmail hacks do you use? How are you more productive? Let me know in the comments below.
Feature Image Credit: Unsplash.com
Screenshots taken by author December 2016
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!