Slideshow

15 add-ons to become a Gmail power user

Many users live their lives in Gmail, all without ever recognising its full potential. These widgets can help.

  • Inbox Type By now you've probably fooled around with Gmail's Priority Inbox, and if you haven't adopted it yet you're crazy (but we've got plenty of other posts on that). If you're on the fence about it, Google has a remedy. You'll find a dropdown next to your Inbox link in your list of Labels that easily lets you switch between inbox types. Experiment with "Unread first," "Starred first," "Important first," or Priority Inbox to find which type of inbox works best for you.
  • Becoming a Gmail Power User Is Easy... All it takes is a few minutes to enable some time-saving add-ons. These add-ons will save you countless steps, clicks, and taps in the future — and make your online life just that much more organized and simple.
  • Create Documents From Emails Enable the option from within Gmail Labs, and a selection appears under the "More" drop-down that allows you to create a Google doc right from within an email. It's basically a glorified shortcut, but it saves several steps to get a document or spreadsheet going right away when an email conversation calls for it. Keyboard shortcuts make the process even easier (more on those later).
  • Add Third-Party Gadgets A small but growing number of third-party developers are producing gadgets for your Gmail inbox. First you'll need to enable "Add any gadget" in Gmail Labs. Then you can add any gadget by grabbing the URL from the developer and adding it under the Gadgets tab in Gmail settings. Realistically, Gmail has limited real estate for gadgets: You can add a dozen, but the constant scrolling required for viewing them defeats the purpose. In addition to Google Calendar, I use the Evernote gadget, as well as an awesome service called Xobni (originally an Outlook add-on) that's currently in closed beta but worth getting on the waiting list for.
  • Smart Mute Abuse of the "CC:" field has cluttered our inboxes with email conversations that we may or may not really care about. Smart mute is exactly what it sounds like — a mute button for email noise. Once you "mute" an email conversation, you'll see it in your inbox again only if you're added to the "To:" or "CC:" field, or if you're the only recipient.
  • Preview Pane The preview pane is a breath of fresh air for refugees from Yahoo and other webmail services in which you're able to read messages without leaving the inbox. Gmail's preview pane gives you a horizontal or vertical "preview" of messages, so you can quickly read through them without leaving your inbox. Still, users who have already tricked out their Gmail with various other add-ons may find the preview pane to be a bit much (also, it doesn't work with some add-ons, such as the one that places your chat window on the right).
  • Keyboard Shortcuts No power user should be without shortcuts, and Gmail has dozens of them. Just enable "Keyboard shortcuts" in Gmail's Settings, and you'll be reporting spam, archiving, and navigating all over your Google account using just a few keystrokes.
  • Preview Almost Anything Want to see Google Maps, Picasa and Flickr photos, Google Docs, Yelp info, and even listen to Google Voice mail directly from inside an email message? This is all possible with previews — though you do have to enable each type of preview individually from within Labs.
  • SMS in Chat Texting charges be damned! When email just isn't quick enough, ping your contacts directly on their mobile phones with an SMS sent from Gmail chat. Plus, it's totally free.
  • Mouse Gestures Gmail mouse gestures have been around for years, and though they never really caught on, they're a great way to make Gmail quicker (if you know how to use them). To turn them on, just enable them via Labs. Then, hold the right mouse button while moving right or left to move through your messages. Moving the mouse up takes you back to your inbox — a great seconds-saver.
  • Add GCal and GDocs Gadgets In Gmail Labs, you'll find the option to add "gadgets" for your Google Calendar and Google Docs to the sides of your Gmail inbox. These aren't exactly brand-new features, but they are essential. These widgets give you a snapshot of your schedule and cloud-stored files that comes in handy when making new appointments or collaborating via email. There's even one-click capability to add a calendar event from your inbox.
  • Sync Up Languages and Time Zones These Lab features aren't new, but they're disabled by default. Enabling message translation and sender time zone helps you get on the same page with contacts from all over the world. You should also finally be able to read all that irritating spam from China.
  • Title Tweaks If you don't always have time to open the tab that houses your Gmail in order to check your inbox, try these two little changes (available via Labs). "Unread Message Icon" adds a numeral to the Gmail icon in the browser tab to indicate how many unread messages are currently sitting in your inbox (this feature only works in Chrome and Firefox). "Title Tweaks," on the other hand, rearranges the order of items in the tab's title bar, so it's easier to see if you have new email (this is especially helpful if you have a lot of tabs open).
  • More Send Options Gmail Labs offers a handful of tools you can enable to empower your sending mojo. Background send is just what it sounds like — click send, and the Compose mail screen closes, allowing you to move on to the next message. It's especially useful when you don't want to wait for big attachments to upload. Undo send gives you a 5-second panic button, in case you have second thoughts on sending, and Send and Archive cuts out a mouse click when you want to reply and file away a conversation in one step.
  • Quick Links Enable Quick Links, and you'll have one of the simplest — yet most powerful — Gmail add-ons at your fingertips. Quick Links is essentially a bookmarking gadget for individual emails. Create a "Quick Link" to any message and it will show up in your sidebar with a custom title.
  • Quote Selected Text Quoting text in replies is an old email standby, but it somehow got left behind in the Gmail revolution. It's still lurking there, though, ready to be enabled, and it works with both your mouse and keyboard shortcuts.
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