Google Mail tips

Google Mail has features that greatly ease processing of email. Here are a my favorite features that are often overlooked or ignored.

You may wish to view a five minute video on Keyboard Shortcuts and Conversations View in Google Mail. Otherwise, keep reading.


The default Google Mail layout makes inefficient use of screen space. I prefer "Compact" view. When viewing the Inbox, choose the Gear in the upper right corner, and choose "Compact."

Critical Settings

Select the following settings. Read on to the next section if you want to hear why.


Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are active when viewing an email or when an email's checkbox is selected. Here are my favorites:

There are many more, but these are the ones I use.

Conversation View

Conversation view groups all messages in a thread together. Almost everyone hates conversation view at first, but it is a key component of the workflow I describe below. Give it a try;I predict that within two weeks you will love it.


Labels in Google Mail behave a lot like folders, but they are not folders. Key differences.

Take advantage of labels to file items in all ways that help you organize and retrieve them. Unlike a folder structure, you do not have to choose a single label for a message. Note: if you use conversation view, labels apply to all messages in the conversation.

Please realize that Conversation View, Keyboard Shortcuts, and Labels are an ecosystem that functions in concert to streamline the way you process mail.

My Workflow for incoming messages

The first message of the thread

When a message arrives that is not part of an existing thread, my workflow is simple.


Subsequent messages in a thread

When a new message arrives that is a continuation of an existing thread, the entire conversation reappears in the inbox. However, when you open the conversation, all the previously read messages are collapsed and only the unread messages are expanded. That makes it easy to see what is new. At this point you can reply or reply all ("r" or "a"), forward ("f"), or just archive ("e").

Your new message is automatically labeled along with the rest of the thread.

Why my workflow works

Other tips

Questions and Objections

I don't use labels because I hate navigating the messy folder/label structure in the left pane.

Instead I use the label as a search term. Example: "label:Senate"

I use my Inbox to track what messages still need attention, so I do not want to file them until they have been acted on.

Suggestion: Define two special purpose labels: "aaActionRequired" and "aaWaitingForResponse." Along with your usual labels based on topic, use these special labels as holding/reminder areas for messages that need follow up. Why the strange names? That puts them at the top of the folder/label list.

Once you have dealt with the matter, you can remove the above label.