Design & Development

5 Gmail Techniques to Boost Productivity

Gmail is full of time saving features and capabilities that can make you more productive.

In this article, I’ll review five Gmail techniques that will help you master your inbox.

It is important to note, before exposing you to these productivity-boosting wonders, that Google actually has two slightly different email services. Gmail is the free email service for individuals. Gmail addresses end with (although you can use IMAP or POP3 to get other email address). Google Apps Gmail is a business version of Gmail wherein addresses typically end with company’s domain name.

The tips described here worked in both versions at the time of writing, but remember that the Google Apps Gmail can be modified by an administrator, who might, as an example, turn off chat or other features. So if something described here doesn’t work for you, and you use the Apps version of Gmail, you might want to check with your IT administrator.


Google is known worldwide as a leader in search, so it makes sense that Google’s engineers equipped the service with awesome search capabilities.

Typing a word or phrase like, “Practical Ecommerce” or “Shipping Report” will run a general query on your inbox. You can also add advanced search criteria directly into the search form.

  • from: — If you know who sent the message you want, use the from: search operator. Type your query, a space, and the from: search operator plus the sender’s name. Here is an example, “shipping report from:todd.”
  • to: — Gmail’s to: search operator works just like from:, but searches only messages sent to the specified recipient.
  • has:attachment — When you know that the message you want had a file attached add this search operator.
  • — The (which Google calls the Hyphen operator, but I refer to as the minus operator) subtracts words or phrases from your search results. For example, if I want a shipping report, but not the one that mentions the word “draft,” I could search for “shipping report -draft” where there is no space between the minus sign and the word that I want to exclude.
  • subject: — This search operator looks only in subject lines for the specified query.
  • is:chat — Searches just your chat conversations.
  • after: and before: —These search operators let you add a date range to your search, like “shipping reports after:2011/06/01.”

Search your Gmail inbox instead of digging through folders, and you will save a lot of time.

Chat Your Reply

By default, Gmail is organized into conversations so that it is easy to see the back and forth between you and your contacts. This format often reminds me of how slow email can sometimes seem. You send a message, wait ten minutes for a reply, send another message, and so on. Often it would be faster and more efficient to resolve the issue in chat. When you want immediate action click the “reply as chat” link at the bottom of the message.

If you’ve never chatted with the contact before, you will see a link to “invite” the contact to chat. Finally, you can even use video chat when that makes sense. Remember, use chat to speed up conversations in Gmail.

Use Labels and Filters Together

Labels and Filters are two Gmail features that go very well together. Labels are a way of categorizing messages, visually alerting you to a message’s content. Filters do email-related tasks automatically. To be more productive, consider creating Filters that label messages as they come into your inbox.

Gmail Labels give you a visual clue to a message's content or category.

Gmail Labels give you a visual clue to a message’s content or category.

To create a label, go to the bottom of the existing labels in the left navigation, click “more,” and click “Create new label.”

To create a new label click "more" and "Create new label" at the bottom of the labels in the left-hand navigation.

To create a new label click “more” and “Create new label” at the bottom of the labels in the left-hand navigation.

Filters are created under the “Filter” tab in your Gmail settings. There is a nifty filter wizard to help you through the process.

Remember, labeling messages via a filter as they come into your Gmail inbox will give you color-coded visual clues about the message even before you read it.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Gmail has many built-in keyboard shortcuts that allow you to execute common tasks without having to reach for your mouse and click through menus. I find five of these to be very effective at saving time and making me more productive.

You will need to turn on keyboard shortcuts in the Gmail settings menu under the “General” tab.

  • c — From the main Gmail page, press “c” to compose a new message.
  • / — A slash, when you are on the main page, will place the cursor in the search form.
  • Tab then Enter —Pressing the tab key and then the enter key will send an email, if you are in the composition view.
  • r —When you’re reading a message, press “r” to type your reply.
  • f —Pressing “f” when you are reading a message, lets you type a forward.

Use keyword shortcuts whenever you can. They will make you more productive.

Send Text Messages

Gmail is more than just an email tool. As mentioned above, you can chat or video chat, and now thanks to a Google Labs add-on, you can send text messages from your inbox.

From the Gmail settings page, select the “Labs” tab. From Labs, enable “SMS (text messaging) in Chat.” Once enabled, you will be able to send text messages, letting you keep in touch with contacts who are on the go.

Summing Up

These five tips will help you become a more effective Gmail user: search for messages rather than browse; chat to speed up some conversations; use Labels and Filters to categorize messages even before you’ve read them; master keyboard shortcuts; and extend your reach with texting.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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