Gmail Tips: 10 features to try

Kristin Burnham, CIO
5 April, 2011
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How e-mail savvy are you? We’ve sifted through Gmail’s many customization features, from remote sign-out to keyboard shortcuts, to find the best time and aggravation savers.


Remote sign-out


If you used a public computer at a library or checked your e-mail at a friend’s house but forgot to sign out of your account, Gmail has a feature that lets you sign out remotely. At the bottom of your inbox is information about the time and location of the last activity on your account. Click Details to see when your mail was accessed using a Web browser or mobile device, the IP address from which it was accessed, and the location. Click the Sign Out All Other Sessions button to log out.

Opt out of conversation threads

If you’re involved in a message thread where everyone “replies all”, there’s an easy way to opt out: Smart Mute. With Smart Mute, which can be found in Gmail Labs (you can access Gmail Labs through your Gmail settings), conversations will only appear in your inbox if a new message in the conversation is addressed to only you, or if a new e-mail in the conversation adds you to the “To” or “Cc” line. Once you enable Smart Mute, it’ll be active across all versions of Gmail—Web, mobile, etc.

Vacation alert


Going away? Gmail’s out-of-office feature, called Vacation Responder, will automatically send a response when someone e-mails you while you’re away. To activate it, choose the General tab under Mail Settings. Scroll to the bottom and select “Vacation responder on.” Enter the subject of the e-mail you want sent to those who contact you via Gmail, type in a message, set the period of time you will be away and click “Save Changes.”

Keyboard shortcuts


Have a long list of e-mails to get through? Breeze through them faster by enabling Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts. Turn on this setting by visiting your Gmail Settings, then clicking Keyboard Shortcuts On.

Priority Inbox

E-mail overload? Priority Inbox can help. This feature, currently in beta, separates the junk from the important stuff, and organises it to help you focus on the messages that matter. The more you use Priority Inbox—by clicking the yellow (+) button to denote relevant e-mail and the white (-) button to mark it as “everything else”—the smarter the feature gets at recognising which messages it thinks are important to you.

To activate Priority Inbox, go to your Mail settings. Look for the Priority Inbox link at the top and click it. Then under the Show Priority Inbox setting, select Show Priority Inbox. Save the changes. You can then go back into the Priority Inbox setting to customise it.

Create Contact Groups

Rather than entering e-mail addresses for your mother, father and sister when you want to send a message to your family, you can create a “family” group that will include all their e-mail addresses automatically. Click Contacts along the side of your Gmail homepage. Select the contacts that you’d like to add to a new group by clicking the boxes next to the contact names. Select Groups and choose Create New. Then assign a name to the group, and it will appear on the left-side navigation.

Increase security with Advanced Sign-In

Two-step verification is an opt-in security feature that makes your Google account more secure by helping to verify that you’re the real owner. It requires two independent factors for authentication: your password, plus a code obtained using your phone.

To enable it, visit your Account Settings page (not Mail Settings). Under Personal Settings, look for the Security section, click on Using 2-Step Verification, and then follow the steps. Setting up two-step verification can take up to 15 minutes and includes setting up a backup phone and creating backup codes. You’ll be required to enter this code every time you log in to your account.

Grant access to your Gmail account

A new feature, called “e-mail delegation,” lets you grant access to someone (a personal assistant, for example), allowing them to read and respond to your e-mail on your behalf. Find this feature in your Mail Settings under the Accounts and Import tab. Gmail will send a confirmation e-mail to the other user, and once he or she accepts, your helper can access your account and read and reply to e-mails on your behalf.

Chat off the record

When you use Gmail’s chat feature, conversations are automatically stored in your Gmail chat history or the history of your contact. If you’re engaged in a conversation that you don’t want stored or searchable, you can take the conversation “off the record.” Do this by clicking the Actions drop-down menu at the top of the chat window. Select “Go off the record.” Do note that it is possible that people you chat with may still choose to save chat histories in their Gmail settings.

Desktop notifications

(Desktop notifications are only available in the Chrome browser.) If you use Google Chat or have a penchant for checking your e-mail obsessively, Google has made it easier to know when something arrives in your inbox or when you’ve been contacted via Gchat.

To enable Desktop Notifications, visit your Settings and scroll down to Desktop Notifications. Here, choose whether you want to be notified about chat messages. You can also turn on or off mail notifications; if you turn it on, you’ll get a verification message at the top of the Web page.

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