Oops. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. You sent out an email with some key missing component or critical error. Maybe it was something simple, like a missing attachment. Maybe it was something more socially mortifying, like calling your boss by the wrong name. Or maybe you did something truly embarrassing and used reply all when you meant to reply to one person.
In any case, you sent an email in Gmail and instantly regretted it. Now’s not the time to panic. Breathe deep. How do you unsend an email in Gmail?
If you’re not aware of the functionality, it may seem like grasping at straws, but yes, there really is a way. Here’s how to unsend an email in Gmail.
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How to Unsend an Email in Gmail (Desktop)
There’s a built-in feature of Gmail that enables you to unsend emails in Gmail that you’ve already sent out, but there’s a catch; it only works on emails you’ve just sent out. In other words, if you sent out an email an hour ago and you’re desperately looking for a way to get it off the screen of the person you sent it to, I’m afraid you’re too late.
You can, however, reduce your stress and prepare your Gmail account for future errors by enabling the feature right now. The feature itself is called Undo Send, and it does exactly what you think it does: it gives you the chance to recall an email you sent too quickly, or by mistake.
To enable this feature, head to the Settings menu in Gmail. Under the General tab, a few lines down, you’ll find the Undo Send option.
It will be enabled by default, but you’ll have the option to choose the “cancellation period” you have to undo a sent email. These periods are 5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds. I recommend you give yourself the most breathing room by opting for 30 seconds (that’s what I have mine set to).
Then, after sending any email, you’ll receive a “Message sent” notification in the bottom-left corner of your screen (on the desktop version). You’ll have the option to “cancel” and dismiss the notification, or the option to “Undo.” If you click undo before the time limit is up, the message will never reach the inbox of your intended recipient. You’ll have plenty of time to revisit the message and polish it to perfection if you wish to send it again.
I recommend you experiment with this feature before relying on it completely. Become familiar with where the notification pops up, and how to click “Undo” so you can retrieve the message successfully.
How to Unsend an Email in the Gmail App (iPhone and Android)
If you use the iPhone or Android Gmail app, the unsend option is also available. When you send an email, you’ll notice a small bar at the bottom of the the screen with an “Undo” option. Click that before it disappears, and your email won’t be sent. But be quick! You only have 7 seconds to undo the send before the option disappears. There is no way to increase the undo send time period in the iOS or Android Gmail app, unfortunately.
Are There Other Options to Unsend an Email in Gmail?
Are there any other options for unsending an email in Gmail?
That depends on what your goals are, and how proactively you act. If you’re more interested in making the email self-destruct (so it can’t be read by prying eyes, or read after a certain date), you can use Gmail’s built-in “confidential mode,” a key way to improve your privacy and email security.
To access this, click the lock-and-clock icon at the bottom of your Compose message window. There, you’ll have two main options. First, you can set an expiration for the email; this will allow you to dictate how and when the email self-destructs. With this option, you can ensure the email is inaccessible to your recipient after a specified amount of time has passed.
Second, you can require a passcode to access the email, so you can verify that only your intended recipient can read the email. If you choose this option, your recipient will receive a unique verification code via SMS text so they can confirm their identity before reading the message.
Of course, these options are only effective if you choose to use them in advance.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of having sent an embarrassing or problematic email without having used these options, you have a bigger problem on your hands. There aren’t many options available to you at this point, short of staging some elaborate heist or hacking into your recipient’s email account (which we don’t recommend, by the way).
Best Practices to Avoid Having to Unsend an Email in Gmail
Of course, even if you do have the Undo Send feature enabled, you shouldn’t rely on that as your primary way of avoiding embarrassment. Instead, you should follow some best practices to ensure that every email you send out is worthy of receipt; it’s best to avoid sending an errant email in the first place rather than worrying about having to unsend an email in Gmail.
For example, I recommend you learn the basics of email etiquette, and follow them consistently. I also recommend you get in the habit of proofreading every email you send out, well in advance of actually sending it. Once you get in this habit, it will be second nature to you, and you’ll reliably review every email draft in detail before you dream of clicking the send button. The hard part is proofreading consistently if you’re not used to doing it.
If you’re interested in improving your email habits even further, consider signing up for EmailAnalytics. It’s a comprehensive analytics tool for Gmail that can give you insights into your own email habits, including how often you send emails, how long it takes you to read and write them, and what your busiest days and hours are. After reviewing a few reports, you’ll learn which habits of yours require the most improvements, giving you a blueprint for how to perfect your approach to email.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.