I’ve been trying to convince my mother to switch from Hotmail to Gmail for months. I keep telling her how much easier it will make her life, as well as her job as an office manager.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the same Google product devotee I used to be – see my recent article Beware the New Google Gimmick – and I admit Yahoo Mail’s makeover this past year made it a lot more competitive. Still, Gmail is one Google product I’m sticking with. Not only is it connected to my calendar, it saves me time.
In fact, Gmail offers so many conveniences and customizations that the average user often doesn’t realize most of them exist – which is why I call them tricks. I signed up for Gmail in 2007, when it first became publicly available, and I’ve explored pretty much every feature they offer. Five years later, I consider these 10 the biggest time-savers…
1. Multiple-attachment uploading
- What it is: This sort-of-hidden feature allows you to upload multiple attachments at the same time.
- How it saves time: You no longer have to wait for one file to upload and then upload another and wait for it and so on. Just click on “Attach a file” and use the Ctrl or Apple key to highlight multiple files for uploading. The selected files will then upload simultaneously.
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Advanced attachment features” page
2. The “Archive” button
- What it is: Archiving an email is like putting a file away in a filing cabinet. When you click on the Archive button, the email is removed from your inbox but not deleted. Should you need it later, you can find it by searching.
- How it saves time: Just as decluttering your desk lets you work more efficiently, removing old emails from your inbox lets you navigate your inbox faster. I think of my inbox like an unfinished business file, so once I’ve dealt with an email (i.e., once it’s finished business), I delete or archive it. This system keeps me focused on the tasks at hand each day.
- Where to learn more: Google’s “Archive mail” page
3. The “Send & Archive” button
- What it is: When you click on the Send & Archive button after writing an email, it’s simultaneously sent and archived.
- How it saves time: You accomplish two actions with one click: Without the Send & Archive button, you’d have to press the Send button and then press the Archive button. While this may only shave off a few seconds, that time adds up for high-volume emailers. Plus, you’ve little to lose: It only takes a few seconds to enable the Send & Archive button.
- Where to learn more: To enable this feature, which is currently a Lab (Gmail’s term for an experimental feature), click on the gear icon in the upper right and select “Settings.” Then click on the “Labs” tab, scroll down to “Send & Archive,” and click on “Enable.”
- What they are: Labels are Gmail’s version of folders. What makes them different is that you can put more than one label on the same email, and you can color-code labels.
- How they save time: If you label an email before archiving it, it’s even easier to find later because you’ll only have to search the emails with that label instead of searching all of your archived emails. If you color your labels, your inbox will also be easier to navigate. I have a label for each publication that I work for and each organization that I belong to, but their colors let me quickly zero in on the email I want in my inbox. My Money Talks News label, for example, is green (of course), so all of my emails related to Money Talks News have a green “MTN” box on them.
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Using labels” page
5. Sending emails from multiple addresses
- What it is: From one Gmail account, you can send emails from your other email addresses – with the other address listed as the sender, instead of your Gmail address.
- How it saves time: This saves the time – and annoyance – it takes to log in and out of multiple email accounts every day. For example, in additional to my personal Gmail address, I have a Money Talks News address. I don’t log into it, though. I’ve set up the two accounts so that I can send emails from my MTN address while logged into my Gmail address. The set-up may take you five or 10 minutes to figure out, but it’s a huge time-saver.
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Sending mail from a different address” page
- What they are: Like dams for water, filters control the flow of incoming email. When you create a filter, you give Gmail instructions for how to route certain emails. You can, for example, tell Gmail to automatically archive or label certain emails.
- How they save time: The instructions that you give Gmail when you create a filter save you from having to take those actions yourself. For example, I’ve created a filter that tells Gmail to automatically apply my green “MTN” label to any emails sent to my Money Talks News email address. (They’re already automatically forwarded to my Gmail account.) That way, they catch my attention as soon as they arrive, I don’t have to individually label them, and I can easily search them. I have another filter for all of the emails I receive with deals from retailers and restaurants. I get hundreds of them a week, so instead of letting them overwhelm my inbox, they’re filtered such that they skip my inbox and go right into the label/folder I keep them in. That way, I can sort through them all at once when I have time.
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Using filters” page
7. Search operators
- What they are: Search operators are queries that allow you to do very specific searches of your email.
- How they save time: The more specific a search query is, the fewer emails you’ll have to search through – and the faster you’ll find the one you’re looking for. Say I want to find an email that my boss sent me about my recent article about trans fat. Searching for “trans fat” would bring up every email containing those words. But if I combine that search term with the “from:” operator – “from:stacy ‘trans fat’” – it’ll only bring up emails that were from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson and contained the words “trans fat.”
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Using advanced search” page
8. Keyboard shortcuts
- What they are: Gmail has its own set of keyboard shortcuts, just like certain operating systems and software programs do.
- How they save time: They allow you to execute certain actions faster than you could with your mouse. For example, hitting the “C” key is faster than moving your hand to your mouse, moving your mouse, and clicking on the “Compose” button. You don’t even have to press Ctrl or the Apple key first, as most sets of keyboard shortcuts require.
- Where to learn more: Gmail’s “Keyboard shortcuts” page
9. Remote sign-out
- What it is: If you access your email from multiple computers, like at home and at work, this feature allows you to sign out remotely. So if you forget to log out of your email on your work computer, you could sign yourself out of it from your home computer.
- How it saves time: This feature’s biggest advantage is security. It doesn’t necessarily save you time – although it could save you the headache of someone else accessing your email.
- Where to learn more: The Gmail Blog’s “Remote sign out” post
10. Two-step verification
- What it is: This feature turns your phone into an added layer of security for your Gmail account. After you enable it, Gmail will text a six-digit code to your phone when you enter your user name and password. In order to access your email, you must also enter the code.
- How it saves time: The biggest advantage is security. Enabling this feature will actually cost you the time it takes to enter the code – although it could save you the time-consuming headache of someone hacking into your account. Most of our other accounts, from social networks to banks, are tied to our email addresses. So if someone hacks your email, they could potentially use it and password retrieval to access your other accounts if two-step verification weren’t enabled.
- Where to learn more: Google’s “Getting started with 2-step verification” page
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