Gmail Hacks, Tips and Tricks
Note: All tips current as of Firefox 9.0.1

You already know that Gmail beats most email providers with its endless customization capabilities, Google product integration, and a fantastic spam filter. Take it to the next level with these Gmail power user tips, add-ons, and plugins. If you'd like to learn more about other email programs, check out the email category at the Web Directory.

1. Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts

If you haven’t already, master the shortcut keys to simplify the way you compose, read, archive, search, and report spam mail. Some of these may be straight forward, like c for compose, but through the shortcut menu you can learn how to navigate and organize your mailbox entirely with your keyboard.

In the same vein, Gmail users eager to simplify their experience with single keystrokes can check out Launchy: a free, open source keyword launcher that runs in your system tray and opens apps with designated keystrokes. Launchy is still “a far cry from Quicksilver for Mac” according to Gina Trapani at Lifehacker, but Adam Pash of Lifehacker says, “I can't recommend it highly enough.” Here is a quick tutorial for one-key Gmail composing through Launchy.

2. Google Code Macros

The Greasemonkey extension for Firefox, familiar to many power users, allows JavaScript functionality on any web page. Piggybacking off of this capability, the generically-named Macros script enables a number of keyboard shortcuts. Some of the shortcuts from the original script have now been implemented in the new Gmail; however, to enable the ones that are no longer functional in this newest version, users only have to install this extension. Those who have not updated to the newest Gmail can find other Greasemonkey scripts still available to enhance the older version.

3. Bookmark Searches and Emails

With the newest version of Gmail, searches are granted their own URLs which can be bookmarked; however, those still operating under the old version, on the fence about the changes, can still generate these “baby” bookmarks for searches through this form, created by Steve Rubel. Meanwhile, all messages in Gmail have URLs, too. While the message is open, simply type CTRL-D to bookmark it.

4. Resize Composition Box

The aptly-named Resizeable Textarea Firefox extension allows you to click and drag the bottom right corner of the text box you’re typing in without resizing your browser window. This add-on will operate not only in Gmail, but also in any forum or discussion board where the textbox is too small for an appropriate response – especially one that you may want to read over before sending. Note that any browser built with the newest web kit will already have this capability. For more browser info, check out the Internet software category.

Resize Composition Box

5. Change Your Inbox Focus

Everyone knows that you can enter tasks, set appointments, and manage your calendar through your Gmail account. Now Chrome and Firefox users alike can install the ActiveInbox plugin in order to optimize Gmail for productivity. Building upon Gmail’s priority inbox feature, this plugin allows you to sort emails according to tasks, set reminders that can be snoozed or dismissed, and create project folders and sub-folders. It also enables a note section on emails for important personal reminders. Additionally, it implements the Previous Conversation Viewer, pulling up a history of emails between you and the sender (or recipient), allowing you to reflect on past comments and respond faster.

6. Streamline Adding Attachments

If you’ve ever sent an important attachment, chances are that you’ve also experienced the embarrassing reply message stating you’ve neglected to attach the aforementioned file. This Greasemonkey script scans all messages for references to attachments including variations such as “attached” or “attachment.” When you click send on a message with such references that is missing an attachment, a prompt will pop up asking you to confirm whether your email is ready to send.

Streamline Adding Attachments

To make matters even simpler, wouldn’t it be great if you could drag files directly into your email? Check out the Firefox extension dragdropupload which allows you to do exactly that if you are running Firefox 3.0 or newer. Once installed, you can simply click and drag the file – or multiple files at once – from a folder or the desktop and drop them onto the “Browse” button to attach.

7. Secure Gmail & Avoid Spam

The Firefox add-on OptimizeGoogle (which is based on an abandoned add-on called CustomizeGoogle) enhances both Google searches and your Gmail experience. Specifically in terms of Gmail, it enables secure browsing in emails and the calendar, hides the counter on your Spam folder, and uses a fixed font for the body of emails. Ultimately, while securing your experience, it provides a cleaner look to your inbox. Meanwhile, when using the search engine, this add-on enables URL previews on sponsored links, removes ads, removes click tracking, and adds a counter to search results among other features. If your primary concern is that irritating and eternally growing Spam counter, however, you may be better off just trying out this Greasemonkey + Firefox script to keep it out of sight.

8. Automate Frequently Repeated Text

Signature functionality is built into Gmail, but frequently typed phrases can be automated with Firefox extension Signature, which allows you to insert designated text with a keystroke. Note that, as of right now, Signature is not yet compliant with Firefox 9.0.1. Also try the Windows app, AutoHotKey, or the Mac app: TypeIt4Me. Both allow you to create keystrokes to automate text in virtually any application.

9. POP3 & IMAP Forwarding

“I recommend using IMAP (where the mail is both on the server and on your local machine(s)/device(s)) and uploading all your email onto Gmail,” writes Mark Wheeler, a Gmail power user. “You can keep copies on the Google servers and your desktop/laptop/phone so that they are all efficiently accessible and available anytime anywhere. Don't have to worry about backups, or disk space...I have 25,000 emails and have only used 9% of my space!”

To upload old email like Mr. Wheeler did, set up a Gmail IMAP account in your desktop email client. In the client, establish folders that correspond to your Gmail labels, and drag and drop your non-Gmail into the folders. If you're using Outlook with .PST format or Outlook Express, you will have to convert or export the emails to mBox data file format before the messages will translate. The process may take some time. Also, the original dates and times attached to the messages will appear in Gmail as the dates and times that the messages were imported into Gmail. Click here for a tutorial from My Digital Life.

10. Mute Conversations

Ever found yourself subscribed to a mailing list and the current conversation has nothing to do with you? If you don’t want to unsubscribe, you can easily stop the friendly spam with the Gmail mute function. Select a message in the thread and hit the m key to auto-archive all incoming messages in the conversation. The thread will stay muted until you un-mute it; it will also un-mute itself if your address appears in the To or CC box.

11. Keep it All in One Place

The Mail Fetcher allows you to add up to five different accounts and then both receive and send via POP3 without logging out of Gmail. Unlike a simple forwarding feature, Mail Fetcher allows synchronization of Gmail actions with the home server. Go to your Gmail Settings and open the Accounts tab, then click Add another mail account. One caveat of sending from non-Gmail accounts: the recipients may see, “FROM [email protected] on behalf of [email protected],” especially if the recipients are using a client like Outlook.

Additionally, users can use Google Toolbar and Gmail together to transform a Gmail account into a massive archive of interests. To do this, simply add the Google toolbar to your browser. When you happen across text or images you want to save, highlight them and click the Send To Gmail link.

12. Gmail/Google Notifier and Desktop Plugin

Tired of constantly refreshing your browser for new notifications, install the Notifier widget to check your email (and Google Calendar, if you're a Mac user). As with almost everything else under the sun, there's also a Firefox extension that will serve the same function (it's not released by Google).

Some users have reported compatibility issues between Google Toolbar, Google Apps and Google Desktop. Everyone's configuration is different, so it's impossible to know, but Maxim Alexeyev created this Google Desktop Plug-In that efficiently replaces Google Notifier for users. The plug-in also offers multi-username functions as well as Google Apps support.

For those trying to force Gmail Notifier to use SSL, this wikihow tutorial involves hex editing. Advanced Mac users with Google Notifier may find this comment on the O’Reilly Mac DevCenter helpful as well.

13. RSS feeds & Podcasts in Gmail

This Greasemonkey + Firefox script will allow your Google Reader RSS feed to appear directly in your mailbox. Google Reader and Gmail seem to be moving closer together in functionality and interface and it's likely that they'll soon be officially integrated.

In the meantime, Gmail users can also turn emails and conversations into a comprehensive RSS feed using this syntax: https://username:[email protected]/gmail/feed/atom. Then sign up for a FeedBurner account to host and distribute it. With an RSS-to-podcast site like or one of the many options at NextUp to create text-to-speech files, users can now listen to their Gmail through an iPod or similar device. This hack is based on a tip from Mike Donaghy. For more information, check out these podcast resources.

14. Inclusive and Exclusive Labels

If you have to do a mailbox-wide search, you may already know what folders and labels to leave exempt. Instead of browsing through hundreds of search results, implement the –label: and +label: syntax to modify your search results to either exclude labels entirely (with the former), or search exclusively in a given label (with the latter). For instance, if you want to avoid your chat conversations, which are automatically filed like emails with a Chat label, add the string -label:Chat before your search terms.

15. Use Gmail as an External Hard Drive

Use up any vegetating space in a Gmail account with this Windows drive shell extension (Mac users should check out gDisk). Your Gmail space will then appear in My Computer as an external drive. When you drag and drop a file to the drive, an email is sent to your Gmail account with the file as an attachment. Note that this is a fairly old program but seems to have been updated for the latest Gmail version.

16. Hack Gmail CSS

If you use multiple Gmail accounts, the Gmail HTML Signatures extension for Firefox + Greasemonkey automates the signature process. Based on the address you’re sending from, this extension will automatically insert HTML-formatted signatures.

Don’t forget: “Stylish is to CSS what Greasemonkey is to JavaScript,” according to the Firefox extension page for Stylish. Cascade those style sheets yourself, or grab them from For more web design tips and tricks, check out these web design and development resources.

17. Better Gmail 2

For an all-in-one solution using Greasemonkey scripts, check out Better Gmail 2. This combines several Greasemonkey scripts into one package. For instance, users can allow HTML in signatures, force a secure connection, convert labels into folders and make the spam folder invisible. This suggestion comes highly recommended from CNet.

18.  Pre-label & Sort Mail

Many email providers allow you to append your address with +something. For instance, you can give all of your OS/2 user group buddies your address as [email protected] The incoming emails about IBM’s late great OS will then be pre-labeled, and you can establish filters to sort them. The +something system also allows you to stop spam before it starts. If inappropriate emails with a designated +something address, you can remove the address. You’ll also be better equipped to determine where the spam got started.

Gina Trapani at Lifehacker suggests sorting your Gmail according to the Trusted Trio system: Follow Up for messages that need a response; Hold for messages you’re waiting on feedback for; and Archive for closed messages you may need to refer to later. Since Gmail has an archive function built-in, Trapani suggests merely creating two labels — Follow Up and Hold; if desired, add numbers to get the two folders to display in the order you’d like. Check out the full explanation of the Trusted Trio system.

19. Emulate a Mail Client & Control Mailto: Scripts

For those who can’t decide between a full-fledged mail client and browser-based Gmail, SimpleMail strikes that perfect balance with a three-paned mail view, which appears to work well with the latest versions of Firefox.

Mailto: links are used on most websites, and typically prompt Outlook or Apple Mail to open as the default mail client regardless of how frequently you use those programs. This Greasemonkey script forces all such scripts to open a new composition window in Gmail.

20. Backup your Gmail

If you’re using a desktop or smartphone mail client, you already have some backups of your email. But what if you’re all web-based? What if Gmail servers were destroyed or damaged? Avoid the frenzy that would inevitably result from such a scenario and check out this Gmail backup tutorial here and the Google Apps backup tips here. Windows users can find a tutorial (for experienced users) for command line Gmail access & nightly backup here.

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