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How to Use Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts to Save More Time

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called How to Use Gmail (Ultimate Beginner Guide).
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How much time do you spend on email each week? If you're like most of us, the answer is...hours. Estimates vary on exactly how much time the average worker spends on email, but one thing is sure. Time spent on email is time that is not devoted to other tasks.

In one study, participants estimated that they spent over six hours a day on personal and work email. According to the study, published by Reuters in August 2015, some participants began checking email before they even got out of bed. That’s lot of time spent on email.

What if you could reclaim some of the hours you spend on email? Is there a way to spend less time on email? Yes, there is.

One reason so much time is spent on email is because many of us don't learn to use the timesaving features of our email system. Gmail, for example, has many built-in shortcuts that can make using email easier and save you a ton of time.

Save time with Gmail keyboard shortcuts
Gmail keyboard shortcuts save time and improve your workflow. (graphic source)

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to activate Gmail shortcuts and use them to save you time. I'll also share some shortcuts that are specific to your desktop computer.

1. What You Need to Know About Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts

You may be wondering, is it worth it? Do keyboard shortcuts really save time?

If you spend a lot of time on email as many small business people do, the time saved could be significant.

According to recent statistics compiled by DMR, the average office worker receives 121 emails a day. So let’s use that figure as an example. If you receive that many emails a day, just one minute saved on processing each email could mean two hours of saved time each day or twelve hours of saved time in a week. For a small business owner with lots of responsibilities, saving a few hours a day can mean more time spent on work that pays.

For example, let’s say you want to perform three processes on an email you received:

  1. You want to reply to everyone who has received the message.
  2. You want to mark the message with a star.
  3. You want to move the message to your project label (folder).

If you did these tasks without shortcuts, you’d have to perform the following:

  • Task 1 - Move your cursor to the arrow key beside the send icon and click to display the drop-down menu. From the drop-down menu, select the Reply to All option. Type your message contents. Click the Send button at the bottom of the message.
  • Task 2 - Move your cursor to the More icon and click to display the drop-down menu. From the drop-down menu, select the Add Star option.
  • Task 3 - Move your cursor to the folder (label) icon and click to display the Move To dialog box. Type the label name where you want to move the message or select the label from the drop-down list.

In contrast, you could perform the same tasks quicker using the following keyboard shortcuts:

  1. Type a to open a message to send to all message recipients. Type your message contents. Type Tab + Enter to send the message.
  2. Type s to add a star to the message.
  3. Type v to move the conversation to a different label.

For keyboard shortcuts to really save you time you need to memorize them. That might seem like a daunting task when you realize there are literally dozens of Gmail shortcuts.

Don’t panic. You don’t need to know every single Gmail shortcut there is to save time. Just focus on learning the shortcuts for the operations you perform most often and you’ll still save a lot of time.

For less frequently used shortcuts, print out a chart of the shortcuts and keep it near your computer for reference.

Next, let’s take a look at how to activate Gmail shortcuts.

2. Activate Gmail Shortcuts

Before we look at how to activate Gmail shortcuts, there are a few Gmail shortcuts that are always turned on. Here is a short list of those shortcuts to get started using: 

When You Want to...

Do This...

Move backwards and forward through lists

Use the Up and Down arrow keys

Select information

Use the Enter key

Copy recipients to an email

Press Ctrl + Shift + c from the New Message screen

Add blind copy recipients to an email

Press Ctrl + Shift + b from the New Message screen

Change the sent from address (if you have set up more addresses)

Press Ctrl + Shift + f

Moves the cursor to the main window

Press Shift + Esc

Most of the other shortcuts won’t work unless you activate them. In the steps below you’ll learn how to activate Gmail shortcuts.

Step 1 - Open the Settings Screen

Click the Settings icon in the upper right corner of the main Gmail screen. A drop-down menu appears.

Open Gmail Settings
Click on the Gmail Settings icon.

Click the Settings option in the drop-down menu to display the Settings screen.

Enter the Settings screen
Enter the Settings screen.

Step 2 – How to Activate Shortcuts

The Keyboard Shortcuts option is towards the middle of the screen, so scroll down until you can see it. The system default is for the shortcuts to be turned off.

The Gmail Default is Keyboard shortcuts off
The Gmail Default is Keyboard shortcuts off.

Select the toggle button for the Keyboard shortcuts on option.

Toggle the Keyboard shortcuts on
Toggle the keyboard shortcuts on.

Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the Settings screen and click on the Save Changes button.

Save Changes to apply
Save Changes to apply them.

Your Gmail shortcuts are now active.

3. How to Use Gmail Shortcuts on a Desktop Computer

To get the most out of your Gmail shortcuts, you need to understand how to use them. Here are three types of shortcuts that can save you time:

  1. Composition. These shortcuts help you create and send messages.
  2. Inbox Management. These shortcuts help you to organize your inbox.
  3. Navigation. These shortcuts help you navigate through the Gmail system.

Let’s take a look at each type of shortcut separately. Below I’ve created a separate shortcut table for each type of shortcut.

To use one of these tables, perform the action indicated in the Do This column. The Needs Activation? Column indicates that the Keyboard Shortcuts option must be on to use the shortcut.

Some shortcuts require that Gmail Conversation View be turned on before you can use the shortcut. To learn more about how to turn on Conversation View, review this tutorial:

Note: If you are using a popup blocker in your web browser, turn it off before using Gmail shortcuts.

Let’s take a look at the various Gmail keyboard shortcuts. For your convenience, I’ve listed each type of shortcut in table format for you to use as your very own Gmail shortcuts cheatsheet.

Step 1- How to Use Composition Shortcuts

Use composition shortcuts to compose a new message or to reply to or forward an existing message. The following table lists the shortcuts that can save you time when you are composing a message.

When You Want to...

Do This...

Needs Activation?

Open a new message window on top of the main Gmail screen

Type c while from the main Gmail screen

Yes

Open a new message window

Type Shift + c from the main Gmail screen

Yes

Open a new message window in a new browser tab

Type d from the main Gmail window.

Yes

Open a space to reply to the current message at the bottom of the message

Type r while in Conversation view

Yes

Open a new reply window on top of the current message

Type Shift + r while in Conversation view

Yes

Open a space to reply to all the recipients of the current message at the bottom of the message

Type a while in Conversation view

Yes

Open a new reply window to reply to all the recipients of the current message on top of the current message

Type Shift + a while in Conversation view

Yes

Forward the current message

Type f while in Conversation view

Yes

Forward the current message from a new window

Type Shift + f while in Conversation view

Yes

Save the message you are composing as a draft on your computer

Type Ctrl + s from within a message you are composing

Yes

Send the message you are composing

Press Tab + Enter

Yes

Step 2 – How to Use Inbox Management Shortcuts

Use inbox management shortcuts to arrange your messages. The following shortcut table lists shortcuts to help you organize your inbox.

When You Want to...

Do This...

Needs Activation

Archive the conversation

Type e

Yes

Put a star by the conversation

Type s

Yes

Show that a conversation in the Priority inbox is important

Type + from the Conversation View

Yes

Select a conversation

Type x

Yes

Show that a conversation in the Priority inbox is unimportant

Typefrom the Conversation View

Yes

Move a conversation to the Trash folder

Type #

Yes

Open a message

Type o from the main Gmail screen with a message selected

Yes

Send messages in a conversation directly to the archives unless they are addressed to you

Type m

Yes

Open the Labels menu

Type l
from the main Gmail screen with a message selected

Yes

Move a conversation to a different label or to the trash

Type v from the main Gmail screen with a message selected

Yes

Mark a message as read

Press Shift + i from the main Gmail screen with a message selected

Yes

Mark a message as unread

Press Shift + u
from the main Gmail screen with a message selected

Yes

Archive the current conversation and go to the previous one

Type { from within the message

Yes

Archive the current conversation and go to the next one

Type } from within the message

Yes

Report a spam message

Type !

Yes

Archives your conversation and go to the next one

Type y + o

Yes

Select all the mail in the current label

Type * + a from the main Gmail window

Yes

Deselect all the mail

Type * + n from the main Gmail window

Yes

Select all read mail

Type * + r from the main Gmail window

Yes

Select all unread mail

Type * + u from the main Gmail window

Yes

Select all starred mail

Type * + s from the main Gmail window

Yes

Select all unstarred mail

Type * + t from the main Gmail window

Yes

Step 3 - How to Use Navigation Shortcuts

Use navigation shortcuts to quickly move to various parts of the Gmail system. The following table lists navigation shortcuts.

When You Want to...

Do This...

Needs Activation?

Go to the search box

Type /

Yes

Move to the list of messages

Type k

Yes

Move to the previous conversation

Type j

Yes

Go to the next inbox section

Type ` from the main Gmail window

Yes

Go to the previous inbox section

Type ~ from the main Gmail window

Yes

Return to the inbox or a list of conversations

Type u from within a message

Yes

Move the cursor to the Chat Search box

Type q

Yes

See the More Actions drop-down menu

Type .

Yes

Move to the first icon in the Gmail toolbar

Type ,

Yes

Go to the All Mail screen

Type g + a

Yes

Go to a list of all starred conversations

Type g + s

Yes

Go to your contact list

Type g + c

Yes

Go to your drafts list

Type g + d

Yes

Go to the label search box

Type g + l

Yes

Go to your inbox

Type g + i

Yes

Go to your Sent Mail screen

Type g + t

Yes


There are a few shortcuts that don’t fit into any category. Here is one example: you can press Esc to remove the cursor from the current field.

Conclusion

Email doesn't have to be a big time waster for the small business owner. You can reduce the amount of time you spend on Gmail by learning Gmail keyboard shortcuts and understanding when to use them.

To learn even more about how to use email in general and Gmail specifically, study these tutorials:

Good luck making the most of these Gmail shortcuts! Feel free to share your own Gmail timesaving tips in the comments below.

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