Gmail is one of the most comprehensive email tools available, whether you’re relying on it for personal or professional purposes. Though its interface is ridiculously simple and easy to learn, there are dozens of hidden features and advanced settings that dictate how your app works.

And chances are, you’re using most of them wrong, or at the very least, inefficiently.

Why It Matters

At this point, I imagine you’re wondering what the big deal is. After all, you can send and receive emails just fine—and isn’t that the point of Gmail in the first place? Well, you wouldn’t be satisfied with a smartphone that could only send and receive calls, would you?

Granted, there are fewer apps and settings to consider within Gmail than there are in the average smartphone, but these settings have the power to dictate your productivity, comfort, and daily habits.

Namely, tweaking these settings and using them properly can help you with:

  • Organization. If you’ve ever lost track of an important email, you should know that your use of settings can make it easier to manage, organize, and peruse your inbox.
  • Efficiency. Taking advantage of even the basic settings in Gmail can make you more productive. Considering you spend the majority of your time during the day sending, receiving, and managing email, even a marginal increase here could save you hours of time over the long run.
  • Integrations. Gmail has the potential to integrate with hundreds of other apps, including Google products, so you can keep all your information in one place. That saves you from logging into multiple places or keeping multiple apps open simultaneously.
  • Error reduction. We’ve all made embarrassing email mistakes in the past, but with the right settings on your side, you can reduce the number of errors you make (and possibly prevent your future humiliation).
  • New features and bonuses. You’ll likely be surprised at just how many features and functionalities are available in Gmail—but they’re not advertised or easy to find, so they slip beneath the notice of most users.

So which settings are you using incorrectly, and what steps can you take to correct them?

1. Classic vs. New Gmail.

Did you even know there’s a “new” Gmail? Back in April, Google made a brand-new interface available to its Gmail users, representing one of the biggest redesigns since the launch of the app. But if you’re like most users, you might have forgone the update out of apathy, or fear that it might change your core experience too much. Or you might have updated without realizing it, clicking a prompt from Gmail without investigating to see what new changes were in store for your app.

The reality is, this single change can have a massive impact on how you work—and which new productivity-enhancing settings are available to you.

How it works

This is a simple setting, so there’s not much to learn. The new Gmail is noticeable for its minimalistic, spaced-out design and additional features, while the old Gmail gives you the comfort of the layout and features you’re already familiar with.

If you aren’t sure which version you have, you can click the Settings icon in the upper-right. If you’re on the old version of Gmail, you can click “Try the new Gmail” to instantly convert. And if you’re on the new version, you can click “Go back to classic Gmail” to revert.

New Gmail

What you’re doing wrong

It’s hard to mess up the conversion process, since it only takes one click, but if you’re like most users, you’re doing one (or both) of two things incorrectly:

  • You haven’t upgraded. There are lots of people out there who avoid upgrading their software, possibly to avoid potential bugs, but usually to avoid confronting what could be a confusing UI change. But updating is essential; companies don’t issue new versions of their software for the hell of it. They do it to offer better UI, more features, and higher security. Using the old Gmail can only rob you of these improvements.
  • You’ve upgraded, but haven’t taken advantage of the new features. If you’ve updated to the new Gmail, but you haven’t taken advantage of any new features, you’re also missing out. Think of it as paying for cable TV, but only watching one or two channels. And while you might not be paying to use Gmail on a regular basis, you are relying on it for the majority of your work.

What to do instead

The first step is simple. If you haven’t updated to the new Gmail, do so now. It’s literally a one-click process that will instantly transform your Gmail experience.

Then, take the time to learn about all the new features that Gmail provides in the latest version. Some of these include:

  • Hover-based organization. Merely hovering over an email in your inbox will bring up icons you can use to quickly delete or move that message to the proper folder.
  • Snooze. Ever wish you could “snooze” an email the way you snooze your alarm in the morning? There’s a feature for that—but you might be tempted to use it inefficiently.
  • Suggested reply text. For most simple messages, Gmail will suggest a handful of text options, like “Sounds good!” or “Will do,” which you can click instead of going through the effort of typing a response.
  • Nudge reminders. If Gmail notices there’s a message in your inbox you haven’t responded to in an adequate amount of time, it will give you a “nudge,” reminding you to respond. Of course, you can also dismiss this reminder.
  • Menu minimization. The left-side menu is now reducible. Rather than relying on the full text of all these menu options, you can collapse them to mere icons to give yourself a cleaner UI.
  • App integrations. There’s also a new right-side menu, which allows you to quickly integrate with Google Calendar, your Tasks, and any other apps and add-ons you use with Gmail.
  • Confidential mode. Want to send a message privately, or self-destruct a document, Mission: Impossible-style? Now you can, thanks to the lock-and-clock icon in the bottom row of icons when you compose a new message.

I’ll actually be covering the snooze, app integrations, and a handful of other new settings later in this guide, so look for them in the subsequent sections!

2. The Display Density.

Display density sounds like a superfluous change that’s only meant for the hardest of hardcore Gmail users, but it’s both simpler and more impactful than you imagine. Put simply, it’s a way to change the spacing and layout of your inbox.

How it works

You can find the options for your display density in the same Settings menu where you upgraded to the new Gmail.

Display Density

Then, you’ll be asked to choose between three views:

  • Default, which will give your emails more spacing, and give you a preview of the attachments in each email (including an icon that indicates the nature of the attachment, and the first several characters of the attachment name).
  • Comfortable, which will give you plenty of email spacing, but present your attachments in the “old Gmail” style, as an ambiguous paperclip on the right-hand side.
  • Compact, which will utilize the generic paperclip to indicate attachments, but shrink the amount of space each email takes up so you can see more emails in a single screen.

Gmail Display Density

What you’re doing wrong

Between these three options, there’s no single “right” or “wrong” option. What most people get wrong is the lack of consideration for which display density is best for your position. Each layout offers strengths and weaknesses; for example, the compact display allows you to see more emails at once, but at the cost of seeing less information per email.

What to do instead

Consider your options carefully, and don’t be afraid to toggle between them for different applications, at different times of day, or when you’re managing different responsibilities.

  • The Default layout is ideal for most users, especially those who send and receive attachments on a regular basis. You won’t see as many emails at once, so if you find yourself needing to check your historical messages frequently, this may not be your best option.
  • The Comfortable layout is ideal for people who deal with fewer, but more valuable emails, and generally don’t have to worry about attachments.
  • The Compact layout is ideal for people who need a bird’s-eye view of as many emails as possible, or those who have a high tolerance for information density. You’ll notice this view is more cluttered, but also more informative.

Try out all three before you settle on your own default option. Once optimized to your role and work style, you’ll notice a sharp increase to your productivity.

3. Multiple Account Integration.

Did you know you can use multiple accounts at once, all under the collective umbrella of your Gmail account? That means you can combine your separate Gmail accounts in different ways, or even utilize a preexisting email account from another provider (such as Yahoo! or Hotmail) under your new Gmail address.

How it works

So how exactly does this work? This setting gets complicated, because there are so many different ways it can be used. For example, with Gmail, you can:

  • Import mail and contacts from almost any mainstream provider. If you have an old email address from Hotmail, Yahoo!, or AOL, you can import all your old mail and contacts into your new email account, so they’re available for your perusal.
  • Send mail as a different Gmail address. If you want to use a single Gmail account to send messages from multiple addresses (such as one from “CustomerService” and one from “BobSmith”), you can set that up as well.
  • Merge two Gmail accounts together. If you have two separate Gmail accounts you want to merge into one, you can do that. In this scenario, you’ll have one account receiving messages from both accounts, and you’ll be able to send messages from either account when you’re done.
  • Absorb one Gmail account with another. If you want one Gmail to serve as a primary account, you can absorb another Gmail account, importing all your contacts and old messages. In this case, you can only send mail from your primary account, but you’ll receive mail for both the original addresses.
  • Give Gmail account access to another user. Gmail account delegation is another option; with this feature, you can grant temporary control of your Gmail account (with some limitations) to another Gmail user. This is ideal if you need someone to check your mail while you’re on vacation.

You can find the majority of these options under the Settings menu:

Multiple Account Integration

What you’re doing wrong

There are a lot of things that could go wrong here, but these are some of the most common mistakes:

  • Treating your related email addresses independently. If you have two Gmail accounts for work, but you’re logging in and managing them as totally separate accounts, you’re doing something wrong. Gmail affords you the opportunity to merge these addresses and manage them within one open app, so you might as well take it.
  • Failing to check your new mergers for errors. Google’s products are fairly reliable, but they aren’t foolproof. Occasionally, you’ll run into errors during the merger process, or when you’re importing old messages and contacts from a previous account.
  • Sending from the wrong email address. If you’re managing multiple addresses with one account, you might accidentally send an email from the “wrong” account if you aren’t careful. It’s better to treat one email address as the primary or default option, reserving the others for rare occasions.
  • Going with all the default options. When receiving information from another account, Google will prompt you with several “default” options for how those contacts and messages are imported and organized. These default options are suitable for a quick job, but may not give you everything you’re hoping for, or sort your information in an optimal way.

What to do instead

Your best option is going to depend on your personal needs and preferences, but the best approach is to do your research in advance and follow these important best practices:

  • Don’t overcomplicate things. The simpler your email setup is, the more productive you can be. Try not to make your account management any more complicated than it has to be.
  • Check all your passwords and information. When entering information for the initial merger, make sure to double check all your information, including old server information and passwords (where necessary). Any error here could result in a more significant error during the import process.
  • Choose the right options for you. Take the time to understand the options you’re selecting before you finalize the import or merger process. A little bit of customization can go a long way here.
  • Trust, but verify. The import process is usually pretty smooth, but never assume that things went perfectly. Once you’ve been notified that the import or merger process is complete, comb through your emails and contacts to ensure that most of the information you expect is in place. Then, send some test emails to make sure you can send and receive messages properly. If you notice anything missing, or if your send/receive functions aren’t working as you expect, Google Support has an excellent troubleshooting guide (though deleting and re-connecting your imported account is usually the best option).

Managing multiple accounts can be a headache, but with the right settings in place, it should only make things more manageable for you.

4. The Snooze.

Unless you’re some next-level self-discipline guru, you’ve probably taken advantage of the Snooze button on your alarm more often than you’d like to admit. The Snooze function in Google functions similarly, allowing you to delay certain messages for a fixed period of time, but if you aren’t using the setting properly, it could be working against you.

How it works

Whenever you open an email, you’ll see a clock icon in the upper row of icons. You’ll also see that icon in line with the others when you hover over an email in your inbox.

The Snooze

If you click that icon, you’ll have the option to “Snooze” your selected email; essentially, this will remove the email from your inbox temporarily, and send it back to you at a time and date that’s more convenient. Google will recommend a few options (such as “later today” or “tomorrow”) but you can also pick your own date and time to receive the delayed message.

Once you’re done, you can count on receiving the email when you decided to receive it. And if you need to check on the details of that message before then, you can click on the “Snoozed” icon in the left-hand menu to view all your Snoozed emails at once, at any time.

Snooze your selected email

What you’re doing wrong

Surely, nothing could go wrong with a Snooze button! The newness of this feature means that lots of people are using it, and unfortunately, they’re using it incorrectly:

  • Never using Snooze. If you avoid the Snooze button, seeing it as a tool for procrastination more than productivity, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Like with any technology or tool, there isn’t anything inherently good or bad about it—but there’s great potential if you learn to use it correctly.
  • Delaying short or quick emails. It’s tempting to delay the emails that won’t take much time or effort to respond to; after all, these clutter up your inbox quickly, and may not be worth the distraction from your bigger projects. However, if it only takes a minute or two to respond, you’re better off handling them immediately. Otherwise, they’ll accumulate too quickly, and you’ll spend more time sorting and organizing these mosquito-like messages rather than actually dealing with them.
  • Picking random times. It’s convenient that Google makes recommendations for when to receive an email in the future, but if you go with these semi-random options, you’ll miss out on the perks of getting to choose your own receipt time. Mastering your email productivity is all about bringing things under control.

What to do instead

The solution is to create a Snooze strategy, and start implementing it consistently.

  • Categorize incoming email. You should have an idea where each incoming email falls in the grid of importance and urgency; an email’s importance is a measure of how impactful your work on the message is, while its urgency is a measure of how soon it warrants a response. You should also consider how long it will take to draft a response, or take care of the task in the email. Once you have a firm hierarchy to guide your actions, you’ll find it much easier to discern which emails are Snooze-worthy, and which ones should be addressed imminently.
  • Schedule ideal times to handle Snoozed messages. Pick a day during the week, or an hour during the day, where you plan to receive all your Snoozed messages. When you have a calendar item for catching up on communication, those incoming messages won’t interfere with any of your other work. This will help you streamline your productivity, and avoid getting caught in an endless cycle of delays.
  • Adhere to the plan. Once you have a plan in place for how to sort and delay emails, stick to it consistently. If you find it isn’t working, you can always change the plan. If you delay your emails inconsistently, it will be harder to tell whether your system is working.

Who would have thought a function like “Snooze” could actually make you more productive?

5. Tabs/Categories.

You may have noticed the sudden emergence of tabs in your Gmail inbox a few years ago, but you might not have thought anything of it. By default, you’ll have tabs for “Primary” messages, which include the bulk of your incoming communications, “Social” messages, which include notifications from your social media profiles and other online accounts, and “Promotions” messages, which include newsletters, advertisements, and special deals.

New Gmail Tabs

There’s more to these seemingly basic tabs than you might imagine.

How it works

Google refers to these tabs as Categories, and you can learn more about them in the Inbox tab under Settings.

Gmail Categories

As you can see, there are more Categories than what’s available by default; you can also add tabs for “Updates,” which include notifications from project management software and other systems, and “Forums,” which include messages and notifications from online boards.

Gmail uses filters to discern what type of Category an email belongs to, studying the timing of the message, the subject line, and source of the message, and other factors to ensure it ends up in the right place. For the most part, these filters are adept, though you might find the occasional rogue message in the wrong category.

Once you’ve decided which tabs to include, you can rearrange the order, and on the Gmail mobile app, you can even establish different notification settings for each tab.

What you’re doing wrong

If you’re like most users, your biggest mistake here is relying exclusively on the tabs that were made available to your account by default. If you have a Category open that rarely sees active use, it might be taking up precious space. You might also be getting a flood of emails from Updates or Forums, without a designated location for them to arrive.

You can also mismanage the feature by failing to check each tab periodically. Your Social emails, for example, are typically lower priority than your Primary emails, but if you don’t clean out your messages on occasion, it can quickly become chaotic—and you might miss an important email that was inaccurately categorized by Google’s filters.

What to do instead

Your choices are somewhat limited here, so browse through the past few weeks of your email activity to determine which tabs you need to have active (and which order they should be in). In general, more tabs is better—it might make your inbox more cluttered at the top, but it will prevent your Primary inbox from being overcome with low-priority messages.

Once you have those tabs in place, check them regularly and clean them out—or preferably, unsubscribe from the distribution sources that are needlessly costing you time.

6. Labels.

If you’re used to using Outlook for your email management needs, you might be perturbed to see that Gmail doesn’t have a straightforward folder-based system to categorize your messages for future reading or access. However, Gmail has a setting that is, in many ways, superior: labels.

How it works

You’re already using labels, even if you don’t realize it. By default, Gmail offers distinct inbox views based on labels like Inbox, Important, Starred, Snoozed, Sent, Drafts, Spam, and Trash. Even the Categories mentioned in the previous section are based on labels in the system. Basically, you can think of a label as a way to tag a message as belonging to a certain category; when you view a label, you’ll see all the emails in your inbox that share that label, and a single email can belong to multiple labels at once.

The real magic in Gmail labels is getting to create your own. In Settings, under Labels, you can create a new label (or a sub-label, nested under a mother label), and start using it to mark up your incoming or existing messages.

Gmail labels

You can also take a shortcut to this option by clicking on the Settings wheel and clicking “Configure inbox.”

What you’re doing wrong

There are a few ways you could be using this setting inefficiently:

  • Not using your own labels. Labels are an easy, effective way to keep your emails immaculately organized. If you aren’t creating your own labels, you’ll be stuck with the default options for Gmail users, which are fairly limiting. For the most part, all your “main” emails from employees, clients, and partners will wind up under the same generic category, making it harder to find what you’re looking for when you need it.
  • Creating too many labels. You also run the risk of creating too many labels. Once you get used to the functionality, it’s tempting to create a label for every conceivable situation. But if you’re bogged down with too many options, you may not end up using them all—or you’ll be confused about which ones to use for each new occasion.
  • Applying your labels inconsistently. Labels are useless to you if you use them inconsistently. Failing to categorize new emails as they come in, or using the wrong label can make things painfully confusing when you start searching for that long-lost message.

What to do instead

The best approach is to choose a handful of custom email labels to use religiously—between 3 and 10, depending on the nature of your position. When you create them, write down which types of emails belong to that category and which ones don’t; that way, you’ll have a strict list of criteria you can apply consistently to all your incoming messages. You may need to make some tweaks as your role changes, or as you learn more about your email habits, but the simpler and the more consistent your system is, the better.

7. Filters.

In my discussion on tabs and labels, I referenced the fact that Google has a handful of filters in place to automatically judge where certain emails should be categorized. And even if you’re new to Gmail, your previous email provider probably had a spam filter that worked similarly.

What you’re probably missing from this setting, however, is that Gmail lets you create and manage your own filters, giving you the power to automatically sort incoming emails however you see fit.

How it works

In the Settings menu, you can find a tab for Filters and Blocked Addresses. There, you can “Create a new filter” if you haven’t created any filters yet.

The first step of the process is deciding which group of emails should be filtered. Gmail allows you to use criteria including the sender, the recipient, the entirety or fragments of a subject line, the size of the email attachment, and others.

Filters - Setup a filder in Gmail

Once you’ve made the decision of which emails to include, you’ll then need to instruct Gmail what it should do with those emails, automatically, when they come in. You have many options here, and you can select as many or as few of them as you’d like:

filters gmail feature

Once complete, you can manage all your filters under the same Settings tab, toggling them on or off as necessary.

You can also use these options to block a specific address from sending you messages altogether, in the event of harassment or abuse.

What you’re doing wrong

Unfortunately, people tend to make mistakes when using this feature, including:

  • Using criteria that are too narrow or too broad. If you select search criteria that are too broad, you may end up filtering emails you didn’t intend to filter. For example, if you filter all emails that include the word “notification,” you might end up missing an important email from your boss, notifying you of a new company policy. If your criteria are too narrow, you might not filter some messages that should be filtered.
  • Neglecting the consequences of an automatic option. Don’t underestimate the potential consequences of a filter that works automatically, 100 percent of the time. It might seem convenient to automatically delete any email that contains a certain phrase, but once applied, several significant emails could get lost in the shuffle.
  • Creating more work for yourself. Irresponsibly created filters can also make you busier, instead of saving you time. For example, if you mark every email from your project management app as read when it comes in, you’ll spend more time browsing through all your read messages than you’d spend addressing each unread message at a high level.

What to do instead

If you’re new to Gmail filters, I recommend taking things one filter at a time. Make your search criteria specific enough to matter, but not so specific that it’s unhelpful, and think carefully about any other context where your criteria could be applied.

For the first few weeks after creating your first filter, monitor your Spam folder, Trash, and inbox carefully for any aberrations; this is your chance to determine whether your filter functions the way you think it will. Once you’re comfortable, you can move on to creating other filters to make your life easier.

8. Undo Send.

Almost all of us have had the heart-stopping experience of letting an erroneous, impulsive, or otherwise embarrassing email slip through our fingers. We hit the Send button before proofreading, and end up sending a message to the wrong person, or with the wrong attachment, but only realize our mistake too late.

If you haven’t yet embraced the power of Undo Send—and I assure you, it’s a real thing—now’s the time.

How it works

Undo Send pretty much works like you think. Whenever you send an email through Gmail, you’ll be given a prompt that allows you to stop the email from going out—in case you realize in the next few seconds that you need to make an addition or correct something.

Gmail developers were gracious enough to make this feature stunningly easy to use. In the new Gmail, the setting is found in the General menu, and you can select what time interval you’d like to have as a buffer between you and humiliation (5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds).

undo send

What you’re doing wrong

If you didn’t know Undo Send existed, you could be forgiven for not enabling it—but now, there’s no excuse. Thankfully, Undo Send is enabled by default in the new Gmail, but if you didn’t know it existed, you might have been oblivious to the prompts that could have saved your ass in emails past.

You might also be giving yourself too little time. By default, you’ll be given 5 seconds to retrieve a mistakenly sent email, but that’s barely enough time to realize a mistake, let alone jump on the mouse fast enough to hit “Undo” in time. My guess is that 5-second timeframe leads to a lot of broken hearts.

The only other way to use this setting correctly is to rely on it as a safety net. If you know it’s there, you might start engaging in more reckless email behavior; you might skip proofreading, or start drafting your emails faster, knowing you can always call them back in a pinch. This type of behavior makes it more likely for you to send embarrassing or “bad” emails, though, even if the button prevents a few of them.

What to do instead

Now that you know the setting exists, and you’re equipped to use it, you’re already halfway to using it properly. Head to the Settings menu to give yourself a full 30 seconds to respond, then maintain your habits as if the button doesn’t exist—that way you only rely on it as a last resort.

9. Tasks.

Did you know that Gmail has its own built-in task list, which you can use to manage your to-dos? It’s easy to miss, but hard to stop using once you know how to use it properly.

How it works

The functionality in Gmail’s task list is pretty basic; you can create a new task at any point by clicking on the checkmark icon in the right-hand icons menu, then clicking “Add a task.” Gmail will keep tabs on all your tasks as you complete them, which you can do by clicking the open circle and turning it into a checkmark.

Tasks

By clicking on the arrow next to “My List,” you can also create new lists, which you can then use to organize your tasks by urgency or relevance.

My list of tasks

You can even click on the vertical ellipse at the top of any message to have it automatically added to your task list.

Add New Tasks

What you’re doing wrong

So how are people using this feature incorrectly?

  • Using tasks inconsistently. I’m not going to tell you that you need to be using this; it’s not a must-have feature, the way Undo Send is. But if you’re using tasks inconsistently, you’ll set yourself up for disaster. Sometimes using tasks and sometimes forgetting about them is going to leave you with uncompleted tasks sitting idle, and a cluttered mess of completed-but-not-documented tasks you’ll eventually have to clean up.
  • Relying on multiple note-taking apps. If you use another note-taking or task list app, like Evernote or Todoist, it’s not a good idea to keep two task lists open in two different apps. This can result in confusion and lost threads of information.
  • Failing to categorize with lists. Gmail gives you the ability to customize your own lists of tasks for a reason. If you’re not utilizing that functionality, it’s going to be much harder for you to stay organized.
  • Manually entering all your tasks. Manually creating a new task may only take a few seconds to a minute, but over the course of a few hundred emails, all that time adds up. There’s simply no need for manual entry if you’re tying tasks to existing emails.

What to do instead

Keep your focus on one task list-making or note-taking app, and stay organized by creating multiple lists and sub-lists. Then, make sure you create a consistent process to follow, and save time by relying on automation as much as possible.

10. Stars and Marks.

Stars and marks are two different ways you can mark up the individual emails in your inbox, both for your own reference and to support Gmail’s ability to learn from your habits. But if you’re like most people, you’re only marginally aware of the capabilities here.

How it works

Next to each email in your inbox, you’ll see a star and a chevron. When you click on either of these symbols, by default, it will become colored a yellow-gold. The star indicates “starred” emails, while the chevron indicates “important” emails.

“important” emails

However, you can take things a step further in Gmail’s Settings. There, you’ll be able to give yourself access to multiple symbols you can use to indicate various elements of your emails; you can toggle which symbols are in use at any time, including stars of different colors, and miscellaneous block-based symbols.

Stars Lists

Once you’ve been marking and starring your emails, you can find a cluster of all the emails you’ve marked this way in their respective sections in the left-hand menu:

Important Tasks

What you’re doing wrong

So how are you using this feature incorrectly?

  • Using stars and marks interchangeably. Stars and marks exist as separate types of markups for a reason. If you’re using them interchangeably, you’re missing the main point—helping you categorize your inbox consistently. If and when you sort your emails by which ones have been marked, you’ll end up confused, and could miss some important messages.
  • Failing to “teach” Gmail consistently. You should also know that Gmail uses your pattern of marking emails to determine how to mark or sort incoming emails in the future. If you consistently mark emails as important when they come from the same contact, or when they use the word “meeting notes,” it will learn to mark those incoming emails automatically in the future. The more consistent you are, the better Gmail can learn and adapt to your habits, so if you’re not employing your methodology reliably, it could make the system less efficient.
  • Not using stars and marks in conjunction with filters. One of the best perks of this organizing system is its ability to help you quickly and automatically refine your inbox views. If you aren’t using filters to help you automatically mark and sort your emails into various folder-like segments of your inbox, you’re missing half the benefits.
  • Using only the default symbols. The default stars and markers you’ll find in Gmail are helpful, but they’re not the ideal selection for everyone. Gmail offers many different styles and colors to choose from, so you can find the ideal combination for your role, email volume, and industry. Spend some time experimenting with different combinations, and settle on the selection that best caters to your needs.

What to do instead

If you want to make the most of this system, you need to customize it so that it works for you, specifically. Make sure you understand all the ways you can put this system to use, then find a system that aligns with your needs. Map each type of mark to a different element, whether it’s a type of contact, a level of urgency, or a category of responsibility, and start using them consistently for every email that comes in.

11. Gmail Labs/Advanced Settings.

Google engineers are tinkerers by nature. They like to experiment with new apps and new features, which is why you notice significant updates to Google’s search algorithm every few months.

Before incorporating new Gmail features into the mainstream version of the app, Google researchers offer beta versions of the features in a tucked-away corner of the Settings menu. It used to be called Gmail Labs, but now, you’ll find it under Advanced Settings.

How it works

By default, your Advanced Settings will all be disabled. These features aren’t a part of the main app, but you can toggle them on, individually, if you want the features to be present.

Gmail Labs

Each feature works a little differently. Under each option, you’ll find a brief description of how the item works, but in practice, some of them come with a steep learning curve.

Options like Auto-advance, Preview pane, Right-side chat, and Unread message icon are fairly straightforward. Canned Responses and Custom keyboard shortcuts depend entirely on you; you can create your own templates and shortcuts to make the Gmail experience more convenient and accessible. Multiple Inboxes can be difficult to learn and manage, in part because the title is misleading; essentially you’ll be creating custom categories for your emails based on specified parameters, so you can quickly jump between email groups.

You should also note that the features available in Advanced Settings are always changing. If Google finds that one feature isn’t being used as intended, or if it’s too buggy for the average user, it may remove the feature entirely. Conversely, you might find a new Gmail feature added without announcement or warning, or it might make its way to mainstream Gmail settings (which is exactly what happened to Undo Send).

What you’re doing wrong

So how are you using these features incorrectly?

For starters, if you haven’t stumbled upon the Advanced Settings yet, you might not be using any of them; and if that’s the case, you’ll be missing out on serious potential.

However, you can also make the following mistakes:

  • Enabling everything. If you’re like me, the first time you opened the Advanced Settings menu, you felt like a kid in a candy store. Just when you thought you’d become a Gmail master, here are all these new features to play with, each of which can save you time or make you more productive. But the temptation here, to enable all these features at once, can be problematic. If you turn everything on at once, you won’t have time to acquaint yourself with the functionality of each feature individually, which means you’ll be likely to use them wrong (or neglect using them altogether). On top of that, since these features aren’t fully fleshed out, they increase your risk of encountering bugs or malfunctions in the app. Turning them all on can greatly increase your risks.
  • Creating too many custom options. If you find yourself creating custom shortcuts, it’s easy to go hogwild, thinking up every possible combination of keys that could save you time in the future. The same is true with creating custom inboxes, or any other Advanced Setting that affords you more flexibility for customization. Unfortunately, spending too much time on these creations is usually a waste. At best, you won’t have the memory to utilize these new customizations in real-time, and at worst, you’ll start accessing them by mistake, costing you more time every day.
  • Failing to evaluate each feature’s productivity. Even if you’re enabling each feature one by one, it’s easy to assume that every feature is going to objectively improve your productivity. However, that may not be the case. Some features may be a distraction, and others may only make it seem like you’re more productive, failing to save you time or overcomplicating processes that were originally simple and easy to approach.

What to do instead

Take your time trying out each of the features in Advanced Settings, and don’t assume that something’s going to make you more productive just because it sounds like it will. There’s significant potential to be found in Advanced Settings, but that doesn’t mean every feature is a magical way to improve your productivity.

12. Calendar and Keep Integrations.

Google Calendar and Google Keep are apps distinct from Gmail, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of them within the Gmail interface. With the latest version of Gmail, you can utilize their features with a click, without ever leaving the comfortable Inbox view you’re familiar with.

How it works

By default, the Calendar icon is featured at the top of the right-side icon menu, and the Keep icon is directly beneath it.

Google Calendar and Google Keep

You can click on either one to bring up a section dedicated to the functionality of each app.

With the Calendar app, you can quickly view any events you have scheduled with Google Calendar, add emails or other new events to your schedule, and review your notifications so you never miss a meeting.

With the Keep app, you can quickly create new notes, add descriptions, organize notes into different categories, and access any notes you’ve taken with other devices or other iterations of the app.

What you’re doing wrong

Overall, these apps are straightforward, but there are a few key ways you’re likely misusing them:

Manually entering every new item. It may only take a minute or two to enter some new information into your Keep notes, or to add a new event to your calendar, but you’re wasting time with that manual entry when you could be adding new information automatically. If you click on the vertical ellipses in any message, you can automatically add a new event to your calendar. And if you’re using Keep on a mobile device or in its Chrome extension, you can use speech-to-text to record your new notes for you.

add a new event to your calendar

Exclusively relying on the Inbox view. Accessing Calendar and Keep via the right-hand menu is convenient, but it isn’t always the best interface. Both apps feature an icon that can let you quickly open a new tab, so you have access to their full functionality.

Exclusively relying on the Inbox view

  • Only using one device. I’m not here to tell you that you should switch over to using exclusively Google products, but if you’re going to rely on Calendar and Keep regularly, you might as well get them installed on multiple devices. That way, you can have access to your meetings and notes no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
  • Relying on default notifications. Reminders and notifications are useful, whether you use them to get ready for upcoming meetings or remind yourself about an important to-do item. However, if you’re only using default notifications, you’re missing out. Google allows you to customize those notifications based on time and notification format, so you can get the right type of message at the right time (and never miss an important event).

What to do instead

You don’t need to use Keep to get the full Gmail experience, but it’s a helpful way to write reminders to your future self. As for Google Calendar, there’s no better way to stay on top of your upcoming events, especially if Gmail is your main app for work. I encourage you to at least try both, and make sure you’re relying on automation, reminders, and alternate views to use these apps as efficiently as possible.

13. Extensions and Add-ons.

Calendar and Keep are just two of the extensions, add-ons, and apps you can use to enhance or extend Gmail’s functionality. Thanks to the new Gmail’s additional support, you can add a whole string of icons to your right-hand menu, and integrate even more valuable services so you can get the most out of the platform.

How it works

The possibilities here are truly endless.

There are productivity and organizational add-ons, like Todoist, which help you sort your emails and better manage your tasks. There are automation-related add-ons, like Boomerang, which takes care of tasks that might otherwise require your manual attention. Then there are analytics add-ons, like EmailAnalytics, which helps you measure your email productivity, and identify areas of email management that need improvement.

For the most part, these add-ons are free or inexpensive, and even if they cost money, they usually come with a free trial. Many offer a browser extension or independent service, but some can be installed in that right-hand Inbox menu, so you can access their functionality without leaving the Gmail app. In any case, these apps rely on data from your Gmail account to help you email faster, more efficiently, or more professionally.

What you’re doing wrong

So how are you using these extensions incorrectly?

There are too many add-ons and extensions to address individually, but if you aren’t using any add-ons to improve your Gmail experience, I can already tell you you’re making a mistake. You may also run the risk of bogging your Gmail app down with too many integrations, or using individual add-ons inefficiently (usually due to not properly understanding how they’re supposed to work). Since there are so many add-ons to choose from here, it really boils down to a case-by-case basis.

What to do instead

Spend some time looking up the best extensions for your needs, and experiment with them until you find the right combination for your position. Then, get yourself involved in the community; chances are, your add-on will have a dedicated group of users who are more than willing to share tips and advice on how to use that add-on effectively. Work on maximizing your efficiency with one app at a time, mastering your skills, before moving on to the next one.

Staying Up-to-Date

Google likes to keep its products fresh, updating them constantly with new security features, benefits, and UI design changes. These settings are some of the most commonly misused (and most commonly missed altogether) at the time of this writing, but in just a year or two, there may be new settings that can revolutionize how you work. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to keep your apps updated, and pay close attention to any new updates or features that Google announces.

For our part, we want to make life as easy as possible for Gmail’s millions of users. That’s why we keep Email Analytics constantly updated, and give users an analytics interface on par with the simplicity of the core Gmail app. If you’re interested in learning more about how productively you’re using email, make sure to sign up for a free trial of our platform, or keep reading the EmailAnalytics blog for more insights and tips!

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