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Tips for Making Gmail for Business Easier to Use

We’ve been running Google Apps for Business, including Gmail for Business, for about a year now. Some people took to running Gmail for their email right away, whereas others continued to use Outlook (and still do). Personally, I love Gmail and use it for both my personal and business email. But there are plenty of pain points for those familiar with Outlook, and it can be a tough transition to make.
Recently we’ve been sharing some tips around the office to help those that don’t care for the Gmail interface. We thought we’d share them here for anyone else struggling to make the transition. (Also, another great resource is Google’s App Learning Center)
Install Google Chrome
First things first. We recommend you use Google Chrome for your email. Don’t worry, if you prefer a different browser for your day to day use–you don’t need to set it as your default. But Chrome has some nice integrations with Google Apps as you might expect.
Download Google Chrome

  • Navigate to your gmail url
  • Right-click on the tab and select “Pin as app tab” so it will always load when you start Chrome
  • Repeat for your Google Calendar page

Setup desktop notifications
Notifications are important. This is one of the biggest reasons I think people go back to Outlook, because they either miss a meeting or an important email because they weren’t notified. The following steps will let you setup desktop notifications for email and calendar events:

  1. Go to (or your business email account URL)
  2. Click on the Options Gear in the top-right corner
  3. Select Mail Settings
  4. Go to the General Tab and select “New mail notifications”
  5. Click “Save Changes” at the bottom of that window

Switch to the new look
This may soon be a moot point as Google makes the new look the default and remove old looks, but until then, look for the “Switch to the New Look” button at the bottom of your Gmail window.
If the default white space is too much, you can make it Cozy or Compact under the Settings gear:

Send email in the background
One of the frustrating things about Gmail is waiting for it to send messages before you can do something else. Wait no longer!

  1. Click on the Options gear in the top-right corner
  2. Select Mail Settings
  3. Click on the “Labs” tab
  4. Find the “Background Send” lab. Click the “Enable” button
  5. Click “Save Changes”

Add a preview pane to Gmail
Do you like the way Outlook displays the contents of your Inbox alongside the contents of the selected message? Bring that to Gmail by:

  1. Clicking on the Options gear in the top-right corner
  2. Select Mail Settings
  3. Click on the “Labs” tab
  4. Find the “Preview Pane” lab. Click the “Enable” button
  5. Click “Save Changes”
  6. Go to your Inbox. Look for the “Toggle Split pane mode” button
  7. Selecting Vertical Split displays the contents of Inbox on the left and the contents of a selected message to the right
  8. Selecting Horizontal displays the contents of Inbox on the top and the contents of a selected message beneath that

Disable Conversation View
I think conversation view is one of the key differentiators for Gmail, but many people would rather have each email listed out in the Inbox in the order it comes in. So to disable conversation view:

  1. Click on the Options gear in the top-right corner
  2. Under the General Tab, look for Conversation View
  3. Select the radio button labeled “Conversation view off”
  4. Save your changes at the bottom

Use Labels, not Folders

  • Labels are one of the most powerful organizing tools for Gmail if used effectively
  • You can assign multiple tags to each single email
  • Use label: before your label to search for all emails with that label

Use keyboard shortcuts
These are often lumped into the “for the computer nerd” or “too complicated,” but keyboard shortcuts can greatly simplify your Gmail use and make it much more efficient. Simply enable them by:

  1. Click the Options gear in the top-right corner
  2. In the General tab, click the radio button “Keyboard shortcuts on”
  3. Save your changes at the bottom

You can see the shortcuts by typing a ? when you are in Gmail, but I recommend starting slowly with one or two, and adding more as you need more and get comfortable with them. Before you know it, you’ll be doing things like Archiving and Labeling emails with just a few keystrokes instead of clicking around with your mouse. A few of my favorites are:

  • e – archives selected email
  • l – open the label menu, then you can type the first few letters of the label you want to apply
  • # – move email to trash
  • o – open an email
  • z – undo last action; useful when archiving too quickly, or other “oops”
  • j/k – moves the pointer up/down in the Inbox
  • x – select an email (then e for archive, for example)
  • g then i – goes back to inbox

GMail Labs
There are some great labs that aren’t regular features, but can be great time-savers. As with any “experimental” features, these should be considered “use at your own risk.” If a lab messes up your Gmail, you can always go back into the settings and disable it.
To find labs:

  1. Click the Options gear
  2. Click Mail Settings
  3. Select Labs tab

Some of the labs I’ve found useful:

  • Default Reply to All – Could be dangerous, but saves a click if you frequently need to reply to all on an email thread
  • Mark as Read button – So I don’t need to open/close the mail item to mark it as read
  • Multiple Inboxes– Each inbox can have its own custom search string. I’ve setup custom searches that displays an Inbox for:
    • Inbox Unread (is:unread label:inbox)
    • Drafts (is:drafts)
    • Starred Items (is:starred)
    • Action/Waiting On Items
      (label:s-waiting-on || label:s-action !is:starred)
    • Other Unread (is:unread !label:inbox)
      • I have filters setup for some emails to “skip” the Inbox, this shows those emails, but they won’t show up in the Inbox Unread
    • Standard Inbox
      • You can’t remove the standard Inbox
  • Send & Archive – saves a click if you frequently archive a message after sending a reply

Hopefully some of these tips will help you enjoy your experience in Gmail more, or be more productive while using it.

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