Back in 2004, Gmail rewrote the rules for Web-based email. It had a fast, clean interface, and a jaw-dropping 1GB of free storage. Today, it comes with ten times the amount of space, and boasts many millions of users across the globe.
But even if you use it every day, you're probably not making the most of the features it has to offer. With these seven tips, you can take your Gmail life beyond "power user." You can be an off-the-deep-end Gmail megalomaniac.
Managing an inbox is no easy task, but Gmail has tools to help. You can turn any search into a filter that can then be actioned: search for emails "from:Facebook", for example, then create a filter to mark these messages as read and archive them (assuming you don't want to know what's happening on Facebook, of course). Or build a filter to match the email addresses of your nearest and dearest, then mark these messages as important to ensure you never miss an email from your better half. Filters can promote important messages and downgrade the clutter before you've even logged in.
You would expect a Google product to excel in search. It's not always obvious, but the Gmail search box has more flexibility than you might think—click the drop-down arrow to the right to see all the options on offer. Look for emails with attachments, then delete these messages if you want to free up some room in your account perhaps. Or, if you're searching for an email from a particular sender, streamline the search with a "TK:TK" command.
If you have a particular search query—emails from your birthday last year, the year before, or any year, say—you can dig them up and relive the moment. Of course, how well this works depends on how many emails you received from friends and family to mark the occasion, and how many were auto-generated greetings from the forums and mailing lists you've signed up for.
Via the Inbox tab of the Gmail Settings page, you can customize how your emails are ordered on screen and utilize Google's unique Priority Inbox feature. But wait, there's more! Delve into the Labs page and you can activate an Outlook-style Preview Pane (particularly handy on bigger monitors) or a Multiple Inboxes feature.
The latter option adds a new tab to the Settings screen where you can configure three independent panes matching the search queries of your choice. See starred (by searching for "is:starred"), unread (is:unread) and important (is:important) messages alongside each other. Or you can group emails matching three different labels (label:labelname)—the choice is yours. Note: you'll need to deactivate Priority Inbox for Multiple Inboxes to work.
If you've got a Yahoo or Hotmail email address you use for newsletters and the like, why not import these messages into Gmail too? The Accounts and Import tab of the Settings page makes the process very straightforward, and you can of course mark these imported messages as read or apply a label using a filter. You might even want to import your work emails as a backup.
Here's another tip: enter email@example.com when filling out Web forms. You can use any word after the plus symbol, and emails to the address will reach your inbox. Once they arrive, you can use the "to:firstname.lastname@example.org" filter to take appropriate action.
Superstars are available in the General tab in Settings. Up to 12 stars and symbols can be used, rather than just the single default one, and a multiple click on the star icon by a message cycles through them.
Use these multiple stars to split home and work emails, or mark urgent messages, group them by category, or flag them for reminders to follow up. Each star has its own search query too—for a green colored star, it's "has:green-star"—and that can be used as the basis of a filter or a multiple inbox. Hover over any star to see its associated search code.
Labels are one of Gmail's best features. Labels make searching through thousands of emails much easier. Make sure you use them.
Remember that filters can apply labels automatically for you if want. They can also help you clear out clutter in your Gmail account too—you can enter "label:newsletter before:2011/01/01" into the search box and then get busy with the delete key, for example, if you have a newsletter filter set up.
There are plenty of third-party apps and extensions that can extend the capabilities of Gmail. Take, for example, Rapportive, which adds details from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter next to your contacts' profiles. It's fast, sleek, and soon feels like a native Gmail feature.
Another of our favorite third-party tools is Boomerang, which enables you to schedule emails to send later and reminds you to follow up important messages after a certain period of time if you haven't had a response.
You might not like the space between the messages in an email list, but you're not stuck with a certain display. Just hit the "settings" cog igon, and you can see more or fewer messages on screen by changing the display density.
Sometimes you just can't send a certain email right then and there, but you don't want to forget to do it altogether. Just hit the "More" menu above an email, turn it into a to do task, and schedule it on your calendar.
We have to mention a few basic things about Gmail just to make your mastery complete. You probably know you can click the "+" menu at the bottom of the new compose window, then click the little chain icon to insert a web link into the email. But here's a tip: you can also insert an email link in your email.
And, one last thing about searching, which is a basic email function that's not totally obvious in Gmail. If you want to search a message from a particular sender, type "from:email@example.com" in the search field.
What tips do you like to use?
David Nield is a UK-based journalist. Follow him at @davidnield on Twitter.
Top image via Lifehacker.