In this era of instant messaging, video chat, and texting, email is still an important staple. But even the most vigilant users get overwhelmed by excessive spam messages, having their account compromised, or accidentally sending a note to the wrong person. So here are some of our best Gmail tips and tricks for using your email account more effectively, whether you're on a Mac, Windows PC, Linux device, or one of the best Chromebooks.
1. Stop hackers by using two-step verification
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Make sure no one is sneaking into your account and using your address to send spam messages. At the bottom of your inbox is an indicator that shows the last time someone used your account. Clicking on it will show you the IP addresses and devices used to send emails from your account. From here, you can block IP addresses from reaccessing your account.
If you don't already have it enabled, two-factor authentication can be the thing that prevents your account from being overtaken by an unwanted intruder since even if your password is compromised, a hacker likely won't have access to your phone to authorize entry into your Google account. Here's how to set it up.
2. Unsubscribe and block spam messages
If you get messages from the same marketers asking you to join their cause or use the latest coupon, you can often unsubscribe to future emails within the message itself rather than following a suspicious link to a third-party page.
Under the sent message information header, click the unsubscribe link to keep future mailings out of your inbox.
If a spam message doesn't have an unsubscribe link, you can still block future messages from hitting your inbox. Click the three dots at the top right-hand corner of the spam message to show a popup menu with several functions, including blocking the sender and reporting the message as either spam or a phishing scheme. Clicking any of these options tells Gmail to block the sender and keep future messages reaching your inbox. Reporting it as spam or phishing also helps Gmail keep an eye out and stop these messages from getting into other Gmail users' inboxes, too.
3. Filter messages out of your inbox
Filtering is a good way to keep messages that you'd like to look at later, like the latest sales ad from your favorite stores, without having them bog down your primary inbox. First, click the Setting icon — it looks like a gear or flower right above your inbox — then choose See all settings to bring up a window with tabbed options including Filters and Blocked Address. Next, select Create a new filter. It is a text link right in the center of the view window.
The form is pretty straightforward with places to add the sender's email addresses, keywords found in either the body of the messages or the subject line, file size, and whether there is an attachment. Don't forget to hit Create filter at the bottom of the form when you're done.
After telling Gmail what to look for, you then direct Gmail to tag messages from important senders in your inbox, send filtered messages to the Spam folder, archive, delete, block or move to a separate folder just for them.
4. Undo sent messages
We've all sent an oops message, and sometimes it's embarrassing. So Gmail, as soon as a message is sent, gives you the option to undo it with a small popup message located at the bottom of your viewing screen. By default, you have only 5 seconds after a message is sent to undo it. However, you can lengthen that time up to 30 seconds. This gives you a bigger buffer to realize when the wrong message was sent and pull it back before it's too late.
To do that, open the Settings view by clicking the gear icon at the top of the message viewing window, and then click on See all settings. The General tab shows by default. The fourth action item listed under this tab is the Undo Send feature. Simply select 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds from the pulldown menu, and the changes are automatically saved.
Then when you want to call back a message, you can just click Undo, and your message will be pulled back.
5. Use Smart Compose
A great time saver when writing email messages is to take advantage of Gmail's Smart Compose. It's enabled by default, though you do have the option of turning it off then reenabling it later under the general settings.
Smart Compose uses predictive text and suggests phrases you may be trying to type out. Then, simply clicking the Tab button on your keyboard will fill in the sentence. Besides being quick, Smart Compose also helps your message remain error-free by using correctly spelled words and proper grammar.
6. Get notice of unread messages
Gmail doesn't have a sound or jingle to let you know about new messages, but you can choose to have a notification icon enabled to help. After opening Settings and See all settings, choose the Advanced tab. It's the last tab listed. The very first item listed is the Unread message icon. Click enable next to this, then scroll down to Save Changes.
Turning on the unread message tool changes the browser tab icon from the traditional Gmail envelope to one with a number over it. This number tells you when you have unread messages. So if you're up to snuff with your inbox, this icon is a good way to see at a glance when a new message has arrived.
7. Enable Gmail exclusive keyboard shortcuts
Gmail has its own set of keyboard shortcuts. Some are generic and can be used in other applications, too, like pressing Shift and B at the same time to bold text. But others are there to help tag, discard and write email messages. For example, pressing C opens a new composition window, S marks your message as important, and # sends a message you're reading straight to the trash bin.
To enable keyboard shortcuts, open the Gmail Settings from the right-hand side of the view window and click on See all settings. Under the General settings, scroll down to near the end of the page to Keyboard shortcuts and click Keyboard shortcuts on. Don't forget to scroll to the end of the page and click Save Changes. You can now use Gmail shortcuts. For a full list of these shortcuts, press Shift and ? at the same time.
8. Hide those Google Meet and Google Chat links
As we all began to rely on video calls and business chat platforms like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, Google began to take notice, adding in shortcuts to these services in the sidebar of Gmail for the web and Gmail for Android and iOS. Thankfully, you can just as easily hide those shortcuts away if you're not interested in using them.
Simply open the Gmail Settings and click on See all settings. Then click on Chat and Meet, and Click Off under Chat and Hide the Meet section in the main menu. Then click Save Changes. And just like that, they're gone!
9. Disable smart features
As useful as Google's AI-assisted smarts are, some people find them creepy and even a bit annoying. If you don't like the idea of Google guessing what you're going to be typing next, you can easily disable these smart features by diving back into Gmail's Settings. Under the General settings, click to turn off Writing suggestions and Smart Compose personalization.
10. Manage your Gmail add-ons
Gmail on the web has a handy section of add-ons to the right of the screen, which is minimized by default, but which you can maximize and switch between apps at will to stay in your workflow. With Calendar, Keep, Tasks, and Contacts, you can turn Gmail into an all-in-one productivity portal.
Plus, if you click on the + at the bottom of those app icons, you can add other great productivity shortcuts to apps like Zoom, Box, Slack, Trello, Dropbox, Evernote, and more from Google Workspace Marketplace.
Some final thoughts
Email doesn't have to be a necessary evil. However, taking a little time to set up a few tools now really takes the edge off of wading through unwanted email, securing your account, and keeping dangerous messages out of your and others' inboxes. While accessing the general settings, you will see that Gmail also has ways to create prewritten messages, schedule outgoing emails, and mark messages sent to a group instead of just you. All these help make checking your email just a little easier.
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Nikki is a commissioned editor for Future Plc covering internet security including antivirus and VPN. With over 18 years of research and writing experience, and 11 years of testing and reviewing internet security solutions, Nikki knows how to dive deep to get the information consumers need to make better buying decisions. She is also a mom to 10 children, and personally uses many of the products she reviews to ensure the safety of her own family.