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Gmail Tips, Tricks and Experiences After 30 Days…

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My Old E-mail Setup

My old e-mail and calendar system was based around Outlook and I’ve always found it met my requirements very well but it had started to become slow and cumbersome and was using a large chunk of system memory.

Over the years I had created an elaborate system of folders and sub folders for my e-mails which was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. I ended up  just using the search function to find old e-mails but Outlook was taking several minutes to search the thousands of e-mails on my system to find the one I was looking for.

Outlook FoldersAfter recently reading Getting Things Done by David Allen it became obvious a much simpler method of sorting and processing my e-mails was long overdue.

I wanted something that would let me send and receive e-mails from multiple accounts, let me organise things intuitively and find what I need quickly.

I’ve had a Gmail account since 2004 but it has only ever been used as a backup system for my e-mails (I’ve set a copy of every e-mail to forward to my Gmail address) and as an emergency e-mail solution when I’m out of the office. To say I hadn’t explored all the features and settings would be an understatement! It seemed the obvious choice…

Making the Transition

My first step was to explore the features Gmail offered. My existing Gmail account proved the perfect testing ground because five years worth of e-mails that were already on the system. A quick glance at the intuitive search method gave a very favourable first impression letting me find a specific e-mail from back in 2004 in just a few seconds.

I’ve got several e-mail accounts that I wanted to filter in to my Gmail inbox (web design, hosting, blog etc…) and this was easy to setup. I could choose to either have a copy of all my e-mails from my other POP3 accounts sent to my Gmail address (which I’ve had for the last five years) or I could setup the incoming server to receive all my e-mails directly in to my Gmail account.

Gmail also lets you send e-mails from “non-Gmail” e-mail addresses via your own SMTP server (for instance, with my phil@thewebdesignblog.co.uk e-mail address) and the recipient will see the e-mail as being sent from my address rather than the Gmail address associated with the account.

And, just like Outlook, if I reply to an e-mail sent to a particular address the recipient will see a reply from that e-amil address as long as I have set up the reply-to address in the Gmail settings. Very handy.

Use your own SMTP server with Gmail

During my first week using Gmail I watched this great video from Ryan Carson explaining the benefit of using keyboard shortcuts. The basics were easy to learn and I found myself using them automatically without thinking. When viewing e-mails I quickly got used to using J and K while reading messages to move between older and newer e-mails but then I discovered using [ and ] would do the same thing but automatically archive the message without going back to your inbox each time. This has proven to be a really big time saver for me! You can literally skim through your e-mails and either archive messages with [ or ] or leave them in the inbox with J or K so they can be processed later.

If I see something is urgent when checking my messages I add it to the starred label (keyboard shortcut s) which lets me quickly view my priority e-mails. I’ve also setup custom labels for Next Actions, Someday and Projects which I can assign to each e-mail to help me sort through them at an appropriate time.

If your broadband provider is slow or having an off-day Gmail will load a reduced load page to show you just the important bits of information until your connection returns to normal.

Gmail Inbox

My Favourite Keybaord Shorcuts

Gmail provide an overlay of their main keyboard shortcuts which helped me learn them quickly. Simply press ? when using Gmail to quickly bring up the list.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • c – Compose a new e-mail
  • c + Shift – Compose a new e-mail in a new window
  • k – Move the cursor to a newer conversation (or move to a next message if you are viewing the conversation)
  • j – Move the cursor to an older conversation (or move to an older message if you are viewing the conversation)
  • [ – Archive and go to previous message
  • ] – Archive and go to next message
  • x – Check or uncheck the selected conversation
  • o / Enter – Open or expand the selected conversation
  • n – Go to the next message in a conversation
  • p – Go to the previous message in a conversation
  • e – Archive the selected conversation
  • s – Star a message or conversation
  • r – Reply to message sender (from the conversation view)
  • a – Reply to all recipients (from the conversation view)
  • f – Forward a message
  • l – View the labels menu
  • v – Move the conversation to another section
  • Shift + i – Mark as read (and skip message in conversation view)
  • Shift + u – Mark as unread (and skip message in conversation view)
  • z – Undo

Please click here to view the full list of shortcuts.

Combination Keys

You can also use a series of combination keys to quickly move around the different sections of Gmail:

  • Tab then Enter – A really useful one! Once you’ve finished writing an e-mail just press tab followed by the enter key to send the message
  • g then a – Go to all items
  • g then s – View your starred itmes
  • g then c – Open your list of contacts
  • g then i – Go to your inbox
  • g then t – Go to your sent items
  • * then a – Select all mail
  • * then n – Deselect all mail

Please click here to view the full list of combinations.

Using Labels and Filters

labelsWhen it came to deciding if I’d start using Gmail permanently it was the labels and filters that were the clincher for me.

I am so used to using folders in an attempt to organise my e-mails and I wasn’t sure if I’d get on with Gmail’s labelling and filter system but it turned out to be a piece of cake.

All you have to do is assign a few basic rules to create a filter. For example who it is from, what the subject of the e-mail is, what keywords it contains etc… and then you can decide what Gmail does with these e-mails. For instance, you could set these e-mails to skip the inbox, apply a label, delete them, star them or even send an automatic canned response.

I’ve setup several filters which apply custom labels to both incoming mail and all archived mail.

There are so many ways you could take advantage of this to organise your inbox but I’ve listed a small selection below:

  • Any e-mail that contains the word “urgent” goes gets a Urgent label
  • Missed calls and answerphone message notifications have a Telephone label
  • Client project questionnaires have a Worksheets label
  • All online payments I’ve received have a Payments label
  • Receipts (and shipping notifications) from online purchases have a Shopping label
  • Twitter and Facebook messages and friend notifcations have a Twitter or Facebook label
  • Hosting and domain renewal notifications have a Hosting label

What I Love About Gmail

  • I can sync my e-mails and contact list with my phone (more info at http://www.google.com/mobile/sync/)
  • The “Send and Archive” button (labs feature) – When you send your e-mail reply this button will send and archive the e-mail automatically which is a big time saver.
  • You get over 7GB free storage space but you can upgrade your storage space if required.
  • If you use Google Calendar you can set it up to send you an e-mail every morning with your daily agenda.
  • If your e-mail contains the words “I’ve attached” and you try to send the message without an attachment Gmail asks if you want to send anyway or cancel and add the attachment. (via Grace Smith)

What I Think Could Be Improved

  • You can already setup an automatic signature but it would great to be able to have different signatures for each e-mail address you send from. EDIT: This is now available!
  • Some times Gmail can pause when sending emails or other actions requiring a refresh to fix (but this could be a browser or computer issue)

So, after a month of using Gmail I am hooked. I’ve now started using it permanently for all my e-mails in conjunction with Google Calendar. I’ve tried to move over to Gmail several times before without really embracing the system but this time, for whatever reason, it all seems to have clicked in to place.

Over to you!

If you are a Gmail user I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks. How have you got your labels setup? What lab features do you find useful? If you’d like to share your favourite Gmail tips please leave a comment at the end of this post!

The main Gmail icon used for this article was designed by Sergio Sanchez Lopez

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. I’ll be honest and say i never knew all the things you could do with Gmail.

    I still prefer Outlook as I like how its all layed out etc. I may think about using Gmail as a back up like you were though.

    Good article.

  2. I do use Gmail but nowhere as extensively as you and I have it set-up as an IMAP account (not POP3). This is so I can sync between laptop and desktop and pull emails into Thunderbird which works great for me. The latest version of Thunderbird has a very fast search as well. It’s much faster than Outlook by the sound of it.

    So I guess I use Gmail quite differently but I still like it a lot….

  3. Nice article. My collegue at Cocoa Media swears by GMail, he uses it to aggregate all his accounts. Sometimes mail seems to take a long time to get to him though.

    I like the integration Apple Mail gives me, but it’s great to have someone else suffer the experiment ;o)

  4. I switched all my email accounts to gmail about 4 months ago and have never looked back….it just rocks.

    Up until today I’ve just it with IMAP and thunderbird as well as the mail app on my android phone…..today I made the choice to try ditching thunderbird and just using the webmail interface.

  5. I recently started using Gmail for all of my business needs. I have four email addresses that I need to check every day and I have them all coming into one gmail account. It’s super convenient and I am able to respond to messages in a more timely manner because of it.

    I’ve even recommended it to several of my clients when I setup their websites and have received nothing but positive feedback.

    I <3 Gmail.

  6. All of my websites email addresses are into GMail, which is then IMAPd into Apple Mail. I like the image signature facility on Apple Mail, using stationary. I can’t seem to do it using GMail, anybody know how? I think I’m going to use GMail for my personal email and see how I get on.

  7. I’ve been using gmail and Google Apps premium for a while, this is a nice outline of features, other cool things you might want to talk about is email filtering to canned responses and labeling with multiple inboxes. When my friend’s see my screen they think it’s some crazy online command center.

  8. I think Gmail is great. The phone application works really well too, although my Nokia version doesn’t allow me to access saved drafts that I’ve made on my computer. Maybe I should update the application and see if that’s changed – it was a while since I installed it.

  9. I’ve been using gmail since it first launced. I had to beg for an invite code. 🙂 I’ve never really been one for organisng my emails but after reading your post I might actually start. I rely on googles excellent email search to much I guess.

    I think the last time I checked I had close to 7,000 emails. Most spam, I definitely think it’s time for a clean out.

  10. Hi all,
    wow it very impressive Article above there. Now I am gonna use these kind of short-cut keywords. It really very good. I think every GMail user have to look once.
    thanks guys..

  11. I’ve been using Gmail for such a long time and its still rocks ..Thanks for sharing some of those shortcut keys, to be honest some of them are new to me and I may used them someday .Keep on posting !

  12. I love gmail, but I have never bothered to learn the shortcuts. I’m going to learn and use the shortcuts now and enjoy the full capabilities of gmail.

    Thank you for this excellent post! I will be sending this link to my clients so that they can enjoy all of the features offered by Gmail.

    I use Wisestamp plugin for Firefox for my email signatures but it is limited to two versions of signature business & personal.

  13. I use Gmail exclusively and really love it… I did want to mention that the WiseStamp plugin for Firefox now allows multiple signatures that include settings for each!
    If ur not into the interface – try Gmail Redesigned – which gives you some cool colors and other options that are easy on the eyes!

  14. Just got an iPhone, and as I could send emails from Gmail, I was going to have to look at merging the account I needed into Gmail. That was until I changed the outgoing smtp server…Now I just have two accounts on my iPhone. I still might opt to merge everything into Gmail as it does support push email.

    I do also like how it groups “chats” to make it easy to track your conversations that take place over time.

  15. Great Info

    Thanks for putting me onto the intuitive search method and the keyboard short cuts which I’ve started using, didn’t even know they existed before.

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