by Kristin Burnham

Gmail Tips: Five Can’t-Miss Features that Boost Google E-Mail

Dec 08, 2010

Check out these valuable Gmail features you probably never knew existed, from cool keyboard shortcuts to quick and easy remote sign-out.

Google’s Gmail is famous for its arsenal of customization features, and the popular Web mail service offers users a number of neat Labs to try, too. Whether you’re new to Gmail, are thinking of converting or are a seasoned user, the following five tips will help you work more efficiently.

1. Use “Tasks” to Keep Track of To-Dos

Say you receive an e-mail from a friend who wants to make plans for dinner. Tasks, an option found in the “More actions” drop-down menu, will convert this e-mail to an actionable item that you can check off once complete.


To do so, open the e-mail message and choose “Add to Tasks” from the “More actions” drop-down menu. Your task list will open with the subject line of the e-mail next to a check-box that you can click once it’s completed.


Choose the arrow next to the subject line to assign the task a due date and any related notes you may have. To remove a task from the list, click the box next to the task name.

For more Task options, choose “Actions” from the bottom of the list window. From here you can prioritize the task (Ctrl + Up; Ctrl + Down to move the task up or down), e-mail or print the task list, sort tasks by due date or view cleared tasks.

Your task list is also available on the go. Visit to access or edit specific tasks while you’re away from the computer.

[Want more Gmail tips and tricks? Learn how to take Chat off the record and archive e-mails here.]

2. Alert Others When You’re On Vacation

Going away this holiday? Gmail’s out-of-office feature, called Vacation Responder, will automatically send a response when someone e-mails you while you’re away.


To activate it, choose the “General” tab under “Settings.” Scroll to the bottom and select “Vacation responder on.” Enter the subject of the e-mail you want sent to those who contact you via Gmail, type in a message, set the period of time you will be away and click “Save Changes.”

3. Speed Through E-mails With Keyboard Shortcuts

Feeling a bit of the ol’ e-mail overload? Plowing through messages every day can eat up a good chunk of your morning. Gmail’s solution? Enable keyboard shortcuts and breeze through your inbox.

In your Gmail settings, choose “General,” Then click “Keyboard shortcuts on” near the top. A full list of the shortcuts can be found on Google’s Gmail Help page. The chart below shows a few of my personal favorites:


4. See Messages Sent Just to You

Sometimes e-mails sent to you with a handful of people copied aren’t as meaningful as the messages sent only to you.

“Personal level indicators” put arrows next to messages in your inbox so you can see if an e-mail is addressed only to you. Single arrows (>) indicate multiple recipients while double arrows (>>) indicate that the e-mail was sent only to you.


To turn on your personal level indicators, visit the “General” tab under your Gmail Settings, choose “Show indicators” about halfway down and then click “Save Changes.”

5. Sign Out Of A Public Computer Remotely

If you used a public computer at a library or checked your e-mail at a friend’s house but forgot to sign out of your account, Gmail has a feature that lets you sign out remotely.

At the bottom of your inbox, you’ll see information about the time and location of the last activity on your account.


Click “Details” to see recent activity, including any time that your mail was accessed using a Web browser or mobile device, the IP address from which it was accessed, the location, time and date.

From here you can sign out of all other sessions and set an alert for unusual activity.

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Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Kristin at