32 Gmail Hacks to Own Your Inbox

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Productivity : 12 min read

32 Gmail Hacks to Own Your Inbox

It’s easy to confuse Gmail with other email providers. After all, how much can you really do with email besides send and receive messages?

But here’s the thing:

Gmail isn’t just a great communication platform. It’s a powerhouse of productivity, too.

When you think about the kinds of things you waste time on during your workday, how many of them could be improved by flipping a switch in Gmail that says:

“Don’t bother me with notifications right now.”

Or:

“Automatically move these kinds of messages into this folder.”

Or even:

“Copy this contact’s details into my CRM.”

There are tons of Gmail hacks that enable you to do things like that… and much more.

Whether you’re working solo with Gmail or with a team in G Suite, there’s a lot this email platform has to offer in terms of productivity.

Let’s dig into 32 hacks that you can turn on in Gmail right now.

1. Improve your focus by choosing a theme.

Take a look at your personal and professional devices. Does your smartphone screen have a custom image on it? Have you skinned your desktop with a calming or inspiring photo or color palette?

It might not seem like a big deal, but your work environment—physical or digital—can have a big impact on how productive you are or how calm and happy you feel.

If you haven’t done this yet, go to Gmail’s Settings widget (the gear icon in the top-right corner of your email) and take a look at the available themes:

gmail themes

Does a striking cityscape inspire you to work harder?

gmail cityscape theme

Does a cheery color instantly put you in a better mood?

gmail yellow theme
Hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

There are a couple dozen themes to choose from here. If you’re not feeling them, that’s fine too—upload your own photo, design, or splash of color.

2. Focus on the right messages by designing the right inbox layout.

Once you’ve settled on a theme, take some time to design the inbox itself.

Go to your Settings widget and click on “Configure inbox”:

how to configure gmail inbox

When Gmail updated its design a couple years ago, it broke the inbox up into tabs:

gmail inbox division settings

This way, messages that you’ve subscribed to, but don’t necessarily need to see during the workday are split off into other tabs, leaving you to focus on your primary messages:

gmail design

Here’s an example of the kinds of messages you might not want to be distracted by when you’re trying to work:

inbox organization using tabs in gmail

For those of you who don’t like the tabbed layout of Gmail, there’s another option to consider:

no tab view in gmail

This is the legacy layout of Gmail, which is nothing more than a tab-less design. To get this layout, simply uncheck the other tabs under the “Configure inbox” setting. Then, all messages flow directly into your inbox, which means you’ll have to find your own system for organization.

configuring gmail tabs

3. Organize and prioritize messages with labels and colors.

In many cases, Gmail’s organizational tabs won’t be enough to keep a professional inbox organized. Instead, you’ll want to use Labels.

To start, clean up the labels Gmail automatically starts all users with. You can do this under Settings > Labels or under “Manage labels” on the folder sidebar:

managing labels in gmail

From here, you can choose to do the following to each folder:

  • Show
  • Hide
  • Show if unread

For folders you absolutely don’t need to see (like Spam), go ahead and hide them. For folders you need to see when something requires your attention (like an incomplete Draft), show them if unread.

It’s also a good idea to create your own labels. This way, you can better organize the folders that remain seen on the sidebar.

You could create folders for:

  • Clients
  • Project types
  • Project progress / phase / status
  • Departments
  • Team members

It really just depends on where the logical divisions between your emails exist.

Don’t be afraid to apply some color to draw attention to different types of emails/folders either:

gmail color coding labels

When you hover over any Gmail folder (ones you created or ones that were already there) and click the three little dots, Gmail gives you the option to apply a label color.

You could use color to give each type of email a recognizable label. You could also use it based on urgency, say if emails from a certain person or company are always a top priority:

color coding categories in gmail

The colors you’ve applied to the folders will then be applied to any emails that contain the same label. For instance:

gmail labels for email categories

This example also shows you how to use Gmail’s star system to call out emails of importance. This is a good idea if you want to use your inbox to organize the order in which you tackle certain communications or projects.

More on that in the next Gmail hack…

4. Make sure you see priority messages first by auto-sorting your inbox.

Using labels, colors, and stars will help you better organize and focus on the items that need your attention. You can also tell Google to sort your inbox a certain way, too.

If your inbox is long and unwieldy, you’ll no longer have to sift through pages of messages to locate the labeled messages you need to work on.

Instead, go to Settings > Inbox and choose your preferred Inbox type:

how to sort gmail inbox

You can sort your inbox based on:

  • Importance (make sure to enable the “Importance markers” below)
  • Read status
  • Stars
  • Priority

Choose the option that works best with how you prefer to indicate which items are open and require action.

For example, the star system is an easy way to get organized if all you have to do is mark messages as “priority” and “non-priority.” Here’s how that would look:

inbox organization in gmail

Gmail now divides up your inbox for you, where all starred items go to the top and everything else goes down below.

5. Manage all your email from one account.

Do you have a number of Gmail accounts that you want to keep an eye on during the day? Gmail lets you import as many emails as you want — and from different email providers, too:

merging mail in gmail

In the example above, you can see that there’s a Gmail address and a branded domain address that exist in the account.

Not only does this allow you to manage messages from both accounts in one place, but it also lets you do this:

customizing from field in gmail

So long as you remember to choose the right identity when you email someone, you won’t have to worry about a client messaging you at your personal email address or a personal contact sending something to your business inbox when you’re not checking it.

6. Hands-free sort your inbox by using filters.

Filters are a useful tool in Gmail. And there are two reasons why you should use them:

  1. To save time dragging and dropping messages all around Gmail.
  2. To keep your inbox clear and distraction-free until a designated time of the day when you can attend to unread messages in your folders.

To add a new filter, go to Settings > Filters and Blocked Addresses:

gmail filters

When you click “Create a new filter,” this pop-up will appear:

first step to creating filters in gmail

You can get as narrow as you want with filtering, though it might be best to use one field at a time.

For example, let’s say you want all messages from john.cue@gmail.com to automatically go into your Meeting Notes project folder. All you need to do is add his email address to the “From” field.

Then, on the next page, you’d apply the filter settings:

  • Skip the Inbox
  • Apply the label
creating a filter in gmail

If you’re using a new filter to clean up your inbox, don’t forget to check off “Also apply filter to __ matching messages”. That’ll save you time in having to move them all manually.

Another time-saving trick is to create a filter from an open email:

creating email filters in gmail

You’ll still see the same filter settings pop-up. However, it will be pre-populated with the sender’s email address, which means one less thing you have to search for or type out.

7. Preview your messages by turning on snippets.

Under General > Settings, Gmail gives you the option to show or hide message snippets:

how to show snippets in gmail

While Gmail compares snippets to previews you see for web pages in Google search, it’s not really the same thing.

This is what email snippets look like:

gmail snippets in inbox view

Depending on the length of the subject line, you might not see much at all of the snippet. Even then, will it help you decide whether or not to open the message now or later? That’s for you to decide.

This is what your inbox would look like without snippets:

seeing gmail without snippets

If you find the additional snippet text unnecessary or even overwhelming, this option is probably best for you.

8. Make a strong impression with a custom signature.

Your email isn’t just a tool for messaging. You can use your emails to do some marketing, too.

Under Settings > General, you’re given a space to design a custom signature for each of the email addresses you manage from this account:

design signature creation in gmail

Don’t let this opportunity go to waste—make sure your signature looks just as professional as the rest of your company branding does.

Include a logo (when it makes sense to). Promote an upcoming event, content, or a place to connect on social. Or just give them a way to get in touch or schedule a call with you.

9. Get more done in Gmail by integrating with other software.

Gmail integrates with tons of software. Installation of these apps takes no more than a few clicks from the Settings > Add-ons tab:

gmail add-on selection

Under “Get add-ons,” you’ll find a wealth of options to choose from. Project management tools (that designers love) like Asana let you instantly create tasks from email:

asana gmail add-on

Video conferencing software like Zoom let you start, schedule, or view meetings:

zoom gmail add-on

CRM software like Copper lets you instantly create new contacts from open messages (more on how it works below):

copper crm add-on in gmail

There’s a whole lot more you can do with add-ons, like install email tracking, connect to Dropbox, sync with Slack, sign documents, create email marketing templates, and more.

See the integration in action.

10. Sync your CRM with Gmail.

Some CRMs, like Copper, have powerful Gmail integrations that can seriously upgrade your productivity if you regularly work out of your inbox.

One of the neat things it does is sync your Gmail to the CRM (automatically, if you sign up for Copper with a Gmail account).

To learn more about how Copper syncs up with your G Suite apps, just go to your Settings in Copper and select "Google Sync Settings." As you can see below, you can sync Copper tasks right to your Google Calendar, and even create custom Google Slides presentations by pushing data from contact and opportunity records in Copper!

copper crm's gmail integration

Here’s how contact-adding (mentioned back in #29) works: when you have a message open in Gmail and activate the Copper add-on (the “C” logo on the sidebar), you'll see a list of the people in the email exchange.

When there’s a new contact, you’ll see a plus-sign by their name along with a “New Contact” label:

adding a gmail contact to crm address book with copper

Copper then gives you a choice to add them as a lead, or just as a contact to your CRM address book:

adding a contact directly in copper crm while in gmail

There’s no need to log into Copper to do this either. The Gmail integration captures all of the pertinent details and sends them over to Copper.

Not only that, but the Copper add-on scans your email and brings copies of exchanges you’ve had with the contact into the CRM. That way, you have a full record of your communication history stored there, too.

11. Send Gmail emails from a contact’s page in your CRM

Another thing to know about Copper is that it allows users to email their contacts (leads, coworkers, vendors, etc.) from within the CRM:

emailing leads from within copper crm using gmail
Because it’s connected to your Gmail address, the message goes out just the same as it would if you're emailing from Gmail directly.

You can also bulk email groups of people from within Copper.

Just go to your list of People or Leads, click on all the people you want to message, and then choose “Compose Bulk Email":

how to compose a bulk email in copper crm and gmail

This will open a pop-up where you can create one message for all recipients. In this case, we're sending to two recipients, the first of whom is Arya:

composing a bulk email in copper crm

If you feel like tweaking the message for each recipient, just scroll through the recipients’ messages and make your changes there.

12. Access your CRM from inside Gmail.

Another neat trick you can use if you’re a Gmail and Copper user is to install Copper's Gmail browser extension.

This Chrome extension conveniently adds Copper's panel to your inbox like this:

copper crm's gmail extension

Now, you no longer have to leave Gmail to gather information about leads you’re messaging. It’s like putting an entire CRM into your Gmail inbox.

13. Use keyboard shortcuts to quickly write and style emails.

Keyboard shortcuts aren’t just useful when creating content in Google Drive, they’re useful when composing messages in Gmail too.

When you type “?” in Gmail, this screen appears to remind you of available keyboard shortcuts:

keyboard shortcuts in gmail

You can do a lot to control every aspect of your emails, from the Sender/Recipient fields to how you style the text of your messages.

14. Use right-click to work even faster.

Just like anything else, the more emails and folders you have in Gmail, the longer it takes to do things like move a file from the inbox to a folder that’s deeply buried on the sidebar.

You can bypass all of that hunting around by using the right-click function:

right click in gmail

Right-click isn’t just useful for moving or labeling files. You can instantly reply and forward messages, snooze them until you’re ready to deal with them, or open them in the browser.

Pro-tip

🚀 your productivity.

Learn more about how to use a CRM to take thousands of tasks off your plate with this free handbook.

15. Make Gmail speak your language.

If you’d like to use a different language than the default one Gmail has assigned you, you can change this under Settings > General:

gmail language settings

Simply choose the new language you want Gmail to display your messages in.

Note, however, that this will change the language settings across all your Google products. If all you need to do is translate a message on a one-time basis, look for an add-on to do it for you.

16. Use spell-check instead of hitting up the dictionary.

It doesn’t matter how much of a rush you’re in to get a message out, even if it’s internally. Your emails are your digital voice and face.

You wouldn’t show up to work with disheveled hair or mismatched socks, right? An email riddled with spelling or grammatical errors gives off just as bad of an impression.

To use spell-check on a message, locate the “More options” (aka. the three dots) icon next to the trash:

where to check spelling in gmail

When you’re done composing your message, click “Check spelling.” It will run through your message and highlight anything that’s questionable or incorrect:

spellcheck in gmail

Click on the highlighted spots to correct your errors and clean up your message. Then, you can confidently click the “Send” button.

17. Let Gmail put words in your mouth with “Smart” features.

Gmail has been in the email game for a long time. As you can imagine, it’s seen enough messages and replies to predict what people will say in certain situations.

From the Settings > General tab, configure Smart Compose:

configuring smart compose in gmail

With this feature enabled, Google will provide suggestions on what the rest of your sentence will look like. For example:

smart compose in gmail

If you want to commit to the change, hit the “Tab” key and Google will instantly complete the sentence. If you don’t want to commit to it, just keep typing.

There’s another autocomplete tool you should configure from the General Settings tab:

configuring autocomplete settings in gmail

Smart Reply gives you even less to do when responding to messages in Gmail.

When you open a new message, you can either hit the “Reply” button to write your own response. Or, if all that’s needed is a short reply, pick from one of Google’s Smart Replies at the bottom:

google smart reply example in gmail

That’ll save you the trouble of opening and responding to an email that shouldn’t take more than a second or two.

18. Clean up your inbox by ungrouping emails.

Similar to snippets, Gmail’s Conversation View is a setting that may work for some users but not for others.

You’ll find this setting under the Settings > General tab:

how to turn on conversation view in gmail

When activated, it bundles together all replies in a chain:

conversation view in gmail

Only the initial message appears. Then, all responses get tucked under it. This definitely leads to a cleaner and more manageable inbox.

However, the tradeoff is that you have to be diligent about reading all the way through the chain of messages to make sure you don’t miss anything:

grouped emails in gmail

If you tend to have lengthy back-and-forths with clients or teams, this could be problematic and make you miss an important part of the exchange.

Again, it’s up to you to decide how to best stay organized.

19. Change your mind? Activate Undo.

Ever hit the “Send” button and instantly regretted it? Maybe you forgot to attach a file or you left out a critical instruction. Whatever happened, you now have to scramble to send out a corrected email and apologize for the error.

Which is why the Undo feature is such an awesome feature.

Located under Settings > General, you can tell Gmail how long of a grace period to give you to hit the “Undo” button on a message:

undo settings in gmail

Once this is set up, you’ll see the following in the bottom-left corner of Gmail whenever you send a message:

undoing email sends in gmail

Undo can be used for other actions in Gmail, too:

undoing other actions in gmail

So, if you incorrectly move or label a message and decide you want to reverse the action, you can use the Undo button that appears below.

20. Insert files directly from Drive.

While you have quick-sharing capabilities both from Drive and from Google Docs, you might not have thought to share the doc or capture the link that while you were there.

Rather than backtrack to retrieve the link, just add the file to your email with this button in your message toolbar:

add google drive into gmail

Locate the file from your folders and watch it drop into your message like this:

embedding google docs in gmail

21. Protect sensitive info with Confidential Mode.

Perhaps you’re sending a new employee their login credentials or you’re sending sensitive financial details to your accountant. Whatever it is, Confidential Mode would be useful for protecting the content of your message.

You can access Confidential Mode from your message toolbar:

setting up confidential mode in gmail

You’ll see the following security and expiration options:

confidential mode in gmail

By default, anyone who receives one of these messages won’t be able to forward copy, print, or download them.

You can also use the expiration date and passcode to add further layers of protection.

22. Step away from a convo where you’re not needed using Mute.

BCC is a useful function to keep someone in the loop about what’s going on without bringing them to the forefront of a conversation.

But let’s say you’re overseeing a team and simply want to know when a deliverable goes out to the client. However, the sender puts you in the CC field instead of BCC. If there are follow-up exchanges from that initial email, you could end up on a chain that does nothing but clog up your inbox.

If that happens, you don’t need to ask the sender to remove you from the CC field in the next response. Simply open your message options and select “Mute”:

muting convos in gmail

This won’t remove you from the chain, but it'll hide all further emails from your sight.

To see them again, just go to the Archive folder where the copies live.

23. Create tasks from Gmail messages.

Do you use Google’s Tasks tool? If so, Gmail has a great shortcut for this. When you have a message open that you want to convert into a task or reminder, click on more options above and select “Add to Tasks":

add tasks from gmail

The Tasks sidebar will pop out from the right side of the screen and a task will automatically be created based on what Google finds in your message.

In this case, it noticed that the message mentioned deliverables, so it copied the relevant text into the task. It also attached the corresponding email to the task for future reference.

24. Easily create events from messages.

You can use a similar shortcut from open messages to create related events:

creating an event from gmail

When you select “Create event”, the toolbar isn’t going to open though. Instead, a brand new event in Google Calendar will open in a different tab.

Like tasks generated from messages, Calendar will auto-populate details from your message into the event:

autopopulating gcal events from gmail

You’re free to customize the details or you can let Google handle it for you.

What’s especially nice about this is that the original email is pasted into the notes field so you won’t need to go back-and-forth between your calendar reminder and the original email. Everything’s right there.

25. Quickly find lost emails using search filters.

No matter how much organizing you do of your inbox, there are going to be times where you need help finding a message. Maybe you accidentally filed it in the wrong place or maybe you remember the basic gist of the message but not what the subject line said.

That’s when you’d use Gmail search.

Search on its own is a useful Gmail tool. However, you can use advanced search filters to help you narrow down the results:

gmail advanced search

For example, you know you had spoken to your boss about the conference you two are attending in the fall. You know she sent you a list of hotels to book, but you can’t remember which email those details were in.

Using the filters above, you could enter her email address into the “From” field and include something like “book” or “hotels” in the “Has the words” field.

As you become more acquainted with how the filters work in advanced search, you can actually bypass the screen above with this:

search tags in gmail

“in:trash” is what you’d type to search through your Trash folder. “Reservation” is the keyword you’d be looking for.

You can also search for someone’s email address, name, and so on—and you can do this with all of your folders. Just make sure the structure of your request looks like the above.

26. Let your browser tab tell you there are unread messages.

For some of you, you can’t afford to miss a new message or to sit on it for too long. Like if you monitor support or customer service requests. Or if you manage client relationships or project workflows.

One way to stay on top of your inbox is by enabling the unread message count in your browser tab. You’ll find this under Settings > Advanced:

unread gmail messages under settings

When enabled, the total of unread messages in your inbox will appear in your open Gmail browser tab:

gmail notifications in browser

Keep in mind that if you use filters to automatically move emails out of your inbox, this number won’t reflect that. This is only a count of items in the Inbox.

27. Get notified on your desktop if anything urgent comes up.

Another type of notification you may want to use is the desktop notification for Gmail.

When you first create an account with Gmail, it will prompt you to enable desktop notifications with this pop-up:

enabling desktop notifications for gmail

Even if you say “No thanks,” you can always turn it on later under Settings > General:

desktop notifications for gmail

This is the ideal way to set this up since it allows you to control what exactly will display on your desktop while you’re working.

If you know your inbox is a constant stream of emails, “New mail notifications on” might not be a good idea. Instead, set only important notifications to come through so only the ones deserving of your immediate attention are brought to you.

28. Let Gmail nudge you to follow up.

The inbox can be a tough thing to handle when you have dozens or even hundreds of messages coming through every day. Rather than hope you don’t miss anything, you can tell Google to nudge you.

To turn on Nudges, go to Settings > General:

gmail nudges

Even if you’re not the forgetful type, your clients, vendors, coworkers, bosses, and so on might be.

Gmail can call attention to important emails you haven’t responded to yet, and also remind you to follow up with email recipients who haven't gotten back to you.

29. Save time by creating email templates.

If you send the same kinds of messages over and over again—like quote requests, appointment reminders, and welcome emails—the Canned Responses tool is going to be super useful.

To turn this feature on, go to Settings > Advanced:

enable canned responses in gmail

You’ll now find an option for “Canned Responses” in new messages:

canned responses in gmail

From here, you can:

  • Save the current draft you’ve written as a new template.
  • Populate a blank message with a pre-made response.
  • Delete a template you no longer need.

Just remember to clearly label what each of the canned responses are, so they’re easy to retrieve.

30. Have an easier time delegating by giving your assistant access to your email.

You’ve got to go on vacation or take a sick day at some point, right? If you want to hand control of your inbox over to an assistant or coworker during that time, Gmail makes it easy to do.

Under Settings > Accounts and Import, you’ll find the option to grant access to someone else:

grant gmail access

This allows another user to manage your email account on your behalf.

You can also set a rule for marking messages as read or unread. You'd use this, for example, if you’re giving a coworker access when you’re out sick—you might want to leave conversations unread so you can reference what was done when you return.

Or maybe you’ve hired a virtual assistant and want them to fully manage your inbox. It would be a hassle to always leave everything unread. Just trust them to do what they need to do and let them be marked read.

31. Check and send emails—even when you're offline.

Email is one of the most important tools in business, especially if you’re not in the habit of calling or texting customers and coworkers.

While the Gmail app gives you offline access, you might need offline access if you’re working remotely from your computer:

enabling offline settings in gmail

When you click “Enable offline mail” from Settings > Offline, you can do just that.

32. Pause the inbox craziness with Boomerang.

Email is an interesting thing in business. You want to receive emails because they’re a more convenient way to send and receive information... But you don’t want to be distracted by them.

You could use filters and other organizational tricks to keep email from distracting you during the day. However, you might find that you need something more to keep your gaze from floating over to Gmail.

Boomerang for Gmail is a browser extension and mobile app that allows you to turn your inbox off for a set period of time by hitting "Pause inbox":

pausing gmail inbox with boomerang

That’s not all Boomerang does either.

When you create a new message in Gmail, you have a new toolbar of features to work with:

boomerang toolbar

From this toolbar, you can:

  • Analyze the quality of your message and how “readable” it is.
  • Request a read receipt and track clicks.
  • Schedule your message to go out at a later time.
  • Move the message back into your inbox at a certain time if you don’t get a reply.

Own your inbox (and your workday) with these Gmail hacks.

Who would’ve thought you could simplify so many of the things you do with Gmail?

Not only that, you can unlock a world of new features you might not have otherwise thought were possible from your email platform.

If you’ve ever worried about how much time you spend on email every day or how much of a distraction it’s been, these Gmail hacks will change that. Now go forth and own your inbox!