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14 Killer Gmail Features to Make Use of Now

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This post is part of a series called How to Use Gmail (Ultimate Beginner Guide).
How to Compose and Send Your First Email With Gmail
How to Use Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts to Save More Time

If you use Gmail as your business or personal email tool, there are some great features that will: 

  • save you a whole lot of time
  • make your account more secure
  • even make your work more fun

Sadly, most Gmail users don't take the time to really learn how to make the most of their Gmail account. But that can change quickly.

Some of the best Gmail features you may not know about include:

  • creating a to-do-list from within Gmail, 
  • color-coding your contacts,
  • and customizing your Gmail interface with a personal photo. 

And that's just a few of them.

In this post, I've collected 14 of the most interesting and best Gmail tools that you may not know about. 

For each Gmail feature I also include a link to detailed, step-by-step instructions. Use this post as a springboard to put all these killer Gmail features into practice, or pick and choose your favorites.

Are you ready to get more from your Gmail account? Then, let's get started.

1.  Customize Your Gmail Background With a Personal Photo

Do you spend hours staring at your Gmail interface every day? If you send and receive a lot of email, you may wish that you could brighten up Gmail's default white background.

Well, you're in luck. Most Gmail users don't realize it, but you can change Gmail's background using Themes. Gmail has several predefined themes you can choose, but the real fun comes when you create a new theme using one of your own photos.

Here's what happened when I used a photo of my garden as my Gmail theme:

Custom Gmail Theme
A great Gmail feature is that you can add your own photos to the interface theme.

The possibilities for this Gmail tool are endless. You could use a family photo, a picture of your pet, your favorite vacation photo, and more...

To have your own fun with Gmail themes, read through our detailed tutorial:

2. Create a to Do List From Your Gmail Inbox

If you're like most of us, you spend a lot of time sorting through email just to figure out what you need to do. Even worse, if you spend too much time on email you could lose track of your immediate deadlines.

Save time (and avoid missed deadlines) by making use of Gmail's handy task list feature. Create tasks from within Gmail that can also show up on your calendar. It's easy, and you can keep your task list open while you sort through email.

Here's a personal to do list I made using Gmail's task list feature:

Gmail task list feature
A helpful Gmail feature is that you can create a task list.

Note that I've sorted the list by due date, so I won't forget about any looming deadlines while I'm sorting through my email.

For a step-by-step tutorial on Gmail task lists, review:

3. Block Messages From a Specific Sender

Unwanted email messages, ugh! Who doesn't hate them? Sadly, they're just a part of having an email account. Or are they?

Many users don't realize it, but you can block messages from a specific contact in Gmail. It's easy, once you know how. And if you change your mind, you can just easily unblock messages from that same contact.

Here's me using the block feature for demonstration purposes:

Block messages Gmail feature
A Gmail feature allows you to block unwanted messages.

Of course, I don't really want to stop receiving messages from my other email account. So, minutes later I unblocked myself.

If someone is repeatedly sending you messages you don't want or need, learn how to keep their messages out of your inbox using the steps from this tutorial:

4. Sort Related Messages Into a Label

Do you have to scroll through screen after screen of messages, just to find the one you're looking for? Does it take you forever to find a specific project-related email?

Gmail's killer organizational features can save you time and make finding those important emails less frustrating. If you make proper use of Gmail's label feature, you can organize messages by project (or any other system that makes sense to you). Find the messages you need quickly, and without hassle.

It's easy to create and use labels to group messages together:

Create a Gmail label
Gmail labels are a killer Gmail feature.

Find out more about how Gmail labels can help you organize your inbox using this tutorial How to Organize Your Gmail Inbox to Be More Effective.

5. Never Lose a Message Again

None of us want to admit it, but even when we've set up our Gmail account as efficiently as we know how, we still sometimes accidentally misfile, or even accidentally delete important email messages that we need. If this has happened to you, you'll love this next Gmail feature—Gmail's search tool.

Gmail is from Google, so it only makes sense that they'd have a killer search tool. Yet, you don't read much about how useful Gmail's search tool can be. You can search by sender, recipient, or subject. You can even search for specific words within the body of a message or for messages that have attachments.

Here's a quick peek at the Gmail Advanced Search box:

Gmail Advanced Search box feature
A look at the Gmail Advanced Search feature.

Learn more about how Gmail search works in this tutorial, so you can start working with it more effectively:

6. Master Must-Use Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts

It's no secret that keyboard shortcuts can save you time. The more keyboard shortcuts you learn, the more time you save. Gmail has some awesome keyboard shortcuts, if you have them activated. Here are a few of my favorites:

When you want to...
Do this...
Open a new message window on top of the main Gmail screen
Type c from the main Gmail screen
Save the message you are composing as a draft on your computer
Type Ctrl + s from within a message you are composing
Archive the conversation
Type e with the conversation selected
Open a space to reply to the current message at the bottom of the message Type r while in Conversation view
Open the Labels menu Type l from the main Gmail screen with a message selected
Move a conversation to the Trash folder Type # with the message selected

Choose your own time saving favorite Gmail shortcuts from our step-by-step tutorial on Gmail shortcuts:

7. Automatically Send Out-of-Office Messages

Out-of-office messages can seem cliché, but they can also avoid misunderstandings. If you're going to miss work without checking your email, it's better to use one and let contacts know why you didn't respond right away.

Fortunately, Gmail has some neat features that make an out-of-office message easy to set up and use. Plus, you can limit your out-of-office message to your contacts only so you aren't broadcasting your absence to complete strangers who happen to send you a message while you are out.

Here's how I set up my out-of-office message when I took a vacation during the summer:

Gmail Vacation Responder feature
Gmail's out-of-office message feature works well.

For detailed instructions on how to set up your own out-of-office message, check out this tutorial:

8. Be More Secure With Gmail's 2-Step Verification

Your email security is important. Hackers often try to access email accounts because we use our email to sign up for other accounts. Accessing your Gmail could ultimately lead to access to many of your other important accounts.

Fortunately, Gmail uses two-step verification. What this feature means is that your password is not enough for a hacker to log in to your Gmail account. A hacker would also need to have your phone in hand to enter the code that Gmail sends you.

It's not difficult to set up Gmail's 2-Step Verification. Here's a peek at this great security feature:

Gmails 2-Step Verification feature
Gmail's 2-step verification is another killer Gmail feature.

For step-by-step instructions on how to use Gmail's 2-Step Verification and other security features, review:

9. Color Code Your Messages

Sorting your Gmail messages into labels is a great way to quickly find messages you need. Color coding your labels takes the convenience of Gmail labels a step further. This killer Gmail feature is a quick visual way to tell what information goes together at a glance.

You can assign a unique color to each Gmail label and even create your own custom label colors. As you can see below, I've assigned the color red to the messages that need immediate follow up:

Color code Gmail Labels
One Gmail feature lets you color code your message labels.

Our Envato Tuts+ tutorial, How to Organize Your Gmail Inbox to Be More Effective, explains how you can color code your own Gmail inbox. 

10. Use Bulleted Lists and Other Gmail Formatting Features

Do you send out blah, unformatted email messages? Many Gmail users fail to realize that Gmail includes a substantial set of formatting features. Because they don't know about Gmail formatting, they don't use it.

Gmail formatting features include:

  • Bulleted and numbered lists
  • Bold, italics, and underline
  • Colored text or colored background
  • Font type, font size
  • And more

Formatted messages make it easier for your reader to scan and absorb your meaning. Here's an example of a formatted Gmail message using bold text and a bulleted list that I put together:

Formatted Gmail message
Another Gmail feature allows you to format messages.

And that's just a partial example of Gmail formatting capabilities.

For detailed instructions on how to format your own Gmail messages, read through this tutorial on How to Compose and Send Your First Email With Gmail.

11. Express Yourself With Email Message Emojis

When you think of Gmail, do you think of smiley faces, hearts, and other fun emojis? If you're like me, you probably didn't know that Gmail offers a sizable collection of emojis that you can insert directly in your Gmail messages.

Emojis are a fun Gmail feature. They can add color and excitement to your messages. Here's a partial display of just a few Gmail emojis you may wish to use:

Gmail emojis
Gmail emojis are a fun Gmail feature.

For a complete explanation of how to use Gmail emojis, look at our Envato Tuts+ tutorial How to Compose and Send Your First Email with Gmail

12. Import Your Social Media Contacts Into Gmail

As a business person, you know that networking is important. Of course, you meet people in person. But in today's business environment, it's increasingly common to make connections with people you've never met face-to-face.

A convenient Gmail feature is the ability to import Google+ social media contacts directly into your Gmail contact list. Not only does this ensure that you stay connected, it can also save you from an awful lot of retyping.

Here's a peek at the process when I imported some contacts from Google+ writing circle into my Gmail contacts:

Import your Google contacts into Gmail
One helpful Gmail feature enables you to import contacts from your Google+ Circles.

Note: Contact names used in this post are not intended to represent real people.

For a step-by-step guide to importing contacts, refer to this tutorial: How to Find Your Google Gmail Contacts and Organize Them Better

13. Share a Calendar Event With a Contact

Using Google's contacts feature allows you to reach out to your connections in a lot of interesting ways. Another helpful Gmail feature is the ability to share a calendar event directly with a contact using Google's calendar tool.

You can do this because your Google contact list is your Gmail contact list. There's no need to keep a separate contact list for every Google tool. It's a time saver, and having a centralized list means you don't have to worry about adding a contact on one tool's list and not on another tool's list.

14. Create Custom Contact Groups for Every Purpose

This list of killer Gmail features wouldn't be complete without mentioning that you can organize your Google contacts into groups. Contact list groups are good way to help you remember how you connected with an individual. It also allows you to quickly reference people who you might need to send the same information to.

In the example below, I'm about to rename the group Prospective Clients to Current Clients:

Google Contacts Group Feature
Contact Groups are a useful Gmail feature.

To discover more about contact groups jump into the Envato Tuts+ tutorial, How to Find Your Gmail Contacts and Organize Them Better

Conclusion

You can improve your workflow with these helpful Gmail features. These killer features can save you time, make your account more secure, and even make your work more fun. By using our step-by-step tutorials, you can make use of any or all of these Gmail features right now.

So, why wait? Find your favorite Gmail feature and put it into effect today. Learn more in our multipart, Ultimate Beginner Guide to Using Gmail.

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