From its not so humble beginnings as a non-prank released on April Fool’s Day in 2004 to its billion-plus users today, Google’s illustrious email offering has proven indispensable for most of us.
Enhance Your View
Instead of staring at plain-vanilla Gmail, spice things up with a fun theme. Under the Gear menu in the upper-right corner, simply choose “Themes” to switch to one of the several ready-made backdrops, or upload your own. Also under the Gear menu, play around with the Display Density settings. “Comfortable” gives you some nice white space, while “Compact” is good when you need to cram as much as possible onto your screen.
Bring Some Friends (And Mail) Along
If you’re just using Gmail for the first time or you’ve started up a second Gmail account and want to get your contacts and old mail into the system, head into the Settings > Accounts and Import section to choose the “Import mail and contacts” link. You’ll be able to import your stuff from popular providers—Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and more—by following a few simple steps, though you’ll lose the chipper “You’ve got mail!” sound forever.
Make Gmail More Like Outlook
Under Settings > Labs, enable Preview Pane to have the option of viewing full messages to the right of (or underneath) your inbox, like Outlook. Old habits die hard, so if you’ve been dealing with corporate email your whole life and are just now trying to get the hang of Gmail, this Preview Pane goodie can help ease your transition. Once enabled, you can find its various options in a drop-down just to the left of the Gear icon on the main page.
Focus On What’s Important
Gmail can intelligently figure out which messages are more important to you than others. Neat trick, no? In the Settings > Inbox section, select the “Use my past actions . . . ” radio button to put Gmail to work parsing your top messages. You can then choose the “Show markers” button, the “Override filters” button (more on filters in a bit), and set the inbox type at the top of this section to show your important messages first. Then, in the Settings > General section, under “Desktop Notifications” (if you’re using Chrome, Firefox, or Safari), you can set pop-up notifications to only appear when you get important messages.
Escape Conversation View Hell
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like Conversation View and those who hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. If you find yourself in the latter camp, head into Settings > General and turn Conversation View off. The next time you open up the latest message in an email thread, you’ll see a nice familiar wall of indented text instead of several individual messages, while your inbox will contain individually clickable messages as well.
Archive Everything . . .
Gmail introduced the concept of archiving instead of deleting—the thought being that you’d have enough free storage space so that you wouldn’t have to worry about constantly purging big messages. This idea still holds true, and you still do get a fair amount of free space, so if you’re done with a message for good, click the second button from the left (the icon of the box with the down arrow) instead of the trash can. That way, if you find you actually need to access that message again in the future, it’ll be waiting for you under the “All Mail” link in the left sidebar.