Tips on making Gmail easier to use by Joanna Stern, WSJ.com

Posted By on May 18, 2017

Great tips from tech writer Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal on dealing with a few Gmail nits most of us using Google’s free services have. See her article at WSJ.com.

1. Priorities, Priorities

You may not know it, but Google’s email bots have not one but two ways of automatically organizing your messages: tabbed inbox and priority inbox.

Tabbed inbox—the default—filters those “A friend liked your post” or “BLOWOUT SALE!” emails into automatically created tabs marked Social and Promotions, respectively. If you want something in a different tab, drag it there, teaching the system where you want to see stuff from that sender.

(Gmail app tip: Cut down on needless notifications by specifying “Primary only” notifications in the app’s settings.)

Priority inbox organizes messages into tiers. It puts unread important emails at the top. Google determines those based on your habits, and marks them with small yellow flags. Below that are your starred emails, below that is everything else. You can enable priority inbox by tapping the gear-shaped icon then selecting Settings > Inbox > Inbox Type.

I wouldn’t dare tell you how to organize your inbox—it’s personal. I prefer threaded conversation view, where emails and replies are all grouped together. If that drives you nuts, you can switch it off in Settings. If you like to keep your inbox empty at all times, give Inbox a try. Google provides tools there to snooze and dismiss multiple messages.

 

2. Stars, Labels and Flags

Gmail has a tagging problem so pay attention: Use stars to mark emails you need to return to—you can even go multicolor in Settings. Use labels for projects or similar messages (show tickets, receipts, etc.). And use the yellow Important flags to train Google to highlight your most important correspondents (Aunt Bertha, naturally).

 
3. Find It Faster

Gmail’s search is fast—scrolling through search results isn’t. In the search box, click the down arrow for specific search filters. You can also type shortcuts into the search field (even in the mobile app). To find every email from me, type “from:joanna.stern@wsj.com”. Some standard Google search commands also apply: Add quotes if you want to search exact phrases, use the minus sign to eliminate results containing those words, etc.

 
4. Easy Writing

On the iPhone or on Android, you can set up keyboard shortcuts to speed up typing responses. You can also lean on Gmail’s Smart Reply. Starting Wednesday, an update to the Gmail apps will suggest quick replies to messages based on text from the previous message. It doesn’t read your mind but the short responses can be useful.

If you find yourself spending too much time writing the same emails or boilerplates over and over you can save them in Canned Responses, a tool from Gmail’s experimental “Labs.” Head to Settings > Labs > Enable Canned Responses > Save. Compose a new email with the text you want in it, click the down arrow in the bottom right corner of the window, select Canned responses, then New canned response… When you want that passage—an address, signature, whatever—again, you’ll find it in that same menu.

 

5. No Funky Formatting

The Gmail peeve that drives me most bonkers? When I copy text from Word or the web, then paste it into an email, it appears normal on my end. But the recipient sometimes sees text in different formats. Instead of using Ctrl + V, use Ctrl + Shift + V to strip out odd formatting. On your phone, you’ll need an app like Plain Text Paste. (Google says it’s working to improve this issue.)

Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, I am convinced you can save at least an hour a week by learning key Gmail shortcuts. Print the box below and tape it to your computer monitor. Thank me later.

 

6. Undo Send

We’ve all been there: You hit Send too quick and regret immediately sets in. Gmail gives you a few seconds to save yourself with its Undo Send feature. It’s automatically enabled in the iPhone app (and not available on the Android app). As soon as you hit Send, an Undo button appears for five seconds.

On the website, head to Settings and check Enable Undo Send. Choose the delay period—5, 10, 20, 30 seconds—then hit Save. After sending, an Undo button appears up top.

 

7. Panes, Not Pains

If you want a deeper Gmail fix—one that makes Gmail look more like Outlook—set up Preview Pane to show your inbox and message contents at the same time.

Go to Settings then click the Labs tab and enable Preview Pane. Scroll to the bottom and save. Activate Preview Pane view by clicking on the icon to the right of the message count.

While this, the most game-changing Gmail trick, is currently five clicks deep, Google says it plans to surface it soon. (Be careful: Many Gmail Labs features may not be ready for you. If you get into trouble, escape using this link.)

 

8. Stop Emailing

My best email tip of all: Look at how many lengthy threads in your inbox could’ve been replaced with texts, group chat or, dare I say, a phone call. At work, use Slack or Google Hangouts. With friends and family, pick your poison: standard texts, Apple iMessage, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

LINK to full article at WSJ.com

Comments

  • Carlos Santana

    Thanks for share that article and video Rich. I would not have known about this and have been using Gmail for years! Great blog BTW.

    • Thanks for commenting Carlos. I felt the same way after using Gmail and even playing with Lab items over the years. Joanna Stern is always fun to watch, read and listen too.

Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
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