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Best Gmail tips and tricks 2021

a screenshot of gmail loading
(Image credit: Gmail)

Gmail is undoubtedly easy to use, has a neat interface, and comes packed with many great features - and it's one of the best email providers. But if you haven’t been utilizing all of these, you’re missing out.

In this article, we’ll go over a few Gmail tips to help you make the most out of the application and elevate your productivity. Let’s get right to it!

1. Confidential emails

Confidential mode massively enhances your privacy, and is the first of our Gmail tips. With this turned on, the recipient will not be able to forward, copy, download, or print your email. You can set an expiration date — one day, one week, one month, or all the way up to five years. However, you’re not limited to these timeframes, and you can revoke access to the email before the expiration time is reached. 

For additional security, you can add password protection to the email by enabling an SMS passcode and adding the recipient’s phone number. When the recipient receives the email, they’ll also receive a passcode by SMS for verification. 

To activate confidential mode, start composing a new mail and click on the lock and time icon in the bottom toolbar. Please note: recipients can still take screenshots of confidential emails, as there’s no protection against that. 

a screenshot showing how to access Gmail's confidential mode

Enhanced privacy with confidential mode (Image credit: Gmail)

2. Reading pane

Opening an email and then moving back to the inbox to open another can feel cumbersome. Instead, you can set up the reading pane to view and reply to your emails from the inbox directly. 

To set this up, click on the settings icon at the top right, and scroll to the reading pane section. Here, you can choose where you want the reading pane to appear: to the right of your inbox, or below it. Once you’ve selected a layout that’s comfortable, you can adjust the reading pane’s size by dragging it. 

a screenshot showing Gmail's view settings panel, specifically on the reading pane

The reading pane (middle section) helps to view the inbox and messages together (Image credit: Gmail)

3. Color stars

You’ve probably used stars to mark your emails: maybe as something important, or something you need to refer to in the future. Starring a message makes it much easier to locate in the inbox. 

But if you want to mark your emails more precisely, you can activate and use various star icons. To do this, go to the general section under settings and look for the stars segment. Here, you’ll find 12 icons that include an orange star, a blue star, a red exclamation, a yellow exclamation, and a purple question mark. You are free to select as many icons as you like. 

Once you’ve made your selection, save the changes and head back to your inbox. Each time you click on the star icon now, it’ll cycle through the list of icons you’ve selected. With this, you’ll be able to rank your emails even better than before. 

Gmail's settings menu, showing how to add icons/stars to emails

You have 12 icons to choose from for starring your emails  (Image credit: Gmail)

4. Shortcuts

Gmail is loaded with around 100 keyboard shortcuts. There’s a shortcut for almost every single action: from simple actions like composing, to more complex ones like selecting starred conversations.

To activate keyboard shortcuts, go to the general section under settings and select “Keyboard shortcuts on.” You can access the elaborate sheet of shortcuts by hitting Shift+? in the application. Once you get a hang of these shortcuts, you’ll be zooming through your Gmail tasks.

an overlaid screenshot (over Gmail's settings) of the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail

Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts are excellent time savers (Image credit: Gmail)

5. Templates

Do you send out a lot of repetitive emails? If so, then templates are just what you need. Earlier called “canned responses,” you can set up templates, insert them into your emails, and customize them as needed. 

To enable templates, go to the advanced section under settings and click enable in the templates segment. After this, draft a message that you send out frequently and click the three dots on the bottom right, next to the delete icon. Select templates, and you’ll be able to save the message you’ve drafted as a template. You can access, save, and delete all your templates through this option.

a screenshot of Google's settings for creating templates

Use templates to manage those repetitive emails (Image credit: Gmail)

6. Snippets

The emails in your inbox show you the subject and a preview of the message, known as a snippet. These can be distracting and can prevent you from focusing on important tasks. 

To turn snippets off, head to the general section under settings and click “No snippets” under the snippets segment. If it enhances your productivity, you could keep the snippets turned off. 

Gmail's settings menu, showing how to control snippets

Turning snippets off can improve productivity (Image credit: Gmail)

7. Vacation responder

The vacation responder is a handy tool if you’re not going to have access to your Gmail account for a set duration. You can use this to automatically notify people that you’re away from your account. With the responder turned on, emails to your account will receive the automated response you’ve written in the auto-reply box. 

The vacation begins at 12:00 AM on the start date and ends at 11:59 PM on the last date, if you’ve set one. You have the option to end your vacation earlier too. The vacation response is generally sent to people the first time they email you. If the same person emails you again after four days, they’ll receive the vacation response once more.  

The vacation response is not sent to emails that land in the spam folder, or emails addressed to mailing lists. 

a screenshot of Gmail's settings for the vacation responder function

Turn the vacation responder on when you’re going to be away from your account (Image credit: Gmail)

8. Nudges

It’s quite common to get caught up with things and forget to respond to emails. With the nudges feature, you’ll not have to worry too much about it. 

This feature reminds you to reply to emails that require a response. You’ll receive a nudge if you haven’t replied to a message for a few days. The notification will pop up in your inbox, and you can use it or dismiss it. To turn this feature on, head to the general section under settings and tick the nudges segment. 

a mockedup screenshot showing how Gmail's nudge function works

Nudges remind you to reply to emails (Image credit: Gmail)

Summary

Gmail is chock full of features, and one look at the settings will confirm that. With the tips given above, you’ll see your productivity soar. But you’ll discover more useful shortcuts if you tinker around with the application yourself. Read our Gmail review for more information on the platform.